Last year, Josh Jacobs entered the league as arguably the most versatile and exciting of all the rookie running backs. The Alabama product and first-round pick lived up to the hype, giving plenty of strong outings when on the field. Can he take the next step as a true three-down running back in 2020, or will he be stuck as a high-volume runner with minimal pass-catching upside.
Note: All fantasy scoring referenced in the article is in PPR format
2020 Fantasy Football Outlook: Josh Jacobs
Josh Jacobs hit the ground running as the clear leader of Oakland’s backfield. Starting in all 13 games in which he appeared, Jacobs ended the season with 242 carries for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns. The next closest running back on the team, DeAndre Washington, only had 108 rushing attempts, with a sizable portion coming in games Jacobs missed. Despite missing three games, Jacobs still managed to finish as the RB21 and was the RB15 on a points-per-game basis.
From a consistency standpoint, Jacobs was everything you could hope for out of a rookie. The Alabama product only had two games with fewer than 10 fantasy points, and never received less 10 carries in a game. He was very much the focal point of the running game and Jon Gruden clearly wants him to be the center of the offense.
Jacobs’ rookie season was fantastic, but he didn’t do much in the passing game. Despite entering the NFL with a pass-catching skill set, the Raiders simply didn’t use him in that capacity. Throughout the course of the season, Jacobs recorded just 20 receptions for 166 yards and no touchdowns. Both DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard saw more targets than Jacobs, which obviously limited his ceiling in PPR formats.
Nobody denies that Josh Jacobs is going to be the unquestioned early-down starter for the Las Vegas Raiders. He was fantastic in the role last year, and the Raiders haven’t added anyone to challenge for his position. Assuming he stays healthy, he’s a lock for 200-250 carries this season. This provides a safe floor, but he has the ability to be a top-five running back if he earns a bigger role in the passing game.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to see that happening this year. Based on their offseason moves, it doesn’t appear that the Raiders have any interest in making Jacobs a major part of the passing attack. For one, they re-signed pass-catching specialist Jalen Richard to a two-year, $7 million contract. While that’s obviously not Christian McCaffrey money, it is a notable investment in a player with a very particular skill set. Additionally, the Raiders drafted Lynn Bowden in the third round. Bowden is something of a hybrid player that projects as a dangerous weapon in the short part of the field. In short, he’s at his best when he’s receiving targets that would typically go to a running back.
Even if Jacobs sees a higher percentage of the running back targets, there simply aren’t going to be that many to go around. Last year, the only consistent receiving threat of note was Darren Waller. This year, the Raiders went all-in on improving the supporting cast. Waller is still around, as is Hunter Renfrow, who looked like a genuine threat down the stretch. In addition to Bowden, the team also drafted speedster Henry Ruggs in the first round and Bryan Edwards in the third. Each of these players is going to demand a certain percentage of the targets, meaning that there won’t be many for the running backs.
Josh Jacobs Average Draft Position
As of this posting, Fantasy Football Calculator has Jacobs going off the board with the 10th overall pick. This makes him the seventh running back off the board and places him in the same tier as Kenyan Drake, Joe Mixon, and Derrick Henry.
Josh Jacobs should be one of the better running backs in fantasy football, but this is a little too early. Jacobs is going to be the early-down workhorse for Las Vegas, but he doesn’t have the receiving upside to justify this type of draft capital, especially in PPR formats.
Last year, Jacobs finished as the RB15 on a points-per-game basis. He’ll probably see a similar type of workload in 2020, but there is reason to believe he can improve on his per-game efficiency. For one, this offense should be better, which will lead to more scoring opportunities. Additionally, Jacobs will probably see more than the 27 targets from a season ago, even if he doesn’t become a true three-down back. Ultimately, Jacobs should finish as a low RB1 and be a solid selection at the beginning or middle of the second, depending on how your draft goes.
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