Lew Nichols III Dominating CFB On The Ground

Photo: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A non-Power 5 program, you aren’t alone if you find yourself turning the channel when coming across midweek MACtion on your television set. A group of schools not familiar to the common eye, I wanted to take a minute and highlight CFB’s leading rusher that calls the Mid-American Conference home. A flip of the script from the expected former 5-star recruit out of the SEC or a versatile speedster out of the Pac-12, the nation’s most productive back through 12 weeks headlines the 7-4 Central Michigan Chippewas’ offensive attack.

A 5-foot-10 do-it-all talent for CMU, Lew Nichols III shoulders the offensive workload unlike any back within any offense in the country. With more carries than that of ball-carrier Brad Roberts out of the Air Force Academy, where their triple-option based offense hasn’t changed since the dawn of time, Nichols’ 267 carries through 11 games (24.2 carries per game) has placed a heavy burden of responsibility upon the redshirt freshman. A native of nearby Southfield, Michigan who received offers from Cincinnati and Indiana (among others) during the recruiting cycle, the former 3-star recruit entered the fall with a massive chip on his shoulder.

After redshirting in 2019, Nichols’ role was limited last fall where he saw just 78 carries of work behind lead back Kobe Lewis. While he showed pop in games against Eastern Michigan and Toledo during the back half of the season where he combined for 297 yards and three touchdowns—games that highlighted his campaign—his role as RB2 didn’t sit well and Nichols looked to improve, and in bunches. After focusing his offseason training on adding healthy weight while maintaining his breakaway speed, Nichols has reaped the benefits of remaining dedicated to a strict offseason regiment.

But, his success hasn’t been by his lonesome. A byproduct of an offensive line headlined by two tackles flying under the draft radar in Bernhard Raimann and Luke Goedeke—two trench presences with nearly 650 pounds of beef between the two of them—Nichols has enjoyed his fair share of empty holes and clean grass on his way to 1,516 rushing yards so far this season.

Raimann and Goedeke, both talents set to compete in Mobile, Alabama at this year’s Senior Bowl, have been a direct product of the pro scouting landscape continuing to diversify itself beyond the talent of Power 5 programs. Talent is everywhere, and it couldn’t be more true for Raimann who calls the quaint town of Steinbrunn, Austria home. Initially recruited as a 240-pound in-line talent, Raimann, a foreign exchange student that played his prep ball at nearby Delton-Kellogg high school, has added nearly 70 pounds of muscle and healthy fats to his impressive frame, evolving into one of the more stout tackle prospects in the entire class.

An institution not known for its successes on the gridiron, the impact of Nichols, coupled with an NFL spotlight centered on Raimann and Goedeke, have once again proved all that is good about the scouting cycle. A process that has become endearing to many when microscoping each individual year’s crop of talent, Central Michigan has provided more than enough pro pedigree during what has been an unpredictable, edge-of-your-seat CFB season to this point.

For Nichols—a talent who will have to swim upstream in the coming seasons as names like Texas’ Bijan Robinson and Auburn’s Tank Bigsby begin to move into the forefront of the eligible running back talent pool—when it comes to the potential of the MAC’s premier ball-carrier, he’s no slouch. A sub-6-foot combination of burst, patience, and pass-catching versatility out of the backfield, Nichols has boatloads of room to progress and a platform, unlike any before, to showcase his finesse.

Written By:

Ryan Fowler

Staff Writer

Feature Writer for The Draft Network. Former Staff Writer for the Washington Football Team. Multiple years of coverage within the NFL and NBA.