When people think of smaller backs, it is hard not to imagine shifty playmakers who may not be that strong, but will make defenders miss and pull away from secondaries.
Y'know, like this:
Jeremy McNichols is definitely a smaller back. With the average starting running back in the NFL hovering around the 5-11, 220 pound range, McNichols being a hair under 5-9 and weighing in at 212 pounds soaking wet puts him on the lower end of the scale. However, when a smaller back can compensate with electric running ability, it is a much easier sell.
Players who outrun defenses can often transcend size and if you have the cuts to make guys miss... Forget about it.
With flashy plays like this, it is hard not to see why Jeremy McNichols rushed for 1700 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. However, here's the thing... Plays like the ones above are not really who McNichols is as a player. Those types of highlight plays make him seem like a quick twitch home run hitter when really he is a tough, dependable running back who delivers body blows to defenses for 60 minutes.
It's hard to think of a small back of being primarily about running through guys rather than around them, but that is who McNichols is. The above play is a perfect example of what the average play is like with him; he does a great job letting blocking develop, sifts his way through traffic and runs through a few tackles to gain that extra yard or two.
The reality is that McNichols is definitely shifty, but he is not a major speed threat.
While he does a great job getting to the hole and breaking a tackle at the first level, his lack of top gear really prevents him from scoring despite having all the space in the world to do so. He is really a one speed running back, but he is running that speed *all the time*, which makes him so valuable. McNichols ran the ball 314 times in 2016 and had six games of at least 28 carries. Despite his workload, he was attacking every play with the same ferocity and he wore defenses down over time to eventually give up the big play.
Running the ball is akin to boxing. It is not necessarily about landing a knockout early, but giving your opponent a few jabs and tiring them out round after round and eventually, when they're tired and off guard, you give deliver the uppercut.
McNichols is not only a strong back, but he has awesome balance to fight through arm tackles and stay the course of the running play.
What makes McNichols so affective overall is that despite having the quickness of a smaller back, he packs a great punch. Also, his vision and patience combines with his physical running ability to give an offense that rarely loses yardage.
McNichols does a great job changing direction at the line here and cutting up field without losing any speed. As was stated earlier, McNichols does not have blinding speed but he is never running slowly. His legs will keep on moving and that will often provide just as much of a big play opportunity as any bigger back.
Other than McNichols' speed, his biggest issue is fumbles. In his two years of starting he has put the ball on the ground nine times which is certainly a concern, but also a fixable one. As for his third down ability, McNichols wracked up over 900 yards through the air in his two years of starting. He is not a dynamic receiver, but he does a good job getting tough yards from check downs and screens. His toughness also translates to being an aggressive and smart blocker. He is definitely a player who can come in on any down.
McNichols' tough running style despite his size is very similar to Devonta Freeman. Freeman did not have a great combine and he is definitely among the smaller backs in the NFL, but his toughness and dependability has translated to over 2000 yards and 22 touchdowns in the last two seasons and he is a huge part of the Falcons' Super Bowl offense. Both have excellent toughness, a hard running style and enough wiggle to make a difference and all of that helps them be very productive and dependable.
NFL teams are stubborn, unfortunately, and love sticking to certain measurements at various positions. A lot of teams will be concerned that McNichols is a bit smaller, so here's hoping a smart team sees what he can be for them. For the Eagles, he would be a great fit in the offense considering his vision, tough running style and third down ability. In terms of value, he is not a guy you take relatively high because he will need a strong complement in any offense, but for the Eagles, or any team, he would be an excellent value in the middle rounds. He may not be among the very best backs in this class, but give this guy 250 carries in an offense and he will help your team win.