Towards the end of last season, the Raiders’ running back became an agent of chaos by posting it on Instagram he didn’t play despite being listed as active. As with most things on Twitter, the response was swift, furious, and relentless. Although, after Jacobs posted a paltry 10.4 points against the Colts, Jacobs probably wished they hadn’t played against him.
We fantasy types can be sensitive souls with long memories. That alone could top Jacobs design boards in about 2021. But for those who can get out of their feelings and look at the Raider rider a little more objectively, there’s a lot to consider – and everyone can eventually see what they want to see. In that case, let’s see what’s out there.
The two most intriguing things about Josh Jacobs’ fantasy football prospects are his talent and his odds. But since the former means cracking without the latter, I won’t waste a lot of time telling you he’s good at football, especially when compared to many of his peers. There’s a reason he was a late pick in the first round.
What attracts fantasy managers is a lack of competition in the Raiders’ backfield. Jacobs played in 15 games last season. He was on the field for 50 percent or more of the snaps in 14 of them. The only game in which he missed the mark was the infamous Indianapolis game mentioned above. Jacobs inhaled at least 60 percent of the snapshots nine times.
It’s one thing to be on the field. It’s another thing to get the ball. Fortunately, Jon Gruden believed in putting his boy back to work. Jacobs earned 37 percent of Las Vegas offensive touches in 2020. The next closest player was Devontae Booker, but nearly 30 percent of his touches came in two games – a week 10 blowout against the Broncos in which Jacobs Sat for most of the fourth quarter and week 13 beat the Jets when Jacobs was out with an ankle injury. There are many recurring rotations in the NFL. This is not one of them.
Fit and use
No one will confuse the Raiders with the Ravens, but Las Vegas was one of the tougher outfits in the league last year, with the ball coming down first by more than league average. That’s good news for a running back who doesn’t share the ball much.
If only that was enough for us greedy fantasy types. In his first two seasons, Jacobs continues to apply to become one of the top running backs, but he doesn’t really have the resume to join the club. What’s missing? Receptions. Eight of last season’s top 10 running backs have recorded at least 35 catches. The two exceptions were Jacobs (33) and Derrick Henry (19). Henry makes up for it by being a true version of Juggernaut with the football in his hands.
Jacobs is in a more precarious situation. His top 10 fantasy status in 2020 was backed by his 12 hasty touchdowns. If you’re confident he can repeat that number in 2021 (or better), I invite you to teach a course on the power of positive thinking. If you don’t, you may want to hope Jacobs becomes a bigger part of the Raiders’ passing game.
Things seemed to be heading in the right direction in Week 1, as the sophomores again hit career highs in goals (6), receptions (4) and receiving yards (46). None of those numbers were pleasing to the eye, but, you know, baby steps. As the season progressed, that game became more of an outlier.
Unfortunately, it is time to wonder if this is exactly what life will be like for Jacobs. His campaign for 2020 was the 14th best among Jon Gruden who walked back at receptions. Gruden’s career as a head coach consisted of just four seasons in which a back caught 50 or more balls – two of which belonged to Michael Pittman in Tampa. (Pittman has five of the top 10 Gruden RB-receiving seasons.) Only nine seasons have seen RB’s top 50 goals, four by Pittman.
Simply put, you can’t expect the walkback to be a big part of the air strike. Josh Jacobs may not have hit his ceiling as a pass-catcher in this attack, but he quickly runs out of headroom. Unless he turns into a full-fledged road grader – or makes his head coach believe he’s Michael Pittman, Sr. is – Jacobs can reach its peak like a fantasy back.
Optimism is a necessary but not exclusive condition for progress. Our collective belief that Jacobs was ready to make the leap between year 1 and year 2 pushed him to the end of the first round in many a fantasy design. Based solely on his finish as a top eight running back, it may seem like a wise choice. But for anyone who made the stage last season, it was anything but easy.
Early returns suggest that Jacobs’ concept value has fallen to the midsection of the second round, although that is unlikely to ease any fears on concept day. Especially when game-changing tight ends like George Kittle or Darren Waller are still available. Or maybe you prefer Calvin Ridley, Michael Thomas or Keenan Allen?
Does the advantage of a semi-workhorse running back in a run-first attack outweigh the potential of a largely one-dimensional back potentially approaching its ceiling in a mid-road offensive? It all depends on what you are looking at.
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