Boise State has produced some outstanding running backs in recent years, and now two of them are in the same NFL backfield.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Jeremy McNichols with the 162nd overall pick in the fifth round, where he will join Doug Martin, another former Bronco great.
Around Tampa Bay’s facility, he will have friendly faces in head coach Dirk Koetter, the former Boise State coach, and scout Antwon Murray, a former Boise State cornerback. McNichols also tweeted Saturday night that two other former teammates will join the team as undrafted free agents.
“It wasn’t too much of a surprise,” McNichols said. “Coach Koetter is a Boise State guy. Antwon is up there, Doug is up there. ... Both sides knew it would be a perfect fit.”
McNichols’ selection made it eight straight drafts in which a Boise State player was picked, and he wasn’t the last, as linebacker Tanner Vallejo was picked 195th overall, taken in the sixth round by the Buffalo Bills. Coach Sean McDermott expects him to compete quickly on special teams. He should fit in at outside linebacker in the Bills’ scheme.
“I want to come in and do whatever I can do to help this team win and to win some championships,” Vallejo said. “Whatever my role is, I’ll accept it and go all out in it.”
The Broncos have found some serious success recently in players taken in the final three rounds, which McNichols and Vallejo hope to continue. They include Dolphins Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi (fifth round, 2015), Broncos starting center Matt Paradis (sixth round, 2014), Bears starting left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (seventh round, 2014) and Bengals safety George Iloka (fifth round, 2012).
Ajayi watched the draft with McNichols on Saturday in Southern California, and now the pair will play opposite one another in their respective teams’ season opener: Tampa Bay plays at Miami on Sept. 10. McNichols’ selection made Boise State one of 11 schools to have an early entrant drafted the last four years and extended the Broncos’ streak of at least one pick to now eight straight drafts.
“He’s coming from Running Back U now, Jay Ajayi, Doug Martin ... they really like this back, a lot of guys say this guy’s the real deal,” former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis said on NFL Network.
In the Buccaneers, McNichols joins one of the most dynamic young offenses in the NFL alongside Martin, quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans. Tampa Bay signed receiver DeSean Jackson in the offseason and drafted Alabama tight end O.J. Howard in the first round and Penn State receiver Chris Godwin in the third round.
With 88 catches to go with his 3,046 rushing yards the last two seasons, McNichols could add a weapon that can be used in a few ways alongside Martin, who has 4,227 rushing yards in his five NFL seasons.
“I think the Bucs are headed in the right direction ... I feel like it's going to be a really explosive offense,” McNichols said.
After a massively productive sophomore season, injuries slowed down Vallejo his final two seasons, including a wrist surgery that ended his senior year last November. McDermott said he is adding speed with the likes of Vallejo, while ESPN’s Bucky Brooks said the Bills’ draft “is blue collar, top to bottom.” Vallejo was the team’s last pick of the draft. Linebackers coach Bob Babich was on hand at Boise State’s March 30 pro day, and Vallejo said a scout talked with him about the Bills and their passionate fanbase before the workout.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” Vallejo said. “Filled with excitement to get up to New York, try to earn my way to making the team and be a part of the Bills Mafia.”
TWO MORE BUCS, MORE FREE AGENTS: McNichols tweeted soon after the draft, welcoming former Boise State cornerback Jonathan Moxey and receiver Thomas Sperbeck as undrafted free agents. Moxey is a West Palm Beach, Fla., native and started 37 games for the Broncos. Sperbeck, the Broncos’ all-time receiving yardage leader with 3,601 yards, confirmed the news in a text message.
Landow Performance, an athletic training company in Colorado, tweeted that former Boise State offensive lineman Travis Averill has signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Averill started 41 games at Boise State. Defensive end Sam McCaskill signed with the Minnesota Vikings, according to agent Andrew Lehman. McCaskill led the Broncos with 14 tackles for loss as a senior.
Houston Chronicle reporter Aaron Wilson reported former Boise State offensive lineman Mario Yakoo will have rookie minicamp tryouts with the Raiders and Redskins, while a source said safety Chanceller James will have tryouts with the Saints and 49ers.
DRAFT NOTES: The Mountain West did not have a player taken until San Diego State guard Nico Siragusa went 122nd overall in the fourth round to the Ravens. That’s the second-longest start to a draft for the conference since its first draft represented, in 2000. ... The Mountain West had eight picks: San Diego State had three, Boise State and Wyoming had two and Utah State had one. ... BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, a Pocatello native, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Packers. ... Idaho punter/kicker Austin Rehkow tweeted he has signed with the Buffalo Bills, and Salt Lake City radio station KSL reported Vandal defensive lineman Tueni Lupeamanu signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
BSU picks in recent drafts
Jeremy McNichols, RB, 5th round (162nd overall), Buccaneers*
Tanner Vallejo, LB, 6th round (195th overall), Bills
Kamalei Correa, DE/LB, 2nd round (42nd overall), Ravens*
Darian Thompson, S, 3rd round (71st overall), Giants
Rees Odhiambo, OL, 3rd round (97th overall), Seahawks
Jay Ajayi, RB, 5th round (149th overall), Dolphins*
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, 2nd round (34th), Cowboys*
Matt Paradis, C, 6th round (207th), Broncos
Charles Leno Jr., OL, 7th round (246th), Bears