Would you believe me if I told you that Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Josh Jacobs each averaged between 100 and 110 all purpose yards per game in their rookie campaigns? Although the dynasty community will admit Jacobs is a great rookie back, he tends to not get the love that other running backs with the draft capital and first-year production tend to after their rookie seasons. Josh Jacobs clearly delivered as the consensus 1.01 for the 2019 fantasy rookie drafts from the start – in his first start he became the second back to have two touchdowns alongside 100yds since LaDainian Tomlinson in a debut game. He played 13 games and finished the season with 1150 yards, 20 receptions, 166 receiving yards, and 7 touchdowns placing him at RB13 on the season in .5ppr and RB11 on a points per game basis. Clearly Josh Jacobs did his part to show the world what a 21-year-old back can do on a revived John Gruden offense. So what is his value? This article intends to provide information for you to create an opinion on his dynasty value through a brief overview of my film and statistical analysis. Before I begin my break down, I would like to acknowledge that going into this article I was very neutral on Josh Jacobs. Yes, I knew he had a good season. However, I was under the impression that this was more a result of workload, and Gruden’s commitment to the run game rather than his actual ability.
Let’s start by addressing Jacob’s individual skill set. Coming out of college he was touted as a powerful runner with elite pass catching abilities. In his 2019 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, acclaimed football writer Matt Waldman describes Jacobs as being a true cutback runner with tremendous blocking and receiving skills alongside a nose for contact. This was all on display last year with Jacobs finishing 3rd in rushing yards per game, 8th in all-purpose yards per game, and 10th in fantasy points per game at the running back position in half point scoring. While some were concerned with durability after he received only 299 touches over 3 years at Alabama, the Raiders clearly did not feel the same as he had 242 rushing attempts with 18.8 attempts per game, good enough for third across the league behind only Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliot.
When reviewing his 2019 game film, what stood out to me was Jacob’s vision, power, and ability to maintain his balance while hitting the hole and immediately after contact.
Here is a video displaying this:
This tape displays his persistent hunger for contact, best seen in his film against Kansas City and Detroit. In a way, it reminds me of Fournette in his rookie year when he famously waved on a Steeler defender to take him head on.
From a statistical standpoint, his combination of elite balance, power and vision can also be demonstrated. While he was a mere 29th in yards before contact (1.9) and faced a loaded box (8+ men) on 20.51% of his runs (a fairly average rate for backs with 85 or more rushing attempts), Jacobs was still able to produce the 9th best yards per carry in the league (4.8 YPC) in large part due to being 5th in average yards after contact (2.8). In comparison to other elite interior rushers, this is nearly half a yard better than Ezekiel Elliot and on par with Saquon Barkley over the same time frame. He also finished 8th in total broken tackles with 26 (tied with Ezekiel Elliot). It doesn’t get much better than having your name mentioned with those backs when it comes to statistics.
The main criticism of Jacobs after his first year is his lack of involvement in the receiving game. While Mike Mayock has already publicly stated that he will see more work as a receiver in 2020, Jacob’s did only finish with 20 receptions on 27 targets in 2019. To put this in perspective, pass catching specialist Jalen Richard had 36 receptions on 43 targets while DeAndre Washington had 36 receptions on 40 targets. This meant Jacobs had 25% of targets to the running back position, a long way off the 74% and 78% team share given to Barkley and Fournette respectively. While moving on from DeAndre Washington this offseason, the Raiders signed Richard to a two year $7.5 million contract this offseason. Moreover, we have seen that sometimes NFL teams seem to avoid getting select backs involved in the receiving game even if they have elite talent in that area. An example of this is the Rams finishing last season at 31st for targets to the running back position, of course that was with Todd Gurley. All that being said, given the departure of Washington and support from the front office, I believe Las Vegas may be taking an approach similar to the Bengals with Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. This scenario would have the young, talented RB1 controlling the vast majority of the rushing game and a near 50/50 split in the receiving game. While hindering his fantasy production to some degree as he will never receive a McCaffrey-level workload, it hardly represents a reason to be concerned about his role moving forward.
In conclusion, although the receiving work may not be ideal, Jacobs managed to finish as RB13 with an average supporting cast in only 13 games. Washington’s departure does leave some optimism for increased targets while the rushing work carves out a great fantasy floor. Being 21-years-old and having already finished both 3rd in rushing yards and attempts per game, it is a surprise that he isn’t getting more “superstar” love. Although I don’t see Vegas supporting a top-5 running back unless the offense takes a massive leap forward, but Jacobs has the talent and ability to be very fantasy relevant for many years to come. He deserves a level of praise in the dynasty community on par with what Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette received following their rookie campaigns. In comparison to 2020 draft picks, I have no reason to doubt the ability of Jonathan Taylor or D’Andre Swift who are commonly seen as better collegiate prospects than Jacobs. However, unless they land in an ideal environment with teams like the Chiefs, Rams, or Titans I would rather have the known usage and talent of Jacobs moving forward. Therefore, prior to the NFL draft, I would value Jacobs in non-superflex leagues as slightly more valuable than the 1.01, or similar to a middle and late first round pick in 12 team leagues.