Armando Salguero

Dolphins travel to Combine with eyes on this offensive playmaker (no, not a QB)

LSU running back Derrius Guice has caught the eyes of the Miami Dolphins.
LSU running back Derrius Guice has caught the eyes of the Miami Dolphins. AP

The Miami Dolphins are traveling to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine that begins this week with the mind-set of improving the offense.

And, no, that doesn’t mean just meeting with and testing quarterbacks. In fact, NFL sources say the Dolphins are already showing significant interest in seeing how Louisiana State University running back Derrius Guice will fare during Combine testing and in a meeting with the team.

That’s interesting because the Dolphins traded running back Jay Ajayi midway through the 2017 season and need to replace him for 2018. And Guice, at 5-11 and 218 pounds, has been compared to Ajayi by some draft analysts with one notable exception — he’s much faster.

Guice, who led LSU in rushing the past two seasons, was fast enough that he returned kicks at LSU. He expects to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4 range at the Combine. If he does that, his combination of size, speed and violent running style could tuck him just behind Penn State’s Saquon Barkley amid what is believed to be a good running back class.

But the interest the Dolphins and other teams have in Guice would come at a cost if they expect to land the SEC’s leading rusher from 2016. Guice is currently expected to go no later than the second round. And if he does indeed break the 4.5 mark in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, that could rocket him into the first round.

The Dolphins are scheduled to pick 11th in the first round. It’s impossible at this stage to know whether the team, or anyone, will value Guice that high. But in a trade-down scenario, the LSU running back might make sense.

The comparables on Guice are interesting. Some are comparing him to former LSU teammate Leonard Fournette, others to Ahmad Bradshaw, others to Ajayi. Some have even compared him to Marshawn Lynch (without the crotch-grabbing, of course).

Guice isn’t as bulky as Ajayi, who sometimes carried between 225 and 228 pounds. He’s not as tall as Fournette, who is 6-1.

But, again, he’s faster than either of them.

The Guice running style is violent and unrelenting. That was obvious in 2016 when he led the SEC in rushing with 1,387 yards despite starting only six games and splitting time with Fournette. He set a school record with a 285-yard rushing day against Texas A&M.

But to see Guice at his best one has to drill down on the player’s tape because he played most of 2017 with various injuries. Despite the injuries, Guice started 11 of the 12 games he played and gained 1,251 yards.

“Evaluating Guice requires settling in for two full seasons of tape study as he was healthy only a fraction of the 2017 season,” said Lance Zierlein on his scouting evaluation. “While Guice has some elusiveness and long speed, much of his success comes from a furious running style and ability to create yardage after contact.”

That suits the Dolphins, as Ajayi made many of his yards in 2016 after contact with defenders.

One very attractive thing about Guice is he played in the SEC. Obviously, the Dolphins love that level of competition because it measures players against some of the best in the country.

The Dolphins drafted starting running back Kenyan Drake out of Alabama in 2016.

Interestingly, the Dolphins are showing interest in Guice despite the fact that they could be in the market for a running back in free agency.

The Dolphins are expected to be interested in Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson if (when?) he is cut for cap reasons this offseason. The Dolphins also might show interest in New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis, who is scheduled to become a free agent.

One thing to remember: The Dolphins often add veterans at positions in free agency and then continue stocking the same position in the draft, with the idea being to improve the spot with both experience for the present but also youth for the future.

So Guice, on the team’s radar now, could remain there regardless what happens in free agency.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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