It has been one week since the NFL Draft. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been credited with pulling off a “steal” in tight end O.J. Howard from Alabama.
Having a solid first round pick is great, but does not measure a successful draft. On the other hand, a first round “bust” often defines a disaster.
Let us assume Howard will be the NFL force the Bucs and other pundits project. How did Tampa Bay do in the later rounds?
That grade will be incomplete for one, maybe two, years. Hopefully, their fifth round choice of running back Jeremy McNichols from the Boise State Broncos will be one of those choices that lift the grade to at least “above average.”
The Bucs needed running back help. Doug Martin is a very good back, but keeping him on the field has been a problem.
Last year, Charles Sims had his injury problems, so the speculation was Florida State’s Dalvin Cook would be a natural for Tampa Bay’s 19th overall pick. As we now know, that was never an option if Howard was available.
With all of the recent health problems of Bucs’ running backs, McNichols will get serious looks and a lot of coaching in training camp. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is also a big plus. McNichols, nicknamed “McWeapon” in Idaho, had 23 rushing touchdowns in 2016, plus four receiving scores.
Tampa Bay drafted another Doug Martin in many ways. Martin stands all of 5 feet, 9 inches as does McNichols. Martin, who also came from the same Broncos program, is a receiving option out of the backfield.
After Martin left Boise State to join the Bucs, Jay Ajayi became the featured back in Boise. His final year saw statistics nearly identical to those of McNichols last year.
Ajayi was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, also in the fifth round, in 2015. He had 1,272 yards last year in just his second season behind a rebuilding offensive line and new offensive scheme.
McNichols has benefitted from Ajayi’s counsel and experience. Hopefully the mentoring will pay dividends for Tampa Bay.
“Guys that have that quality, always trying to search for something they need to add, those sort of guys succeed in the NFL,” Ajayi told the Idaho Statesman. “He’s a good listener.”
The Bucs hope McNichols can be this year’s Jordan Howard. The bulldog running back from Indiana was chosen by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round last year. With 1,313 rushing yards in just 12 starts, he was in the mix for Offensive Rookie of the Year, ultimately won by the Cowboys’ fourth-round choice, quarterback Dak Prescott.
McNichols and Ajayi can compare notes early in the season. Tampa Bay opens the year in Miami on September 10.