Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Love couldn’t participate beyond the measurements and bench press (18 reps) after tearing his right ACL in the regular-season finale and having surgery Dec. 18.
The injury’s obviously the big story here. Love had already said he planned to sit out the Sun Bowl to prepare for pre-draft season, which made the 4th-quarter ligament tear in his final college game even crueler.
Even before the knee injury, though, Love dealt with a nagging left ankle injury. He missed 2 other contests and never reached 100 rushing yards after the Week 2 win over USC.
That proved especially disappointing after Love’s dynamic 2017. Taking over for Christian McCaffrey, the new workhorse ranked 2nd in the nation in rushing yards (behind Rashaad Penny), 2nd in all-purpose yards and 4th in yards per carry. Love reached 1,000 yards in just the 5th game of the year, thanks to a school-record 301 yards against Arizona State. That came just a week after his 263-yarder against UCLA, which spent a week as the school’s 2nd-largest rushing performance.
For the year, Love topped 100 yards in 12 of 13 contests, delivering 125+ in 11 of them and 150+ in 7 contests. Oh yeah, and he did all this despite missing the 8th game with an ankle sprain that continued to bother him beyond his return. Love averaged 10.3 yards per rush in 7 games before the injury, 5.7 in the 6 games after he returned.
Love saved all that production up through 2 seasons of playing behind previous horse McCaffrey. Love still managed to crack 20 carries twice as a sophomore, delivering 129 yards (on 23 carries at Notre Dame) and 119 (vs. UNC in the Sun Bowl) in those contests.
That followed a freshman season in which Love ranked 4th on the team in receptions (15) and receiving yards (250). That would remain the best receiving season of his career -- whether you go by traditional stats or Pro Football Focus grade.
As you can see in that chart from the PFF Draft Guide, though, Love ramped up his pass-blocking performance in his otherwise disappointing final campaign. He ranked 8th nationally at the position in pass-blocking efficiency.
(Courtesy of @WhatsOnDraftNFL)
Games watched: North Carolina (2016), Rice (2017), Notre Dame (2017), Oregon (2017), Washington (2017), Washington State (2017), Notre Dame (2018)
It can be tough to differentiate between players in what’s a largely ho-hum group of RBs this year. But a healthy Love (isn’t that what we’re all looking for) brings with him a key differentiator: SPEED.
The ACL tear kept him from running this pre-draft season. But if we apply the 4.40-second 40-yard dash he ran back at the 2013 U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a high school senior, the 200-pounder would sport this class’ 2nd-best speed score (106.7, behind only Ryquell Armstead’s 112.2). And only 1 RB at the Combine ran as fast (Justice Hill, 4.40).
We can’t know for sure what Love’s 40 time would have been, but he arrived at Stanford after setting national records as a sprinter in his young teens. And his speed carried over pretty clearly throughout his time with the Cardinal.
Here are a couple of examples from the 2016 Sun Bowl, in which Love got the start because McCaffrey decided to sit ahead of his draft.
We didn’t get to see much of Love as a receiver at Stanford -- surprising after McCaffrey amassed 99 receptions in his 3 seasons -- but that wheel route against the Tar Heels showed some of what’s possible.
You can find plenty more exciting, long runs from Love, such as this from 2017 against Oregon, where he hesitates just enough to allow the pulling right guard to clear his path ...
Or this one against Notre Dame last season …
What’s lacking from Love’s game is some agility and power. I’m not saying the guy’s a stiff, but you don’t see him jump-cutting away from tackle attempts. Instead, Love’s more methodical in his change of direction, which is only more likely to be exposed in the pros.
And here we see Love brought down with an arm tackle that many other RBs can withstand -- even some who don’t go on to NFL success.
To be fair, though, here’s another run in which Love does shrug off a high tackle and dash for a 52-yard score in a game that only saw him total 69 rushing yards.
That’s the kind of runner he is: the guy you can bottle up for almost an entire game ... then he busts you for the 50-yard TD that makes his fantasy outing.
Love doesn’t bring the size or combo of traits to take over an NFL backfield. But we keep moving away from the existence of such players. And in today’s NFL, there’s certainly room for Love.
The Stanford speedster looks capable of playing Jalen Richard or Chris Thompson in a committee or 2-man backfield. Perhaps those names don’t excite you, but Richard caught 68 balls last year and Thompson ranked 11th in PPR points per game in 2017. Love is faster than both of them. Duke Johnson also fits in the same range of size and skills -- and also isn’t as fast.
Love’s ability and involvement in the receiving game will be key, and we probably don’t know yet what his ceiling looks like in that area. For that aspect in particular, it will be interesting to see where he lands and what his new coaches say after the draft.