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Revisiting the Boise State 2014 Class: Running Backs

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Part 2 of our series takes a look at 2 running backs for the Broncos; both left early, but for different reasons.

NCAA Football: Cactus Bowl-Boise State vs Baylor Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a fun off-season series that Casey (of OBNUG) and Mike (of MWCConnection) are rolling out for your viewing enjoyment (hopefully). Back in February, excitement was at an all time high for fans and coaches alike as the 2018 class was officially signed. Quite often around that time it is not uncommon to hear fans say things like “On paper, this is the best recruiting class ever for ____.” And on paper, that may even be true or arguably true. However, once players get on campus and actually on the field, the true story begins to reveal itself. It can often take years for a class to truly be judged as the impact of many players won’t be seen for a few seasons. That being said, this series will aim to revisit and evaluate Boise State’s 2014 class. There has now been enough time that many members of the class have either left or are entering their final seasons, which means players are able to be looked at for their production (or lack thereof) rather than projection and hype. Also, this was the first recruiting class in the Bryan Harsin era for the Broncos. Although it was basically only put together over a period of a few weeks, there was quite a bit of hype surrounding the class back in February of 2014.

Anyway, each week, Casey and Mike will look at a different position group from the class. Both of us will contribute each week, but the location of the post will change (one week on one site, the next week on the other) so followers of both sites can follow along. Each post will have both of us weighing in on the same talking points for each season: our expectations of the player from when they signed, the production they gave each season on the team, and their overall impact, which we will fit into one of 3 categories (exceeded expectations, met expectations, or below expectations). We will each keep a running tally of our totals and then at the end we can each determine the over impact the 2014 class had. It should be a fun and interesting study as the 2014 Boise State class had a little bit of everything over the past 4 years.

This week is Part 2 of the series and will examine the running backs. Like quarterbacks, last week, there were two RB commits in this class. Another similarity, neither of these players made it to their senior year with the program, although the difference is this group was for two different reasons.

Cory Young

Casey

Expectations When He Signed: I really liked his tape. Fast in open space, seemed to be able to make guys miss. He put up some crazy numbers at Norco, so no reason not to be excited, right? He rushed 324 times for 2,450 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior in southern California. Yes please.

2014: We had A LOT of running backs in 2014, including Jay Ajayi, Devan Demas and Derrick Thomas. I full anticipated Cory red shirting because it looked as though Jay would declare early because he was a beast, and Derrick would be graduating.

2015: Very surprised by the fact that McNichols played in 2014 as a true freshman, which in turn did not surprise me that Young saw less production. 17 carries for 90 yards seemed a tad low, but Stanford transfer Kelsey Young showed he was a solid back-up, thereby taking snaps for Cory. Cory was then sharing third-team snaps with Demas. Based on how the 2014 season panned out, it was not surprising to see Cory get limited carries. I did anticipate he would beat out Demas for playing time, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

2016: In what would be his final season with the Broncos, Cory carried just 10 times for 48 yards. True freshman Alexander Mattison stormed on the scene, cementing himself as the #2 behind McNichols and relegating Cory to 3rd string and lower. Young saw even less carries and yards than the previous year. His transfer to Northern Arizona after the season was not much of a surprise to anyone.

Overall Impact: Overall I would say Cory failed to meet expectations. I didn’t expect him to necessarily come in and win the starting job, but I definitely expected him to fight for 2nd string based on his production out of high school. I was also surprised by McNichols ascension post-Ajayi.

Mike

Expectations When He Signed: At the time he committed, the Broncos were in desperate need of a running back and commits in general. His commitment was a good sign for the new staff, a 3-star RB who had lightning speed. It was my thought at the time he would be at best a future starting back and at worst, a valuable weapon in the offense where he could split carries. But figured the future was bright for him.

2014: He took a red-shirt year and that’s exactly what I (and most everyone) thought would happen. Learn the offense, put on some muscle, and work hard to get a role the next season.

2015: He did end up carving out a role, but not quite as big as I would’ve thought. This was not really Corey’s fault though, as McNichols turned himself into an every down back (more on him later) and Corey’s older brother Kelsey joined the team as a grad-transfer from Stanford. The older Young cemented himself as a solid #2 RB, which regulated the younger Young and a few others to random spot time. Still, he flashed potential and I believe this was the year he had a TD that wasn’t counted and because it was a blow out, the play was not reviewed.

2016: Again, this figured to be a “breakout” type of year for Corey. Now with Kelsey gone, Corey could potentially get some of the #2 carries or at least split time with others. But sadly, Young saw less carries and production then he did the year before. The emergence of true freshman Alexander Mattison, who jumped over all RBs not named McNichols, spelled disaster and then the writing was on the wall. Corey wanted to play so he ended up transferring out at the end of the season.

Overall Impact: Unfortunately, timing was everything for Corey Young. He came in overlapping with some of the greatest Boise State running backs to suit up in Ajayi, Mattison and McNichols, who he shared the class with. Add in his grad-transferring older brother, and it’s hard to emerge from all of that talent. If he stayed, he may have ended up meeting expectations as a productive backup/change of pace guy on the outside. Alas, he did not, so he failed to meet expectations.

Jeremy McNichols

Casey

Expectations When He Signed: Really I wasn’t sure what to expect from him. We flipped him from Utah, so that’s always a good thing. He was listed as a WR, but I had heard rumblings of a switch to RB. He was certainly fun to watch, but I did not expect him to necessarily supplant any of the senior running backs ahead of him.

2014: Lo and behold, young McNichols comes out swinging. He earned himself some carries as a true freshman. I didn’t expect him to play, but also didn’t rule it out as a possibility. 17 carries for 159 yards and a touchdown is commendable for a true freshman. He more or less split carries with Derrick Thomas and Devan Demas.When you have a running back like Jay Ajayi ahead of you, who had 324 carries for 1,834 yards, there isn’t a lot left for the rest.

2015: With the departure of Ajayi and Thomas, it was McNichols turn. He was the definition of an all-purpose back, running for 1,337 yards on 240 carries for 20 touchdowns, but also hauling in 51 catches for 460 yards and another 6 touchdowns. What’s more bonkers is that only earned him second-team All MW. He really went off, backed up by Stanford transfer Kelsey Young. His production in his first year as starter was remarkable, quelling fears of a drop-off post-Ajayi.

2016: Wow. It’s rare that a RB can outperform himself after an already stellar season, but McNichols did just that. 314 carries for 1,709 yards and 23 TDs and 37 receptions for 474 yards and 4 more touchdowns. And yet, he STILL only earned second-team All MW. Brian Hill and Donnell Pumphrey earned first-team honors, despite McNichols having the same total yards (2,113) and nearly double the TDs (27 to 15) of Pumphrey and 400 more total yards and 6 more touchdowns than Hill. For shame!

Overall Impact: Absolutely he exceeded expectations. McNichols cemented himself as one of the top backs to play at Boise State. We’ve had a long line of those recently, haven’t we? I certainly hope at some point his success at Boise State can translate to time in the NFL.

Mike

Expectations When He Signed: At the time of his signing, he was “just another 3 star” in a class full of them. That isn’t met as a slight, but he wasn’t necessarily someone I viewed as a huge get or someone who could set themselves apart from others that quickly. Needless to say, I was mistaken.

2014: I expected him to use his redshirt year and like most, learn the system, adjust to college, and get his mind and body ready for the next four years. It seems like the coaching staff did too as he didn’t play the first half of the season. However, an injury to Matt Miller caused a need for another weapon on offense, and thus the “weapon” hybrid role was made for McNichols, and the legend of McWeapon was born. Jeremy was as balanced as could possibly be in his dual role. He amassed 159 yards and a TD on 17 carries while also accounting for 155 receiving yards and a TD on 15 receptions.

2015:With Ajayi gone, the question became not “could Jeremy be productive?” but instead “could Jeremy handle being the full-time featured running back?” In short, the answer was yes. He put up huge numbers (I won’t repeat what Casey already wrote), and maintained his status as a big receiving threat, finishing 4th on the team in receiving yards. Aside from perhaps being a bit gun shy after a big hit that resulted in a concussion, McNichols resulted in very little drop-off from what Ajayi was able to do before him.

2016: His junior season was really the same story, different verse. He increased his stats in rushing and receiving almost all across the board (everything except receiving TDs increased from the year before) and actually finished 3rd on the team in receiving yards, despite less receptions and 70 more carries as a rusher. He put the team on his back at times throughout the year rode that all the way to declaring for the NFL draft a year early.

Overall Impact: As mentioned above, Jeremy is the first of the recruits we have looked at who left the team early for good reasons. Although his NFL career hasn’t been productive, at the same time he had nothing left to prove in the college game. Emerging as a true freshman phenom in a hybrid role and then morphing himself into one of the best running backs in the country over the next two seasons, McNichols without a doubt exceeded expectations from whatever they were back when he flipped from Utah.

Running Totals:

Casey: 2 exceeded expectations, 2 failed to meet expectations

Mike: 1 exceeded expectations, 1 met expectations, 2 failed to meet expectations.