As the only Boise State running back to forgo his senior season tears up the NFL, his protege is pondering the same decision.
Junior running back Jeremy McNichols has not announced whether he’s returning to the Broncos in 2017 or pursuing the NFL Draft. A report earlier this month said he intends to leave Boise State after the Cactus Bowl on Tuesday (8:15 p.m., ESPN), but his mother told the Idaho Statesman a decision had not been made.
Certainly McNichols has noticed Jay Ajayi’s 1,213-yard season with the Miami Dolphins and how the 2015 fifth-round pick has become one of the best backs in the league.
“I usually talk to him on the phone once or twice a week,” McNichols said in November.
McNichols has not spoken with the media since the win at Hawaii on Nov. 12, but he is expected to Monday at Cactus Bowl media day. When the team landed Friday, coach Bryan Harsin said, “If he is deciding to come out, this is the week to do it and before the game.”
But as of Sunday night, there had been no official word. Teammates have been supportive, regardless of his decision.
“Going to root for him, whatever he does,” sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien said.
“All of us are supporting him 100 percent. He’s one of the hardest working guys on the team. He deserves everything that comes his way,” senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck said.
Speaking before Sunday’s practice, junior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson hinted a decision may not come until after the Cactus Bowl, saying, “He has next week to think about that. ... Everybody comes to (this) level to eventually play in the NFL. It’s every kid’s dream. If he gets to live out his dream, I’m happy for him.”
Boise State co-offensive coordinator Zak Hill said the coaching staff has advised McNichols plenty in recent weeks, keeping him apprised of who has declared early for the draft, where projections have him and what scouts are saying.
“I’m sure he’s getting a lot of advice from a lot of different people, but I’m sure that’s tough to figure out what the best advice is,” Hill said.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have him, and if he decides, he’s got our support, but if he wants to come back, I’m sure we can find plenty of ways to use him.”
This season has been one of growth for McNichols, who was open in the offseason about all the areas in which he wanted to improve. He discussed running smarter to avoid injury and has not missed a game. He wanted to improve as a blocker, so he has sat in on film study sessions with the offensive line. He aimed to gain good weight and added about 10 pounds, enabling him to break tackles while still breaking big runs.
“He’s been a great example for me,” said Rypien, who lives with McNichols.
Baylor is 96th nationally against the run, allowing 210.5 yards per game. Coach Jim Grobe compared McNichols to Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, who ran for 124 and 100 yards, respectively, against the Bears on Nov. 12.
“We’ve faced some great backs, and he’s right there with the best, on the level of those two from Oklahoma. You could flip a coin and be happy with whoever is on the field,” Grobe said. “He’ll be a great challenge for us. He’s got great balance, he’s strong and he has the foot speed to go to the house.”
Few would be surprised if McNichols throws his name into the NFL Draft, knowing the shelf life of a running back is short and seeing what Ajayi has accomplished in two seasons.
“If Jeremy is thinking about that, then this is the perfect stage to go out there and play your best game,” Harsin said.
Cactus Bowl: Boise State vs. Baylor
▪ Time: 8:15 p.m. Tuesday
▪ Where: Chase Field, (40,400, grass, home of baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks), Phoenix
▪ TV: ESPN (Rece Davis, Joey Galloway, David Pollack, Molly McGrath)
▪ Radio: KTIK 93.1 FM, KBOI 670 AM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
▪ Vegas line: Boise State by 7 (over/under is 67)
▪ Coaches: Boise State, Bryan Harsin (31-8, third year; 38-13, fourth year overall); Baylor, Jim Grobe (6-6, first year; 116-121-1, 20th year overall)
▪ 2016 records: Boise State 10-2, Baylor 6-6
▪ Key stats: Boise State’s two losses this season were by a combined nine points; Baylor has lost six straight games by a combined 262-157 points.
▪ Bowl records: Boise State 11-5 (won six of past seven), Baylor 11-11 (lost four of past seven)
▪ Series: First meeting
▪ Weather: Chase Field has a retractable roof, which is expected to be open for pre-game activities and closed for the game. Tuesday’s forecast calls for sun, highs reaching 70 and lows in the mid-40s.
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 if he declares early.
- 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.