As the New England Patriots were on the clock Thursday night, the phone rang at the table in the green room where LSU RB Derrius Guice and his assembled camp were sitting. This, they thought, was the call they were waiting for.
On the other end: the Philadelphia Eagles. It appeared that Guice’s wait might end and that he might be the final pick of the first round. This was the player they appeared poised to take at that spot.
The Eagles’ plans changed quickly. A trade offer came in and they moved back to pick up much-needed Day 2 picks, trading with the Baltimore Ravens in the dramatic move up to get Lamar Jackson.
So Guice had to wait until Friday, and overnight questions and rumors alike swirled: Was there something going on? There was talk of a TMZ bombshell on the way. There were vague reports about a mysterious “incident” — one that may or may not have happened on a team visit. Even fake reports about Guice supposedly telling teams he would kneel during the anthem; those quickly were debunked.
But what actually was going on?
Guice was asked whether that alleged incident occurred when he visited with the Eagles — and he denied it: "My trip to the Eagles was great. There wasn't an altercation when I went. It was great. They were also like family. Me and Duce have a great relationship."
A source at LSU was confident Guice would be a first-round pick and backed up Guice’s story on Staley: “Duce loves [Guice].” That person told us entering Thursday Guice’s camp felt that one of two teams were most likely to take him — the Seattle Seahawks or the Patriots.
Both teams went with running backs not named Guice. The Seahawks took San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny at No. 27, and Aztecs head coach Rocky Long went on radio Friday afternoon to say that he felt the Patriots would have taken Penny had the Seahawks not. Instead, the Patriots selected Georgia’s Sony Michel.
It appeared Guice was off their radars, despite both teams calling LSU in the days leading up to the draft and receiving even more assurances that Guice would pass their varying levels of character checks and balances.
No Seahawks. No Patriots. No Eagles.
And Guice waited even more — all the way until pick No. 59, when Washington finally ended the drama, even if the mystery hangs in the air. At that point, Guice and his family had slid away from the spotlight of AT&T Stadium to a local restaurant where they camped out for the longer-than-expected wait.
"It did surprise me because a lot of the things came out of nowhere and weren't true," Guice said on a conference call with Washington media. "I just didn't understand … why me? Out of all people? Because I'm great to everybody, I have a great personality and I just didn't understand why everything just hit so hard with me out of everybody."
Far more intriguing than how Guice fits into Jay Gruden’s backfield alongside Samaje Perine is this: What really scared teams off on him?
Sure, there were football warts. Guice had some fumbles in college and wasn’t nearly as productive in 2017 as he was in 2016, hindered by some knee and leg injuries. His third-down ability was a bit underdeveloped. Guice’s hard-running style might shorten his career on the back end.
But more likely, NFL teams were scared off by his immaturity. Sources say that Guice is “addicted to video games,” but as we were told by the same person: “That might be the best place for him to be, is at home playing video games. I think the world of Derrius."
In the background of all of this was Guice claiming on SiriusXM Radio that an NFL team’s official asked at the NFL scouting combine if he was gay and that another team asked if his mother "sells herself" — in other words, was she a prostitute? Guice since has told NFL teams that he was taken out of context, and the NFL’s investigation into the matter yielded no evidence of either question occurring.
Guice’s rough upbringing is a complex story. His father was murdered when he was 7, gunned down in a Denny’s restaurant. Guice grew up in a really bad corner of Baton Rouge. His brother was charged with attempted murder. NFL teams have said that they don’t consider Guice a bad person, but some were worried about him being prone to distractions once he received fame and a pro contract.
As one team told us: “We’re in a big city. There’s a lot of nightlife here. I don’t know if he’d be great for us. If he went to Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Green Bay or whatever, that might be his best hope.”
That’s vague, and it’s not clear if that person would endorse Guice landing in Washington D.C. or not. That’s immaterial now. He’ll get a chance to be the lead horse there and will face the Eagles team that passed up taking him (and passed Guice up again when they traded up in Round 2 to draft South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert) twice a year for the foreseeable future. Guice’s preseason debut? That would be up in New England against the Patriots.
"We looked at the reports and talked to Derrius' agent and got a pretty good indication that we felt good about taking Derrius at that position," Gruden said. "Lucky to get him. This is a hard-nosed runner, plays hard, he can catch the football, he can pass protect, he's got good vision and a guy we really liked in the early rounds."
But not the first round. No team apparently did. Twenty-nine of them passed at least once, and in most cases twice.
"We got to know Derrius quite well. He's quite the character," Gruden said. "He's got a great personality, loves football and is going to be a great competitor for this football team. We know that.
"We felt like he fit in just fine. Love his talent. At the end of the day it's all about the skill set he has ... ."
Guice the competitor — and the runner he showed in 2016, outperforming Leonard Fournette that season — could be special. Add more motivation to his plate, plus a dose of humility after falling a full round past where he thought he would go, and it could be scary.
Said our LSU source, “When people ask what kind of competitor he is, my response is, ‘The guy could have gone anywhere else and gotten every carry for three years. He came to LSU because it was his dream, and he said he wanted to compete with Leonard [Fournette] every single day.’ That takes a special kind of person to do that.
“He’s a little immature, yeah, and he’s on social media a lot, but [he’s not immature] not when it comes to work. He’s a guy that … he’s still needs a little more maturing to do, as most 20- and 21-year olds do. Physically, he’s a man-child.”
As for the rumors that Guice’s troubles stemmed from drug use, the source denied that firmly.
“He’s never failed a drug test, and we test more than anybody in the country,” he said. “We kicked Tyrann Mathieu out of school, you know? [Derrius] never failed a drug test, never got in trouble for other off-field stuff.”
That was from early April, and that same source denied any reported incident that was being discussed — at the very minimum it didn’t happen on campus while he was a member of the Tigers’ team.
It’s very possible that most of that talk is not real and that teams just never got that warm, fuzzy feeling when meeting with him. Part of it is Guice’s fault. He fired his first agent, Fadde Mikhail, and hired a new agent, one who clearly was not ready for the stock fall or the rampant rumors spreading.
There were reports of Guice missing a team’s flight for a meeting, and that’s never a good look. But is it the kind of things that would drop a player that far? Something isn’t adding up.
"[He’s] not a bad person,” our LSU source said. “Some players are going to meet [NFL scouts] in person and devalue themselves because of the personality they have. I think Derrius is kind of the opposite of that … "
Washington feels like it struck gold. And maybe that’s so. But there are a few chapters of this story that feel like they’ve had the pages torn out. It will be interesting to see if we find those details out — or if it even matters at this point.