It is Jeremy McNichols’ birthday Monday, and he has a big reason to smile even more than usual.
The Boise State junior running back, who has rushed for 1,663 yards and scored 27 total touchdowns this season, officially announced his intent to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL Draft.
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“I feel like I’ve done everything I wanted to do at Boise State,” McNichols said Monday during Cactus Bowl media day in Phoenix. “I won a championship freshman year, won a couple bowl games, met a lot of great people in Boise, got great coaches behind me.”
McNichols said the decision was made almost a month ago, but he’s kept it mostly quiet, sharing it with a few teammates and coach Bryan Harsin.
He said most scouts have said he likely will go in the third- to fifth-round range. McNichols’ precedessor, Jay Ajayi, declared for the NFL Draft after his junior season in 2014 and has rushed for more than 1,200 yards for the Dolphins after being taking in the fifth round in 2015.
“Playing running back, the lifespan is really short,” McNichols said. “... Talking to Jay was huge. He mentored me through the whole process.”
Harsin said of McNichols: “Very appreciative for what he’s brought to Boise State. ... I think a great opportunity for him, to go into this game, to play his very best ... he’s certainly practiced that way.’’
McNichols is the fourth straight Bronco to declare early for the NFL Draft, including defensive end/linebacker Kamalei Correa (2015), Ajayi (2014) and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (2013).
Boise State plays Baylor in the Cactus Bowl on Tuesday (8:15 p.m., ESPN).
The reception for McNichols’ decision has been very positive from those around him, he said.
“Everybody, my coaches, my teammates, they all supported me, I’m not getting bashed for it,” McNichols said. “That makes it a lot easier. It’s another reason that confirms why I came to Boise, it’s because of the people. I’ve never had got any bad vibes, it’s why I will continue to be around the community, because of all the love and support I received the last two and a half years.”
So who is next in line for the Broncos at a position that has churned out some gaudy numbers for a long time?
Alexander Mattison appears to be McNichols’ heir apparent after rushing for 307 yards on 59 carries this season as a true freshman, scoring four touchdowns. He also has four catches for 49 yards. Click here to see my feature story on Mattison from last month.
Sophomore Cory Young transferred earlier this month, leaving the Broncos with three scholarship backs: Mattison, senior-to-be Ryan Wolpin and Robert Mahone, who redshirted this season. Harsin said he will recruit one, and likely two running backs to sign in February.
Here’s a transcript of part of McNichols’ media session:
Everything, family, coaches, teammates. It was one of the hardest decisions having to make, coming out early and with school, not finishing school, getting a degree, putting all the marbles in, and with my football career, and putting in the school part on the back burner right now. It was all those components.
Q. What made this the right time then?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: I figured I've done everything I wanted to at Boise State. I won a championship freshman year, won a couple of bowl games. I met a lot of great people here in Boise. Got great coaches behind me and the support. So just moving forward, I think I'm ready to go to the next level and improve my career.
Q. Was that a decision that you had made recently? How long did you kind of ponder it?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: After last year, it was talked about, and as the year moved on, you know, getting closer to the season, it got talked about even more. And even through the season you know, I always went back and forth with my family. And I didn't really talk about it too much with my coaches because I wanted to stay focused with the team and everything.
And I kept it kind of inside. And then towards the end of the year, it became a bigger discussion just because of the year I had. And even then it was going back and forth. And I mean a decision probably was made about a month ago about --
Q. Have you talked to Jay much?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: Yeah.
Q. How much what he's done and his influence impact you?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: Jay was in the same situation. And playing running back, the lifespan is really short. So when you can get in and you know get a little bit of money and things like that, that goes into it. And then talking to Jay was huge, just because he mentored me through the whole process.
He told me the things that I was going to get with the pressure and the coaches and teammates and just leaving early. So Jay played a huge part in that.
Q. Did you get any kind of feedback from the evaluation and where you might go? Or what have you heard in terms of where you might be able to go?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: I'm not too sure about all that right now. I just want to finish this game and then we'll worry about that later.
Q. Was there something you needed to hear from agents or teams or whatever that you were going to go on a certain round? You feel confident to come back?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: They told me I would get drafted. So that made my decision a little bit more easier. But I still have to declare, turn in my papers. I still have to run at the combine and everything like that. So the projections and everything, we don't pay attention to right now. We'll get a better idea in a couple of months.
Q. Getting drafted anywhere was all you wanted to hear and what Jay did as a fifth-round guy?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: Getting drafted high would be cool. But the projection and everything, I'm not too sure right now.
Q. Zak said that the coaches have at least maybe try to keep you apprised of who is in the draft class, who is coming out, stuff like that. How much, have you looked at that stuff yourself?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: Yeah, that goes into account too. The guys that you're going to be getting drafted to and then where they're ranked at and where they're projected at.
So, I mean every year I feel like it's going to be a good class. And I mean if those guys are wanting to go to the NFL and improve their future and everything, I'm happy for them.
And I'm happy to be able to compete with those guys in my draft class. And I think it will be fun.
Q. Do you have any thought of not playing this game?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: No, there's no way. I grinded with these dudes the last two and a half years. And there's no way that I would sit out on these guys and be selfish.
So that's just my thoughts on that.
Q. The last two years Jay and Kamalei had huge games in their last game. Was that kind of a motivation for you to go out in style here?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: Yes.
Q. You talked about the money and stuff. How big is that for you and your family? How much of a factor is that and how excited are you?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: Yeah, it's exciting. Financially, to be able to help out your parents and your family is huge. And I mean, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the whole situation, because I've been dreaming about this moment since I was seven, eight years old. And now that it's here, I'll eventually be able to help them out is huge for me. It went into my decision as well.
Q. Have you talked to your teammates about it?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: I think they're happy for me. Being able to come through Boise State and get another Boise State player into the NFL. And you know it gives those guys hope and dreams, and you know that if they come here and work hard that they can get to that level.
Q. You said you've known for about a month. Have they known or did you tell the team today? Or when did the team find out?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: I've been talking to a few players here and there. But like I said. My biggest thing on my decision I didn't want to be a distraction. So I kind of kept it to myself and to a few guys. And I mean I talked to the coaches after the last game and talked to Coach Harsin and all those guys and they fed me great information that will go into my decision. So I think it was the right time to let it out right now and not be a distraction.
Q. Was yesterday when you actually told Coach Harsin your final decision or how long has he known?
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: I think he's known probably a couple of weeks. After our meeting he had a good idea.
Q. Obviously you talked about, we talked about how you felt when Jay left. And before him it was Doug and obviously guys like Alexander and stuff like that. Do you feel Boise State can keep it going with that running back --
JEREMY MCNICHOLS: I think so. Alexander had a great year as a freshman. He got a lot of playing time. Even when I was a freshman he got more playing time his freshman year than my freshman year.
So I think that experience at a young age in Division I football is huge. And it's going to help him and he's going to have a whole spring and a whole summer. And also Robert Mahone. He redshirted this year but he did all the scouts and everything and practiced hard and was in the weight room a little bit more. So I think he's going to be ready as well. With me leaving, I feel comfortable and confident with the guys coming up.
A deep class at running back
In the last four NFL Drafts, three running backs total have been selected in the first round. There could be at least that many taken in the first round of next April’s draft. Here’s a look at the bumper crop, and where Boise State junior Jeremy McNichols could fit in.
- Leonard Fournette, LSU (No. 2 overall on ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s Big Board): Powerful back (6-1, 235) is NFL-ready but has dealt with injuries in college career.
- Dalvin Cook, Florida State (Kiper’s No. 8): Has not declared yet for the draft, but is seen as one of the most versatile prospects with 1,620 rushing, 426 receiving yards.
- D’Onta Freeman, Texas (Kiper’s No. 12): A one-man show for the Longhorns, he ran for 2,028 yards in 11 games. He’s sturdy (6-1, 249) and has a nice burst.
- Christian McCaffrey, Stanford (No. 28 overall on ESPN’s Todd McShay’s top 32): Opted to sit out Sun Bowl; he can do it all, rushing, receiving or returning.
Beyond those four consensus backs, it is a little muddier to see where McNichols might stack up. He’s ranked by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller as the No. 11 running back, CBS Sports as the No. 5 running back (which still lists Oregon’s Royce Freeman at No. 4, though he said he will return next season), and is not in Kiper’s top 10 at the position.