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Why Jeremy McNichols Could be the Unlikeliest of Zero RB Heroes

The 49ers backfield is quickly turning from a sure thing to one of the biggest wildcards in fantasy football.

Jerick McKinnon may have dodged a bullet when a knee injury suffered in practice turned out to be a muscle strain, but he’ll be held out for the entire preseason anyway. Meanwhile, No. 2 running back Matt Breida is will also be out of action until at least Week 1 as he battles a shoulder injury.

Joe Williams remains an enigma, albeit a freaky fast one, and the 49ers have even brought in an old, familiar friend of Kyle Shanahan’s, Alfred Morris.

Meanwhile, Jeremy McNichols lurks. The former fifth-round pick of the Buccaneers has been receiving first-team reps in training camp in recent days. Is this finally his opportunity to show why he was such a huge RotoViz darling just one year ago?

If so, he’s in the right backfield to be an unlikely league winner.

Right Place, Right Time

From Mike Anderson’s 1,400-yard rushing season in 2000, to Morris’ 1,600-yard season in 2012, the Shanahan rushing scheme has consistently made stars out of late-round RBs.

It’s an ideal spot for a forsaken prospect like McNichols, who was cut by the Buccaneers in training camp and spent most of the season on San Francisco’s practice squad. The 49ers head into 2018 with one of the most undervalued backfields in football.

Their RBs scored the fourth-most expected points (EP) in the league last year, Shanahan’s first as head coach.

McKinnon is still in line to be the biggest beneficiary here, but even if fully healthy, it’s worth pointing out that he’s never topped 202 touches in a season. This could be something closer to a committee, and remember that Breida’s Week 1 status is in doubt.

McNichols has the kind of workhorse profile to take advantage of any future fragility in this backfield.

McNichols > Kamara?!

Is it true that six out of seven RotoViz analysts picked McNichols over Alvin Kamara in last year’s Sweet 16 RB Prospect Tournament? It is, but in our defense, he did look like he might be the better overall prospect.

The only abstainer was Scott Smith, who said he only picked Kamara because his tape popped. Even he had to concede that the numbers suggested McNichols was the pick.

Kamara vs McNichols

He was the second-highest scorer in the 2017 Prospect Lab. Thanks to a lethal combination of production and athleticism, McNichols drew comparisons to Matt ForteDalvin Cook, and Jay Ajayi during the pre-draft process. But despite putting up 2,187 total yards and 27 TDs in his final season, he fell to the 162nd pick and was unceremoniously cut before the season started.

Kevin Cole’s regression analysis gave him a 29 percent chance of having a top-12 PPR season within his first three years, just behind now-teammate and fellow sleeper, Joe Williams.

Player School Weight Forty RuYds/Gm Rec/Gm Top-12 Predict
D’Onta Foreman Texas 233 4.48* 184.4 0.6 0.53
Leonard Fournette Louisiana State 240 4.51 120.4 2.1 0.44
Joe Mixon Oklahoma 228 4.48* 106.2 3.1 0.42
Joe Williams Utah 210 4.41 156.3 1.0 0.35
Jeremy McNichols Boise State 214 4.49 131.5 2.8 0.29

Conclusion

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves; McNichols is a very deep sleeper with a mountain to climb to reach relevance. His college profile remains impressive, but falling so far in the draft and already being on his second team are significant red flags.

But he’s in the right system, and he has a profile which suggests he’s capable of filling any role that is required. If he’s getting first team reps, then he’s also clearly got the attention of his head coach.

With the injury bug striking the 49er’s backfield, he may get a shot at redemption sooner than we think.

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