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Who did the Redskins draft when they selected RB Bryce Love?

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“He probably cost himself at least four rounds — and millions of dollars — by coming back to school for his senior year. Had he entered the draft in 2018, he would have been a second-round pick, at worst.”

USC v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Bryce Love began his career at Stanford as a backup to former first round pick Christian McCaffrey. As a junior, Love ran for 2118 yards and scored 19 touchdowns finishing second in the Heisman voting. The San Fransisco Chronicle ran a story on Love prior to the draft; the headline read, “Staying at Stanford hurt Bryce Love’s draft stock, but coach says he’s NFL-ready”.

The biggest question about the Cardinal’s draft prospects...is the status of Bryce Love. After rushing for a school-record 2,118 yards and receiving more votes than everybody but Baker Mayfield for the Heisman Trophy in 2017, he had an injury-hampered senior season.

He probably cost himself at least four rounds — and millions of dollars — by coming back to school for his senior year. Had he entered the draft in 2018, he would have been a second-round pick, at worst.

Head coach David Shaw says that line of thinking is irrelevant. He thinks Love will have a remarkable pro career.

Stanford v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

“Bryce Love is a better football player now than he was a year ago,” he said. “It’s the same conversation we had about Christian McCaffrey. Christian had an unbelievable sophomore year and not the same statistical year (as a junior), but he was better. He was more ready for the NFL. He was bigger and stronger.

“Same way with Bryce. He’s bigger and stronger, more physical. He hurt his knee, but that has nothing to do with whether he’s ready for the NFL.”

Although Love didn’t work out at the NFL scouting combine or at Stanford’s pro day last month, Shaw predicted he would be ready to go in training camp.

“[H]e’s going to make plays this year,” he said. “He’s going to be on the ‘SportsCenter’ highlights multiple times this year. That’s just who he is. If he’s healthy, I think he’s the best running back in this draft.”

Because of his knee injury, he’s “likely to need essentially a redshirt year in the NFL,” according to CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang.

Despite David Shaw’s professed pre-draft optimism about Love being ready for training camp, clearly, there are questions surrounding Bryce Love. Two of the most common questions I’ve seen lately are:

  1. Given his late-season ACL injury, when will Bryce Love practice and play?
  2. When he is added to the roster, whom does he replace?

I don’t think the answer to either of these questions is immediately obvious.

The Redskins could try to push Love onto the field quickly, but why would they? This is a team that has a crowded running back room with Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson, Byron Marshall, Samaje Perine and others. There’s no real reason to try to push Bryce Love’s rehab with an eye to getting him onto the field at the start of the 2019 season.

Still, Bryce Love, himself, seems eager to get started on his NFL career.

Just ten years ago, there would likely have been questions about whether Love’s career was over before it had ever really started, but the progress in surgery and rehabilitation of ACL injuries has literally changed the game. Today, just 5 months after tearing up his right knee, Bryce Love is in the midst of aggressive rehab that has more people than just David Shaw believing that he could be ready to practice as early as training camp, which starts 26 July.

Shortly after the Redskins drafted Love on April 27, he provided reporters with an injury update. At that time, he was progressing to treadmill work and introducing various impact drills and said his goal was to be ready at some point during training camp.

As his fellow draft picks went through drills during rookie minicamp at Redskins Park last weekend, fourth-round selection Bryce Love was off to the side doing individual work with Elliott Jermyn, who serves as the Redskins’ Director of Rehabilitation Physical Therapist/Athletic Trainer.

In one exercise, Love pulled a weighted sled up and down the sidelines. On each step, Love did his best to lift his knee to his chest.

None of this training was done at full speed, nor did it require a helmet or even a football. This was Love testing his physical capabilities in the months following the surgery he had to repair a torn ACL in December. And it’s just a sliver of what the Redskins’ newest running back will go through before joining his fellow rookies on the field.

“Every day, I feel like I’m getting better, being able to do more and more things. With what I’ve got, you’ve got to kind of be slow with it. Make sure you do it right, make sure you’re 100 [percent] before you’re ready to go.”

Even with a backfield that already includes Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall, [the Redskins] saw too much value in Love to pass up.

”We try to just let the board speak to us, regardless of position,” Director of College Scouting Kyle Smith said. “What we’ve been through as a team the last couple years with injuries, you never know who’s going to go down, so you’re always just trying to take good football players. Bryce is a guy ... had he come out last year, he would have been right in the mix of the first couple rounds with the deep group that came out last year running back-wise.”

Love believes he can bring explosiveness and versatility to the Redskins’ offense once healthy. He’s eager to learn as much as possible from Peterson, one of the NFL’s all-time leading rushers, and is excited to start working with Redskins running backs coach Randy Jordan, who lightly recruited Love back in 2013 when Jordan coached at North Carolina.

He isn’t 100 percent healthy (yet), but he’s already achieved a “lifelong dream” of making it to the NFL.

Clearly Bryce Love is progressing, yet I’m sure we are all accustomed to the Twitter visuals of players recovering from serious injury doing rigorous rehabilitation work that excites the possibility of an early return, only to find that the incredible physical feats we see in those videos still do not mean a player is ready to step on an NFL field with its bone-jarring, tendon-tearing collisions.

I’m sure that Love will push to get on the field, and I imagine that the doctors will manage his rehab appropriately. When he’s ready, he should play. If he’s not ready by the start of training camp, then Bryce Love will begin his NFL career on a reserve list.

You’ll read a number of articles that will suggest that Love will start training camp on the PUP list, but, while that’s technically possible, it’s not actually likely. Let’s deal briefly with the technical aspect of the reserve list.

PUP vs. NFI

Players who suffered an injury prior to being drafted, as Bryce Love did — even if the injury occurred playing football — are eligible to be placed on the Non-Football-related Injury list (Reserve/NFI, or simply NFI) rather than PUP, and this is typically what teams choose to do.

From a practical standpoint, there’s no real difference; the player can rehab, but is not eligible to be assigned to the 53-man active/inactive roster until after Week 6 of the season. The reasons why a team would choose NFI over PUP are more technical, dealing with fine print rules and not broad-stroke roster construction.

The arguments FOR placing Love on the NFI list include the Redskins’ lack of urgent need for his services and the desire to let the player focus on rehab and get fully healthy before he faces any pressure to play.

The argument AGAINST placing Love on the reserve list is that he can’t practice with the team, which limits his ability to develop as a player.

Personally, in the push-pull between the short-term and long-term, I tend to want to err towards the side of caution. I’d prefer to see the young man open training camp on NFI, and begin the season still on the reserve list, knowing he’ll be forced to stay there for at least 6 weeks, allowing him to focus on his rehab. I don’t see any reason to rush him back, possibly putting his long-term health and career in greater jeopardy than necessary.

At the same time, I understand and acknowledge the other point of view. If he’s healthy, why limit him and take away his ability to practice with the team? This merely stunts his development.

I don’t think the question of when he’ll be ready to practice and play will be answered before training camp, but I do think that, given the outrageous levels of injury the Redskins have suffered through the past two seasons and their current depth at running back, I believe the team will err on the side of caution, and that they will need to be completely convinced that Bryce Love is 100% healthy before they will put him into full speed practice and live contact situations.


Bryce Love, the college player

Stanford RB Bryce Love was once a Heisman Finalist, but things went wrong in his Senior season. On his final play of Stanford’s final regular season game on Dec. 1, he tore an ACL in his right knee, undergoing surgery with orthopedist James Andrews on Dec. 18.

This wasn’t Love’s only injury last year. He spent most of his senior season trying to ‘gut out’ performances for his team on an injured ankle.

Had Bryce Love declared for the draft following his incredible junior year when he rushed for 2,118 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry, he likely would have been a top-50 draft pick.

Instead, injuries and durability will be the question marks that hang over Bryce Love as he begins his NFL career.

The 21-year-old is 5’9” (not especially short for a running back), and weighs just 196 pounds (Redskins.com lists him at 200). His breakaway speed is impressive.

Just looking at his accolades from his Heisman Finalist season in 2017, Love had several big time rushes showcasing his speed and big play ability. Below is a breakdown of his big plays.

  • 20-yard rushes: 30
  • 30-yard rushes: 24
  • 40-yard rushes: 15
  • 50-yard rushes: 13 (FBS record)
  • 60-yard rushes: 7

These numbers clearly show Love has the ability to make a home run play any time he touches the ball.

Bryce Love, the young man

Mark Zeigler, of the San Diego Union Tribune, wrote an in-depth article, published in August 2018, about Bryce Love and his decision to return for his senior year at Stanford. Part of the article focused on the unusual decision not to cash in on his 2,000+ yard season, but much of the article talked about Bryce Love’s aspirations beyond football.

Love wants to play in the NFL. He has been watching NFL Films with his father so much that, as he wrote in a recent Sports Illustrated essay, “it felt like Steve Sabol’s baritone voice was narrating my own childhood.”

He also wants to be a pediatrician. He thought he might have outgrown that childhood dream after taking some science classes at Stanford and was more interested in stem-cell research and therapy. But he has come to realize that, no, he cares about kids, cares about kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods back home and wants to make a difference in lives beyond carrying an oblong leather ball into painted end zones while everyone chases him.

“It’s what I feel like what I want to do at the end of the day,” Love says. “I’m definitely passionate about it.”

And just as he can gaze ahead on the field and see defenses shifting, he looked forward in his life and evaluated the possibilities before deciding which way to cut. He could depart for the NFL last spring, probably make $3 million per year and just deal with “hum bio” later. But completing his undergraduate degree after an NFL career and then going to medical school added a layer of unnecessary complication.

“Taking a longer view,” Love calls it.

“Now, hopefully after a long NFL career, he applies to med school and makes a quicker transition,” Stanford coach David Shaw says. “For him, it was a priority for him to finish academically while he’s here and then focus on playing football for as long as he can play, then go to his next love, which is to be a doctor and to help people.”

An article on Redskins.com adds some background to the story of Bryce’s desire to become Dr. Love:

Soon after scoring his first competitive touchdown at five years old, Love contracted pneumonia which would set him on the course to want to be a doctor. Going from being very sick to healthy made the doctors superheroes in his eyes.

In order to pursue his dream of being a doctor, Love majored in human biology at Stanford and earned PAC-12 all-academic honors twice.

Love also spent time during the football season working at the lab of Michael Longaker, a surgeon who specializes in stem cell research, for a few days a week. There, Love was aiding Ph.D. candidates, medical students and doctors, as well as learning more about how to grow cells and analyze wounds.

While Love is interested in stem cell research and therapy and spent much of his coursework studying it, he remains adamant on being a pediatrician. Love hopes to help those in disadvantaged areas and make a difference for children, similar to how the doctors helped him. Love also hopes that his determination of playing football while pursuing a medical career can show young kids that they can reach their goals without compromise.

This seems to point to Bryce Love, Stanford alumnus, being a smart guy and a fine young man with meaningful dreams beyond football.

Personally, I really dig that.

I like the fact that Love has a vision for his future. I like that he has already made tough decisions to help his dreams become reality.


Click here to read an SB Nation article that talks about the roadmap for pursing dual careers in medicine and football


And I like the maturity he has consistently displayed in explaining himself publicly along the way.

With his draft stock falling more than perhaps any other prospect, Stanford’s Bryce Love took the unusual step of addressing a letter to every NFL general manager to detail why they should select him on Thursday night.

Love’s open letter to NFL GMs, which pulled no punches starting with his introduction, “My name is Bryce Love, and I’m the best running back in this draft,” was published Monday night in The Players Tribune.

Never mind that many teams fear the torn ACL Love suffered against Cal in The Big Game presents a bigger issue than most knee injuries and some teams see other red flags, Love was adamant in his letter he’ll be better than ever.

He used a series of film clips to illustrate how staying at Stanford, while it may not have been a popular decision to many, made him a much better football player.

“I’m not big into social media, and I don’t even look at mock drafts, so I couldn’t tell you where most experts think I’ll be picked,” Love wrote. “All I know is where I should be selected on April 25 — in the first round, as the first running back off the board.”

Love’s confidence aside, it remains to be seen whether his note will change his draft fortunes. As the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported, many teams are not yet convinced Love will be able to regain the explosiveness that wowed scouts during his junior season.

However, as Love hinted in his letter to NFL teams, overlooking him now and you may wind up regretting it for a long time.

So, this smart, erudite young man with dreams for NFL and beyond is now a Washington Redskin. Had he left school a year earlier, he likely would have been a first or second round pick; following the injuries that plagued his senior year, the Redskins were able to draft him in the fourth round — a pick that could eventually turn out to be one of the greatest steals of the 2019 NFL draft.

Bryce Love on the Redskins roster

The Redskins clearly didn’t draft Bryce Love for need. This was a “Best Player Available” draft pick.

Love joins a crowded running back group:

  • Adrian Peterson - drafted 7th overall in 2007; 4 time All-Pro, 7 time Pro-Bowler; 2012 league MVP & Offensive Player of the Year; 3 time NFL rushing yards leader; 2 time NFL rushing TD leader; NFL recorde 296 yards rushing in one game
  • Derrius Guice - 2nd round draft pick, 2018
  • Chris Thompson - Click here to read James Dorsett’s 25 reasons why #25 C.T. is the G.O.A.T
  • Samaje Perine - 4th round draft pick, 2017
  • Byron Marshall
  • Craig Reynolds

Who’s roster spot will Bryce Love take when he is activated?

Again, I don’t think this is a question with a clear answer, because I don’t think Bryce Love is a clear match for the skillset of any of our current running backs.

To approach this question, I thought it would be good to develop an understanding of the skills and limitations he displayed while playing college ball.

Valero Alamo Bowl - Stanford v TCU Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

I turned to the Draft Network, which offers three separate analysts reports, each formatted a bit differently, to see what I could glean. The quotes below are ‘stitched’ together from the three analysts.

Summary of The Draft Network Analysis

Receiving ability and pass protection

Usage [as a receiver] has been highly limited after a promising freshman season in 2015. Has all the needed quickness to win out of the backfield in match-ups against linebackers, although will need a lot of reps to catch up for limited development in this area. Would have expected more production in this area, particularly in his standout 2017 campaign. Fairly high drop rate so reliability with his hands could be restrictive to consistency.

Projects poorly in pass protection at the next level. Is not physical enough in protection. Will get pushed around by defenders looking to get into the face of the passer, Love simply lacks the anchor needed to drop down and hold his ground effectively.

Hands and pass protection both need work, which may limit his deployment in NFL.

I’ve seen a lot of people suggesting that Love will be a good replacement for Chris Thompson, though the description above seems to suggest that he has questionable hands and poor pass pro skills — two areas where Thompson excels.

Balance, elusiveness, power

Controlled and smooth operator, even making aggressive space. Makes sharp cuts in tight quarters with ease. Contact balance is soft, does not play through lateral contact well. Has the physical ability to carry speed through cuts as well although discipline to press forward is not always consistent.

Lateral quickness is superb, capable of cutting or bouncing suddenly into the sideline. Second gear is tremendous...when healthy. Easy change of direction skills. Works laterally with easy fluidity. Has breakaway speed to pull away from defenders.

Power is not his game, although his contact balance is adequate. Isn’t going to run through tacklers or move piles. A tad upright when running and not overwhelmingly powerful.

Excellent linear runner with elite acceleration as well as top speed.

Isn’t overwhelmingly agile--lateral quickness more a result of industrious movement than athletic ability. A slugger, but not a consistent hitter: most runs that make it to the second or third level were untouched and perfectly blocked.

This starts to connect the dots with the highlight film I’ve seen of Bryce Love. Great balance, good lateral quickness, but not a power back. Not great when contacted, but able to ‘run to daylight’ and accelerate quickly. He sounds faster and more elusive than Derrius Guice, but lacking Guice’s ability to run over people.

Durability

Has not had a healthy season in either of the two seasons in which he was asked to be a feature back. Slight frame is a notable cause for concern, will be a barrier to high volume workloads. Has suffered lower body injuries that inhibit cut ability even when he can play through.

Illustrated some of the most impressive mental toughness I’ve witnessed in recent memory, gutting out large parts of 2017 season on a bum ankle. Can be guilty at times of trying to make too much happen in the backfield, for better and for worse.

Red flags include torn ACL late in 2018 and perpetual nagging injuries. Love’s ability to stay healthy looms large in his evaluation. If he can, Love has exciting potential as a complementary back.

Now Love is starting to sound more like Chris Thompson. Undersized, lacks durability, consistent nagging injuries, but mentally tough.

The last two words in this part of the profile really catch my eye: “complementary back”.

Here’s how Tony Siracusa summarized his thoughts on Bryce Love:

Love is a good character guy, with significant athletic abilities, and he plays with heart. In a perfect world for him, that would be enough. But the durability questions are legitimate. Right now, you would have to say he is not going to be a 25-carry guy on a NFL roster, so would be best served on a roster that utilizes a rotation of backs.

Love is almost certainly a guy who needs to be in a ‘committee’ backfield; he has certain skills that can be used effectively, but probably can’t withstand the physical toll that comes with being the lead back. Gruden is a coach whose history suggests that he is very comfortable working with RBBC.

Love appears to be a guy with great speed and explosiveness who can run away from defenders, but who lacks the receiving and pass protection skills required in a 3rd down back like CT (at least at the moment). He probably needs to have limited touches per game to keep him healthy.

In my mind, I begin to see a guy who sees most of his action in the final 20 minutes of a game, when defenders are tired. He appears in the game, showing off a second gear that they haven’t seen in the first 40 minutes, and simply runs away from the defense.

Notre Dame v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Again, with a crowded running back room and no clear player-for-player replacement, I lean towards the ‘slow and steady’ approach with Bryce Love that would see him start the year on NFI and be activated when and if needed, but I’ve really got my eye on the 2020 season.

Chris Thompson is currently in the final year of his contract; Adrian Peterson is currently 34 years old. Today’s deep running back room has the potential to look very sparse next year, but the combination of a healthy Derrius Guice and a healthy Bryce Love would offer an incredibly explosive core. Patience with Love this year could pay off handsomely next season, and for many seasons to come.

Whatever the time line, and whatever his place in the Redskins offensive scheme, I don’t think there is any doubt that the Redskins have drafted a young man who is very impressive, both on and off the football field.

Heisman Trophy Presentation - Press Conference Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images