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This preseason, I've been spotlighting an under-the-radar player who impressed me in each game and assessing that player's chances of making the team. Today, we'll wrap this series up by looking at one of the top performers in the Jets' 16-10 win over the Eagles; running back Elijah McGuire.
Who is he?
McGuire is a rookie running back from Louisiana-Lafayette. The Jets selected him in the sixth round with the 188th overall pick.
At college, McGuire rushed for over 1,000 yards three times and scored 52 total touchdowns in four seasons. He looked set to be an elite prospect after his sophomore year, although his production and draft stock slipped slightly over his last two seasons as he was slowed by a foot injury.
Eagles Game Breakdown
McGuire had a dynamic performance as he rushed for 56 yards on just five carries in the Eagles game, accounting for most of the yardage on the only touchdown drive of the game. What stands out about McGuire's performance is that none of the other backs - including starter Bilal Powell - had any success whatsoever in the running game. None of them averaged more than two yards per carry as the Jets rushed for just 28 yards on 27 carries if you exclude McGuire's contributions.
In recent seasons, the Jets have had a number of players that put up impressive numbers in the final preseason game, leading to calls from fans and media for them to earn a bigger role with the team. These included Danny Woodhead, Jesse Chatman and Chauncey Washington. However, what sets McGuire's performance apart from these players is that he only had limited opportunities whereas each of those three primarily just took what the defense gave them and put up numbers through sheer volume.
McGuire lit up the game in the second quarter with three electrifying runs to spark the Jets' touchdown drive. The first one was an interior run through a huge hole off the left side, which saw him plant his foot to sidestep the safety's tackle attempt at the second level, and then fall forward at the end of the run.
On the second one, he went off tackle on the right side and again made a sharp cut to bounce outside at the second level, and then ran over another defensive back for 11. His last one was even better as he again went off-tackle on the right side, this time using an outstanding burst to slip three tackles on his way to a 34-yard gain.
The one negative from McGuire's performance was that he whiffed on a cut block in pass protection, leading to a pressure. However, McGuire's pass protection is generally considered to be relatively advanced for a rookie, so it shouldn't be something that keeps him off the field.
He wasn't featured in the passing game last night, but that could be because McGuire's pass catching ability is something that the Jets want to keep under wraps until the regular season. McGuire had 130 receptions, including 10 touchdowns, in college and, unlike many collegiate backs, he didn't just rack up production on dump-off passes, showing some route running skills and the ability to make tough catches down the field. He had caught three passes for 30 yards in the first three preseason games.
What are his roster chances?
McGuire will definitely be on the roster this year and seems comfortably entrenched as the number three back. However, the question now becomes how many touches he'll get. While Powell and Matt Forté are healthy, he perhaps won't see much of the ball, but later in the year - or sooner, if someone gets hurt - he should get some chances to produce.
The initial plan was for McGuire to contribute to the return game, but he didn't do much of that in college and the team seems to have abandoned the idea. However, he's shown good potential in preseason and definitely looks to be a candidate to be a lead back or at least sharing the load at some point in the future. It will be interesting to see the rate at which he progresses towards that point during the 2017 season.