After getting the draft's top tight end in Round One and a potential big-play receiver in Round Three, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers addressed the other offensive skill position in Round Five, and did so in familiar fashion. With the 162nd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers selected running back Jeremy McNichols, who is coming off two extremely prolific seasons at Boise State. McNichols will flesh out a Tampa Bay running back group that also includes former Boise State star Doug Martin, a 2012 first-round pick.
During the 2015 and 2016 seasons at Boise State, McNichols carried 554 times for 3,046 yards and 43 touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per tote. He also caught 88 passes in that span, adding another 934 yards and 10 touchdowns. Essentially, he took the Bronco baton that was handed from Doug Martin to current Miami Dolphins standout Jay Ajayi and then to him. Ajayi ran for 3,796 yards and 50 touchdowns from 2012-2014 after Martin had racked up 3,324 and 43 from 2009-11.
Of course, that neither guarantees McNichols success at the next level nor indicates that he is a comparable to Martin, who has two 1,400-yard NFL seasons under his belt. However, comparisons have certainly been made between the two 5-9 running backs.
"I do know him, I know him pretty well," said McNichols of Martin. "I got to meet him during the spring, so it's just kind of ironic. I've heard that [comparison] just because we're similar sizes and we went to Boise State. We've got a similar running style, so in that aspect I have heard that."
More than any superficial numerical comparisons to his Broncos predecessor, what is likely to get McNichols early playing time in Tampa is the well-rounded nature of his game. The above numbers indicate he can run between the tackles and catch passes; that combination of skills suggest he could play on any of the three downs.
"I'm very comfortable [catching passes]," said McNichols. "I used to play receiver for three years in high school, then played a year of receiver in college. So I'm really comfortable. I think my hands are really natural."
In addition, his ease as a receiver combined with a serious devotion to pass-protection might make McNichols an early candidate for third-down work.
"I take huge pride in [pass protection]," he said. "I just don't ever want anybody to touch the quarterback. I just take pride in knowing my assignment when it's blocking because I want to be a player who knows how to play without the ball."
In fact, the Bucs' fifth-round pick may even be a four-down player. He logged 34 kickoff returns during his time at Boise State, most of them before he became the primary ballcarrier. The Buccaneers added couple other return candidates on Friday in safety Justin Evans and wide receiver Chris Godwin, but are always looking to find more options for that job. McNichols would willingly take a turn.
A look at the newest member of the Buccaneers, RB Jeremy McNichols.
"Early on, I did a lot of kick return," he said. "I was the starter for a while. I got a good feel for it as I got more reps and I also think I can do it at the next level. I do want to continue to work on that and get better at that, get a chance to actually do it."
Tampa Bay realized a "pipe dream" on Thursday night when Alabama tight end O.J. Howard made it all the way to them at #19. Since then, while picking up a few pieces on defense, the Bucs have allowed this draft's excellent depth at wide receiver and running back fall to them. Fifth-round running backs have been rare for the Buccaneers – the last one was Jamie Lawson in 1989. Otherwise, the team has most often grabbed them very high or near the end of the draft, and occasionally through post-draft free agent signings. This year's draft was different, however; McNichols was actually the ninth running back taken on Saturday after eight came off the board during the first two days.
With Howard, Godwin and McNichols added through the draft, DeSean Jackson coming over via free agency and Martin looking very good this spring after a rough 2016, the Bucs are suddenly loaded with intriguing weapons for quarterback Jameis Winston.
"I think the Bucs are headed in the right direction," said the newest member of that offense. "I feel like it's explosive. They've got Mike, they've got D-Jack there, they've got Doug, they've got Jameis, they've got a tight end. I feel like it's going to be a really explosive offense."