The country’s leading rusher in 2021 has found a professional home to ply his craft, as former Central Michigan running back Lew Nichols III has landed with the Green Bay Packers after bring selected with the 235th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft on Saturday afternoon.
The 18th pick of the seventh round, Nichols leaves Mt. Pleasant as one of the program’s best ballcarriers, with 3,061 yards and 26 touchdowns on 614 carries over four seasons.
Nichols, a Detroit native who attended Michigan high school powerhouse Cass Tech, burst onto the scene in 2021 by leading the NCAA in rushing yards, with 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns to his name as CMU made a late division title push and finished 9-4 overall.
Nichols earned first-team all-MAC honors for his efforts that season, building upon the Freshman of the Year campaign he had in 2020 after collecting 508 yards and four scores in just six games.
2022 was less kind to Nichols, as a sea change of offensive personnel and a new playcalling philosophy limited his effectiveness even before a hamstring injury he suffered halfway through the season. He still managed 616 yards and six touchdowns despite missing three games, leading the Chippewas in yards and runner-up in scores (QB Bert Emanuel Jr had seven in four games.)
If you like true north-south power runners, Lew Nichols is your man. He has elite flying 10-yard (1.55) and 20-yard dashes (2.58), which both measured within a hundredth of a second of Texas A&M’s Devon Achane, who topped both stats at the Combine and also put up 22 reps on the bench, which would have placed him second at the Combine (Illinois RB Chase Brown, 25.) Nichols was also notable in the vertical jump, as his 37 inch bounce would have tiedfor fifth at the Combine with Texas’ Bijan Robinson and UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet.
Nichols has good anticipation for finding holes and getting past the second level of the defense, using his elite explosion and speed stats to position himself at the line and aim straight at his destination. He is a well-balanced runner who doesn’t get knocked off-course often, and is fairly sure-handed in terms of ball security, showing great awareness in that department.
There are a few concerns in picking up Nichols; he does not bring a lot of utility as a player, with little to no special teams experience and does not necessarily scorch the box scores as a receiver. His lateral agility is not the best, and he does not have a lot of elusion moves to fall back on when he gets up to gear.
The Packers likely know about this ahead of time, and as long as they don’t try to reinvent the wheel with him, they’ll get someone whose ceiling is a dependable rotational power back with above-average short-burst speed and vision. He won’t be a three-down back at the pro level unless he significantly improves his route-running beyond dump-off passes and screens, though he has shown the ability to pass block in a pinch.
In Green Bay, he’ll sit directly behind Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, and will have time to learn the game from two of the premier power backs in the NFL— assuming he makes the 53-man roster. He’ll have to fight off Taylor Patrick and Tyler Goodson for a spot in training camp, but considering he was likely a Day 2 prospect if healthy, he should have the chops to land on the roster.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Nichols start his career on the 53-man roster as a potential injury replacement if one of Jones or Dillon goes down, though the Packers could opt to bring up Patrick or Goodson due to their experience. If he sees the field, Nichols could make decent hay behind a great scheme or offensive line.
Nichols didn’t get a lot of love in the draft process due to an untimely hamstring injury, but Green Bay fans will learn to love “Sweet” Lew once they see the potential he has.