The Josh Jacobs hype train is powering on, full steam ahead. Following his selection by the Oakland Raiders with the 24th pick in the 2019 NFL draft, Jacobs is quickly becoming the consensus 1.01 pick in 2019 rookie drafts.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the Josh Jacobs buzz began to build in the back half of 2018 and peaked after a few nice plays against Clemson in the 2018 National Championship Game. Before long, he had become a favorite of the fantasy football community. However, the pace with which Jacobs was anointed as the 1.01 gives me pause. Given the strength of running back classes over the past three seasons (Barkley, Chubb, Fournette, McCaffrey, Elliott, etc.), it feels like people are desperate for another RB to be the first overall pick, and are willing to overlook several question marks that Jacobs brings. Draft capital matters, but it seems that the only team willing to draft Jacobs in the first round were the Raiders, who were almost bidding against themselves.
The good news? Jacobs posted over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, and averaged 6.9 yards per touch, adding 21 total touchdowns. That’s fourth in the country in 2018. The bad news? Those are his career numbers over three seasons at Alabama. His 887 yards from scrimmage in 2018 puts him at 114th in the country. That low level of production gives him just a 15th percentile dominator rating per Player Profiler, and none of his athletic measurables exceed the 35th percentile at the position either:
Despite having weak production and athletic profiles, Jacobs was an effective running back when he was used. Per Pro Football Focus, 41% of his carries in 2018 resulted in a first down or a touchdown, the highest rate in the country. But the question remains if he was so much better than his teammates, why was Nick Saban so reluctant to use him?
I’ve read that the lack of opportunity Jacobs had was simply down to him being in a crowded backfield and that it comes with the territory of playing at Alabama. That argument simply doesn’t hold water. Future NFL prospects like Eddie Lacy, Derrick Henry, and even Trent Richardson dominated rushing attempts in the year prior to being drafted. Even TJ Yeldon had more than double the carries of Josh Jacobs over their collegiate careers. Jacobs was unable to break clear of the other players in the backfield, leaving him with a production profile almost identical to four-year backup, and third-round draft pick Kenyan Drake:
I like Kenyan Drake, I think he has a chance to be a solid RB2 this season in Miami. However, the cost to acquire him is considerably cheaper than the 1.01 required to draft Josh Jacobs, and nobody is expecting him to be a bell-cow back in 2019.
Similarly to Drake, Jacobs struggled with durability, dealing with injuries throughout college. He was also injured in the lead up to the NFL Combine which prevented him from participating in drills. If Jacobs does have real durability issues, it raises major concerns about his ability to handle an increased workload in the far more physical NFL.
Where he was drafted to is one of the primary reasons why Jacobs’ post-draft value is climbing. It seems he will be used as a bell-cow, particularly with the first round draft capital that was spent on him. The Raiders see him as a do it all runner, pass-catcher, and blocker, but I am not sure that Jacobs will be able to handle that workload. I am hesitant to bet on someone to being able to cope with getting a similar number of touches in a single NFL season than they had during the entirety of his collegiate career. Jon Gruden’s lead running back has averaged 260 touches per season since the year 2000 – a very big ask of Jacobs.
Even if Jacobs can physically manage what the Raiders ask him to do, how does the Raiders run game compare to the rest of the league? They were not good at running the football last season, and were among the worst teams in the league in rushing yards, touchdowns and expected points (per Pro Football Reference):
One of the reasons their output was so low is that the team was forced to throw with regularity. Their pass to run ratio of 61% to 39% was tied for 10th highest in the league, no doubt in part to the worst scoring defense in the league that gave up 29.2 points per game.
It’s not all doom and gloom in Oakland. The acquisition of Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, as well as the development of Derek Carr in Jon Gruden’s offense, should help their offense improve, but unless the offensive line takes huge strides forward, Carr and the entire offense will struggle again.
According to Football Outsiders, the Raiders ranked 13th in run blocking and 25th in pass protection in 2018. Per Pro Football Focus, they graded out as the 28th ranked offensive line in football. The Raiders did take steps to address the position, however. Firstly, they signed free agent left tackle Trent Brown to a massive 4 year, $66 million deal and traded away guard Kelechi Osemele to the New York Jets, who was a complete liability in 2018.
However, I am hesitant to believe that Brown will immediately fix this line. The situation is similar to Nate Solder signing with the Giants in 2018. He also signed a huge deal after a great season under the tutelage of arguably the best offensive line coach in the NFL, Dante Scarnecchia. He struggled over the first half of the season with the Giants, and whilst he improved, whether he was worth the money remains to be seen. Now Brown gets to work with Tom Cable instead. Good luck. This line still has plenty of question marks, especially with 2018 first round pick, Kolton Miller, returning at right tackle, who had a rookie season to forget.
I haven’t written this article simply to be a Josh Jacobs hater, or to be contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. I really hope Josh Jacobs has a great NFL career and makes me look foolish for ever doubting him. I just struggle with the idea of using such a high rookie draft pick on a player with production and athletic question marks, who is expected to handle a bell cow workload at the most physically damaging position in football. If this article makes you at least question drafting Jacobs with pick 1.01, then I have done my job. If I had the 1.01 pick in a 1QB league, my strategy would be to trade down and pick up multiple assets in the draft, trade for 2020 picks, or trade for a veteran.
Let someone else in your league take the chance on Jacobs, I certainly will be.
What do you think of Jacobs? Is he your 1.01? Or is it someone else? Let me know on Twitter @FF_DownUnder. While you’re here take a look at my previous articles.