After the dust settled from the NFL Draft, one of the clear “winners” were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After getting steals in the first and 3rd rounds with OJ Howard and Chris Godwin, The Bucs made one of my favorite picks of the entire draft by selecting Jeremy McNichols in the 5th round. While some may see the 5th round pick and think that McNichols isn't worth much of an investment in rookie drafts, that is a false mindset. I've been targeting McNichols in every draft I’ve been a part of since April and I think he will not only be the Tampa Bay running back of the future, but could be the back to own in 2017.
First off, let's take a look at the competition that is in front of McNichols for the 2017 season. Since McNichols is mainly known for his pass catching ability, Charles Sima is most likely his direct competition to getting his way on the field. Listen, I love Charles Sims. He was “my guy” in 2016, as I was willing to bet against Doug Martin (more on him later), and thought if Sims was given the opportunity, he would show himself to be a true three down RB. What I overestimated with Sims was his ability to actually run the football. Albeit in a limited sample size, Sims was atrocious as a runner, averaging just 2.9 YPC on 51 attempts before succumbing to his own injury, and his tape is even worse than that number suggests. So while McNichols would have to prove himself to be a better pass catcher and route runner than Sims, I don't think it will take much to prove he's a better runner.
Jaquizz Rodgers projects to be the team's first and second down back while Martin serves his three game suspension, and while Rodgers impressed after he was thrust into the starting job, in willing to bet that Rodgers is more the low volume change of pace back he was for most of his career, rather than the workhorse RB that Tampa Bay was forced to use him as due to the decimation of their depth.
The obvious big question mark in the Tampa Bay backfield is Doug Martin. After an outstanding 2015 that saw him lead the league in rushing, Martin started off 2016 looking just as good only to injure his hamstring, an injury that he would battle for most of the season. After coming back from the injury, Martin was ineffective, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry on the same offense in which Rodgers was highly productive. The biggest question with Martin is will he be closer to the 2015 fantasy stud or the 2014 fantasy bust? That's an impossible question to answer at this point in the offseason, but I tend to believe that players regress to their career means, rather than betting on them to repeat their best career years. Martin turned 28 this year, and if he isn't productive right away, Koetter has shown that he's not afraid to give new guys opportunities and play the hot hand in the running game.
Even with all this said you may ask; why draft McNichols? Well, that's what I'm here to tell you. McNichols was a highly productive college running back, one that put up nearly identical numbers to Jay Ajayi in essentially the same offense, amassing 4,294 total yards and 55 touchdowns despite barely seeing the field as a rookie. Some people may argue that his size will hamper him, but his player profiler lists his best comparable as Melvin Gordon, someone who proved last season that he has the physical ability to be a true workhorse back and focal point of an offense. McNichols has also been touted as the best receiving RB in the draft after Christian McCaffrey, a skill that is essential in today's NFL and one that some backs being taken ahead of McNichols lack (I'm looking at you Samaje Perine.) Football Outsiders grades him as the seventh best running back in the class, ahead of guys like Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara and D’Onte Foreman.
Watching McNichols film is really where you start to fall in love with him. A hard, high energy runner, McNichols is always fighting for extra yards, and can make dynamic plays in space to turn short outlet routes into long gains. He can also be split out wide and make plays, as he had 5 receptions of 25 yards or more last season.
McNichols isn't without his flaws however. While he showed great balance, he needs to work on his lower body strength, as he was taken down by single arm tackles more times than I am comfortable with. I'd also like to see him show a little more patience in allowing his blockers to open lanes for him, rather than trying to fit his body into holes while they're developing. Most importantly, he needs to do a better job with ball security, as he had eight fumbles in the past two seasons at Boise St. While these aren't flaws that can be ignored, they are fixable with the right coaching staff.
In short, McNichols was one of my favorite players heading into the 2017 Draft, and I don't think I could have picked a more ideal landing spot. The Tampa Bay Bucs have the makings of the next great offense, and I'll take a chance on a talented running back with a clear shot of starting in that offense ten times out of ten. At worst, McNichols will be a great PPR running back, ala Danny Woodhead and Theo Riddick, but who's upside I believe to be a slightly smaller Matt Forte. If I'm in a rookie draft and McNichols is sitting there at the end of the first or early 2nd, I'm taking him.
Anthony Reimer is a writer and contributor to FLAFFL House. He can be found on Twitter @reimeras and on the Fantasy Life App @mrmeseeks