Every year, the NFL allows underclassmen that are considering the upcoming draft a chance to find out just where they stack up. The reason for doing so is to keep players that will not get drafted from making the mistake of declaring, not getting drafted, and becoming ineligible at the college level.
Among the many names, mostly from power five conferences, submitted to the NFL Advisory Board was the name of Louisiana Ragin Cajuns running back Elijah McGuire.
Now, I know what you may be saying. McGuire had a disappointing 2015 season and it would be a mistake for him to make himself eligible for the draft. While a case could be made for that line of thinking, let's take a look at the running back and see whether he should turn pro or not.
McGuire, a 5-11, 208 pound running back from Houma, Louisiana, broke onto the scene in 2013 as a change of pace back to the bruising Alonzo Harris. Not only did he see time on the field, he also became the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year with 863 yards rushing. He followed that up with 1,264 yards rushing in 2014 as a sophomore in route to Sun Belt Player of the Year honors.
This is where it gets tricky. McGuire, becoming the full time feature back for the first time, struggled in 2015 as a junior. His rushing total of 1,058 was lower than in 2014 and his yards per carry was down significantly. While those number are a bit depressing, McGuire battled several nagging injuries and an offensive line that struggled to open lanes all season long. Considering just how poorly the offensive line played in 2015, it is a surprise that McGuire was even able to break 1,000 yards on the year.
What makes McGuire ready to make the jump to the NFL?
In a word, versatility. He has the ability to run the ball as a feature back, catch the ball out of the backfield, and contribute on special teams. The ability to contribute on special teams gives him a very good chance to make an NFL roster no matter what.
McGuire has proven that, even while injured, he can handle a workload of 200+ carries in a season and still be productive. In his first two seasons, McGuire was able to get away with carrying the ball a total of 269 times. Opponents had to respect the other options in the backfield including Harris and quarterback Terrance Broadway. In 2015, McGuire did not have either of those luxuries. Even so, he was still very productive with a 5.0 yards per carry average and 13 rushing touchdowns while carrying the ball 210 times.
In addition, he is one of the better pass catching running backs in all of college football. Only four of the 38 passes thrown to him in 2015 were not caught. He was the only player on the team with a catch rate over 80%. His receiving numbers were down from 45 in 2014 to 33 in 2015, but much of that was due to the instability at the quarterback position. In three seasons, McGuire has caught 100 passes for 1,145 yards and eight touchdowns.
The receptions are not just coming from screens and other basic routes. McGuire has shown the ability to run routes at a high level. It is clear that he works on his route running as much as his rushing. That is a rare trait for a running back in a run heavy offense.
In addition to starting at running back, McGuire has shown the ability as a returner. He had 24 punt returns in the last two seasons. McGuire is a steady returner that averaged 8.2 yards per return for his career while protecting the ball. He is smart, knowing when to call for a fair catch and when to take a chance. He hasn't been called upon it during his college career so far, but McGuire has shown willingness to get involved on kickoff coverage as well. That will go a long way in securing his NFL future.
Most importantly, McGuire loves the game of football. If it were up to him, he would be out on the field for every snap of the game. He is the type of player that will be in the weight room preparing for the next season while others are on vacations. His hunger for the game sets him apart from most players.
The worries for McGuire at the NFL level include his Sun Belt pedigree, his statistically disappointing 2015 season, and injury concerns. Many underestimate the level of play in the Sun Belt conference and tend to discount a player solely based on that. It is a disappointing, but true part of the process.
He will receive his evaluation in the next few days, needing to declare by January 18 if he decides to leave for the NFL. My personal guess is that his evaluation would put him as a late round draft pick with the chance to touch the middle rounds in 2017.
I could see McGuire ending up with the New England Patriots as a late round pick and becoming a Kevin Faulk type of player in the future. He could easily play some in the slot as well as in the backfield, using his excellent receiving ability to help Tom Brady and company.
Whether he goes pro or not this season, I would be stunned if he did not end up on an NFL roster.