We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
Few players were better than Raiders RB Josh Jacobs in 2019 when it came to elusiveness with the ball.
- Elusive Rating: 103.6 (No. 2 among 61 qualified RBs)
- Broken tackles: 78 (No. 2)
- Yards after contact per attempt: 3.48 (No. 8)
- 15-plus yard runs: 16 (No. 3)
The rookie racked up a dizzying array of highlights featuring dozens of defenders left grasping for air and/or planted into the turf.
There were times that Jacobs truly looked like a top-five RB in the entire league. And yet, he was regularly pulled off the field in favor of both Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington on pass downs. Overall, Jacobs (27 targets) finished well behind *both* Richard (43) and Washington (41) in Derek Carr's pecking order last season.
Of course, 2020 is a new year. What follows is a breakdown on what to expect from Jacobs next season.
Jacobs is plenty capable of catching the ball
In college Jacobs posted a respectable 48-571-5 receiving line, regularly displaying actual chops in route running and downfield ability. It's clear that people who are extremely good at projecting players viewed him as a true three-down back.
- Raiders GM Mike Mayock said the following upon drafting Jacobs, "This is a three-down back. He's explosive. He's tough. We've watching him pass protect."
- The Athletic’s Dane Brugler noted in his pre-draft guide that Jacobs bullied defenders as Alabama’s lead blocker in 2018 and displayed, "The explosive and versatile traits to be a three-down feature weapon in the NFL with Pro Bowl upside."
Jacobs didn't help matters by dropping three targets in 2019, but the excellence he displayed otherwise in the passing game shouldn't be ignored. The ability to manipulate defenders in the short areas of the field is an ideal complement to Carr's checkdown-heavy style, and Jacobs proved more than capable of creating after the catch.
The Raiders actually used Jacobs as a pass blocker slightly more often than Richard or Washington, and he responded with zero penalties and not a single pressure allowed (PFF).
Even more incredible was the reality that Jacobs did most of this after fracturing his shoulder in Week 7. Jacobs was much more efficient on the ground in Weeks 1-7 before the injury (5.1 yards per carry) as opposed to Weeks 8-15 after getting hurt (4.5).
The problem with assuming that Jacobs will see an enhanced pass-game role in 2020 is the reality that ...
The Raiders have done nothing to indicate a three-down role is on the way
The good news is that Washington is now a member of the Chiefs. The bad news is the Raiders now have *four* potential backs that could steal pass-down work from Jacobs:
- Richard signed a two-year, $7 million contract in February. Hardly starter-level money, but also not exactly an insignificant chunk of change.
- The Raiders used a third-round pick on Lynn Bowden. It's unclear if the Raiders view Bowden as more of a RB or WR, but he possesses the type of tackle-breaking ability that should get him a handful of designed touches sooner rather than later.
- Former Broncos backup RB Devontae Booker was added to the roster in May. He caught 105 passes for 872 yards from 2016-2019, regularly preventing the likes of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman from garnering a true three-down role.
- Former Cowboys backup RB Rod Smith is also on the roster. His career-long 30-272-1 receiving line is just good enough to potentially warrant some weekly snaps if he manages to make it past final cuts.
Add in the likelihood that the majority of Carr's targets are funneled to the team's crowded WR and TE groups, and it's clear that Jacobs is going to have a hard time getting anything close to 50 targets next season.
Perhaps we see Gruden or Mayock give a public endorsement of Jacobs' three-down ability. Still, actions speak louder than words, and the Raiders have made it clear that they have every intention of getting multiple backs plenty involved in their passing game.
Luckily, there should still be more than enough rush attempts for Jacobs to ball out.
Jacobs is still positioned well for a solid 2020 campaign
Jacobs posted 242-1,150-7 rushing and 20-166-0 receiving lines in 13 games last season. He finished the year as the overall PPR RB21, but the RB15 in PPR per game.
250 touches again seem more than reasonable for Jacobs in 2020. This number, like most statistical thresholds, is fairly arbitrary, but there has been a strong history of success from players that manage to reach this "milestone". Overall, only 9-of-153 RBs with at least 250 touches in a season failed to finish better than the PPR RB24. Yes, 2019 featured three of those players in David Montgomery, Carlos Hyde and Sony Michel, but none of them possess the same sort of proven high-level rushing ability as Jacobs.
Still, the lack of targets sticks out like a sore thumb. Jacobs is presently going among the top-12 backs in best-ball formats and inside the top-eight players for re-draft leagues. It's hardly impossible for RBs to finish as top-12 fantasy options without a huge pass-game role. Specifically, 31-of-120 (26%) of PPR RB1s since 2019 have had fewer than 50 targets. The problem is that not getting receptions significantly hurts the floor and ceiling; the average rank of the sub-50 target group (8.5) is much worse off than our target-hog group (5.8).
You want to draft RBs that get targets. I realize this isn't rocket science. However, it's a point worth driving home when considering Jacobs as a top-10 pick. The likes of Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook should be considered in their own tier as the clear top-five fantasy backs. Then we get the likes of Jacobs, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry, Miles Sanders and Austin Ekeler to round out the top group. You could even throw Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon and Chris Carson into that discussion if you were so inclined.
Literally every one of those players other than Henry finished with more targets than Jacobs in 2019. The difference between Henry and Jacobs is that there's significantly less competition for touches inside of a better Tennessee offense.
Jacobs is good enough to warrant consideration as high as the overall RB7 behind our big-five RBs and Henry. Still, this seems like a clear tier drop after the top-five players. Reaching on Jacobs over one of the draft's top-five WRs might not be wise. Jacobs had at least 17 touches in all but three games last season. It'd be nice if some of those are converted to targets, but this type of workload is still plenty useful for fantasy purposes when we have a player of Jacobs' caliber. He's my season-long RB11 at the time of this writing.