Why the Slide?: Jeremy McNichols

By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell

Three years ago, we started a series of articles on why certain prospects went undrafted. In that series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. We got a lot of positive reader feedback about the series, so we decided to expand in the genre to investigate why some prospects slid in the draft. A year later, we started the Why Slide? series, and this year, it is back. Feel free to email me requests for “Why the Slide?” and “Why Undrafted?” at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely respond.

The 2017 NFL Draft was known to be strong at the running back position, and one of the players that was well-regarded in the scouting community was Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols. Boise State has developed a reputation as ‘running back U’ with a steady stream of quality backfield talents for the next level. McNichols had an impressive final season, averaging 5.4 yards per carry for 1,709 yards with 23 touchdowns. He also notched 37 receptions for 474 yards with four touchdowns. Many thought McNichols would end up getting selected on the second day of the 2017 NFL Draft, but he ended up slipping to the fifth round.

Sources say there were two factors that led to McNichols sliding lower than expected. One he has a shoulder injury that worried some teams. Staffers with Tampa Bay say they are projecting him to be ready by training camp, so the short term isn’t scary. This was a deep running back draft, however, so McNichols got pushed down some by the abundance of talent at the position and other comparably graded backs not having a medical red flag.

The Buccaneers got an excellent value with McNichols in the fifth round. Tampa Bay has been raving about the turnaround from veteran Doug Martin this offseason, so McNichols is more likely to be competing for backup reps come training camp. Martin has had a roller coaster career with a great rookie year, two down seasons with injuries, a tremendous contract season in 2015, and then a 2016 season that saw him be derailed by substance issues with a suspension to close out the season. That suspension will carry over for three games of the 2017 season, thus the Bucs were wise to draw on a strong running back class and add depth with McNichols. He also is a quality receiving back, so that gives them another target for Jameis Winston to utilize in the passing attack. Tampa Bay will have three games to test drive McNichols, and then the team will have more time to ease him into the NFL as Martin’s backup.

If Martin doesn’t bounce back in 2017 and McNichols impresses, Tampa Bay could move on from Martin with McNichols being its running back of the future. Learning pass protection and NFL blitz schemes are difficult tasks for any rookie running back, so McNichols could work on that and improve while splitting carries among other backups behind Martin.

Even if Martin regains his 2015 form, Tampa Bay could have a nice tandem with McNichols and Martin keeping each other fresh and healthy. Veteran backup Charles Sims is in the last year of his contract, and McNichols could be an upgrade as a backup over Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers. For the Buccaneers, McNichols should at least become a contributing rotational back if not a quality starter in a year or two. He was a good value pick in the fifth round.

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