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Josh Jacobs Poised for Sophomore Leap

Moe Moton
Josh Jacobs Las Vegas Raiders Moe Moton

Don’t expect a sophomore slump from Josh Jacobs says our own Moe Moton who believes the running back is going to take the next big step to become one of the game’s best players.

Josh Jacobs has a stellar rookie season with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2019, but can he repeat and eclipse his impressive rookie season?

I don’t think he will, instead I think he tops his 2019 performance.

And a note to fantasy football enthusiasts: without hesitation, draft Jacobs in the first round. He’s an RB1 and a candidate to eclipse 1,500 yards from scrimmage, which bodes well for the Raiders offensive outlook in 2020.

As a rookie, Jacobs had three eye-catching performances, rushing for 120 or more yards. More importantly, he consistently ripped off four-to-five yards per carry, averaging 4.8 (ypc) for the season. According to Pro Football Focus, the Alabama product led all ball-carriers in missed tackles forced:

Josh Jacobs has the vision, balance and physical ability to put the offense on his back and carry the Raiders to victory in a physical battle. Fans didn’t see his pass-catching skills on full display though.

Jacobs recorded just 20 receptions for 166 yards last season, but general manager Mike Mayock expects to see more from the dual-threat playmaker in the passing game during the 2020 campaign.

“Josh can catch a football, and I think challenge No. 1 for him in Year Two is developing those talents,” Mayock said.

As a collegian, Jacobs hauled in 48 receptions for 571 yards and five touchdowns. Why didn’t head coach Jon Gruden utilize his lead tailback’s full skill set? Mayock talked about the prerequisites for a running back before they can contribute as a receiver

“Now, you have to understand, to catch the football in Jon Gruden’s offense as a running back, not only do you have to run routes, but you have to protect your quarterback,” Mayock said.

Josh Jacobs Las Vegas raiders Moe Moton
Josh Jacobs’ ability to run, catch and block mean his 2020 will be another breakout year for him in Jon Gruden’s offense. Photo: USA Today

On the ground, Josh Jacobs carried a huge workload. Right out of college, he tied Nick Chubb for third in rush attempts per game (18.6), only Derrick Henry (20.2) and Ezekiel Elliott (18.8) listed ahead of him.

The Raiders signed Devontae Booker and selected rookie third-rounder Lynn Bowden Jr., who’s expected to initially line up in the backfield. Jacobs will remain the lead tailback and should log 220-plus carries in a full term. He could expand on his role with the addition of two potential backups.

“He [Jacobs] has got the physical capabilities and the toughness to pass protect, we just have to make sure, in Stage Two this year, this development of him as a receiver, that he can do all of it,” Mayock said. “If he has to stay in and knock down a defensive end, he has to do it. If the linebacker’s coming if he has to scan… those are hard things for a rookie running back, and we didn’t want to put too much on his plate.”

Skeptics have questioned whether Josh Jacobs can take another step in Year 2 with Booker, Bowden and Jalen Richard all potentially taking touches away from him.

In all likelihood, Jacobs will see at least 50 targets as an every-down threat without Washington on the roster.

Remember, Jacobs racked up 1,150 rushing yards in 13 outings. He missed three games down the stretch because of a shoulder injury. The 22-year-old was on pace to eclipse 1,400 rushing yards.

Gruden will probably continue to feed Jacobs 12-16 carries per contest, depending on the opponent and game flow. He could crack the top five in yards behind an offensive line that remain fully intact after ranking sixth in run blocking last year, per Football Outsiders.

Josh Jacobs’ added responsibilities in the passing game would also keep him fresh throughout the season. He’ll absorb fewer hits and head-on collisions beyond the line of scrimmage.

Over the last four seasons, Richard has excelled in a pass-catching role, recording 160 receptions for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns. He’s not going anywhere, but the Raiders didn’t re-sign DeAndre Washington, who converted 41 targets into 36 catches for 292 yards in 2019.

(Hear our extended interview with Jalen Richard from our CBS Sports Radio 1140 show.)

In all likelihood, Jacobs will see at least 50 targets as an every-down threat without Washington on the roster.

Booker can also catch out of the backfield, though he must solidify his role within the offense. The Raiders will use Bowden as the “joker.” Yet he’s subjected to the same prerequisites as Jacobs last year. The Kentucky product must earn Gruden’s trust as a pass protector before taking on an expanded role, which may come gradually after an irregular offseason with virtual reps through May.

Don’t underestimate the presence of wideout Henry Ruggs III and a healthy Tyrell Williams on the perimeter. The former will draw coverage downfield because of his speed. The latter averages 16.1 yards per catch for his career. They’ll potentially create open-field opportunities on underneath routes.

Fans may roll their eyes at the sight of short dump-offs to a running back. With that said, you should like Josh Jacobs’ chances to break free against most inside linebackers or safeties similar to his size. If he forces a missed tackle, a routine first-down completion could become a 20-yard gain.

Sure, the Raiders added depth to the backfield, but we know who’s going to touch the ball most of the time. As quarterback Derek Carr and Josh Jacobs build a rapport, we’ll see the young running back add another layer to his development as a pro. Bet on him as a 2020 Pro Bowler.