It took until the third day of the NFL Draft, but the Tampa Bay Bucs addressed their running back room by selecting Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols with the 162nd overall pick in the fifth round.
Drum-banging to take a running back this year grew louder by the week leading up to the draft, but the Bucs decided against pulling the trigger early. Seventeen other running backs went off the board prior to McNichols, including Day 2 and Day 3 guys like Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara (3rd round, 67th overall), Texas’ D’Onta Foreman (3rd round, 89th), Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine (4th round, 114) and USF’s Marlon Mack (4th round, 143).
When general manager Jason Licht and other Bucs decision makers decided best-available talent and need for a running back converged, McNichols became the answer.
What makes McNichols an attractive option is his versatility. Drafted from the same school as current and embattled Bucs back Doug Martin, McNichols began his college career catching passes as a wide receiver before shifting to the backfield. Running backs who can contribute to the passing attack as receivers and as blockers are coveted by Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter. Both of those skills are why McNichols graded out high by Licht and Koetter.
“We had him very high on our board,” Licht said from One Buc Place on Saturday. “We think he’s obviously a very good receiver if you look at his stats. But on film he has excellent hands, rare hands. He’s a really good pass protector. He’s one of the best pass protectors in the draft from that position. He’s a very well-rounded guy, runs well, he’s got three-down value.
“In what role [will the Bucs have him]? We’ll see. But we just felt like he was a guy we couldn’t pass on.”
Koetter echoed most of Licht’s opinions, saying that McNichols as the ability to become a high-snap count back.
“Jeremy’s a three-down guy,” Koetter said. “He can do a little bit of everything. Really good production. He scored a lot of touchdowns. He started off his career as a wide receiver; they moved him around a lot. Really good pass blocker. Almost every running back in college, that’s their Achilles’ heel. Good pass blocker, good chipper, can catch – just a solid three-down player.”
McNichols left Boise State as a junior after putting up some huge numbers the past two seasons. His 1,709 rushing yards last year ranked sixth in the nation and his 27 touchdowns (23 rushing and four receiving) were more than any non-quarterback other than Western Kentucky running back Anthony Wales (29).
The Long Beach, California native totaled 3,046 yards and 43 TDs on the ground the last two seasons and caught 88 passes for 934 yards and 10 TDs as a pass catcher.
“I’m very comfortable,” McNichols said about catching passes out of the backfield while speaking to Tampa Bay reporters during a Saturday conference call. “I used to play receiver for three years in high school and then played a year of receiver in college. So I’m really comfortable. I feel my hands are really natural.”
The Bucs now have eight running backs on roster and figuring out who plans on carrying the load will be one of the offseason’s biggest storylines. Martin will be coming back to camp despite being suspended the first three games. So will oft-injured third-down back Charles Sims and 2016 addition Jacquizz Rodgers. Rounding out the crew of backs are Peyton Barber, Russell Hansbrough, Quayvon Hicks and Blake Sims.