In 2016, Alabama, as it often does, stole one of the best recruits in that year’s class. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Before landing in Tuscaloosa, Josh Jacobs was living with his dad moving from cars to motels. As a recruit, he was off the radar.
That changed after uploading his tape to social media. He caught the eyes of Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri, and signed with the former. Despite never settling into a full-time starting role, Jacobs became a star in the ‘Bama offense. His tape won over the Oakland freakin’ Raiders.
It’s relatively easy to see what Raiders general manager Mike Mayock saw in Jacobs at the No. 24 pick. Though the running back has a limited resume (253 career rushes), the tape is awe-inspiring. Despite being a first-round pick, he could be classified as a steal. The fact that the Raiders need him makes that statement stronger.
Before breaking down Jacobs’ role with the Raiders, let’s take a look at Jacobs the prospect. At the combine, he measured in at a sturdy 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds, but he didn’t do any tests. Instead, he did them at the Alabama pro day. He recorded a 4.63 second 40-yard-dash, 112-inch broad jump, and 18 225-pound bench press reps.
Though his numbers don’t compare to Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, or Ezekiel Elliot, his tape is why he joins the three as the first running backs to be selected in their respective drafts. After re-watching eight of his collegiate games, I gave him a very favorable comparison — Le’Veon Bell. Here’s why.
Like Bell, Jacobs isn’t the biggest or fastest back, but he may be the most patient and aware one. Jacobs is a violent, powerful back in every sense — whether deflecting a tackle or making a cut, everything has that extra “oomph” and explosiveness. Neither the vet or rookie rely solely on power; both have exceptional lateral quickness, can gain full steam in a flash, and have the vision and patience to create something out of nothing.
I don't know about you, but I see a lot of Le'Veon Bell in #Raiders RB @iAM_JoshJacobs. This clip kinda shows why. His patience behind the LOS + vision to see the whiffed pull block are very Bell-esque. So is his frame, power on contact, and that wiggle + explosiveness in cuts. pic.twitter.com/TmIEgwVYaF
— Avery Duncan (@averydduncan) May 31, 2019
The similarities between the rookie and superstar don’t end in their run style. Neither are pure running backs — they are versatile. That’s apparent in their play in the passing game. Though Jacobs doesn’t have the route tree Bell has, he’s a natural pass-catcher who thrives when running less limiting routes (swings, screens). As a pass-blocker, Jacobs, like Bell, has good form and attacks defenders with meaning and power – he recorded a high 64.1 blocking grade from Pro Football Focus in 2018.
Of course, Jacobs isn’t Bell. He hasn’t played a game in the NFL. Nonetheless, this brings us to how the Raiders can use him and why he may be a steal for them.
If there is any running back-needy team that can create a version of Bell in Jacobs, it’s the Raiders. Head coach Jon Gruden’s rush offense is reliant on a powerful back who can pull defenses in and spread them out. If that “power” back is reliable as a pass-catcher, he would use him that way too. Backs like Tyron Wheatley, Mike Alstott, and even Marshawn Lynch (albeit, less so) have thrived with Gruden due to their power and versatility. Despite all being power backs, the three’s combined average of 3.35 targets a game is relatively high.
Gruden’s scheme was once thought to be a prime offense for Bell to play in after Pittsburgh. It’s not too hard to see why; Gruden is a smart offensive coach who runs a versatile, back-friendly West Coast scheme. He has made the best out of less-than-ideal talent, but if you insert an all-around back like Bell, the possibilities are endless.
The fit of Bell and the Raiders looked perfect; they didn’t have a legitimate No. 1 back, and Gruden could suit his needs. However, it didn’t happen. Instead, Bell signed with New York. But, as I said before, I compare Josh Jacobs favorably to Bell, meaning the same need and Gruden’s ability to use a versatile skill set should also benefit the rookie.
Though Josh Jacobs doesn’t have the long speed to be a weekly home-run threat, he certainly has the game to be the bellcow back in Oakland. Expect him to be just that in his rookie year. Because of his expected high snap count and the upgraded, behemoth offensive line in place to block for him, anticipate Jacobs having an outstanding rookie season. If he does, he could be their steal of the draft. His game is too good and too versatile for that not to happen.