For a near consensus top-50 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Josh Jacobs has surprisingly few miles on his career odometer. Still only 21-years-old, Jacobs touched the ball 15 or more times just twice during the entire 2018 season. During his three years at Alabama, Jacobs was always a part-time player sharing the field with Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, and Najee Harris. Quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa also took their fair share of carries, too.
Ironically, Jacobs’ production nearly mirrors former part-time ‘Bama back, Kenyan Drake. In 41 career games, Drake compiled 2,065 yards from scrimmage and 22 total TDs (on 279 touches). Jacobs turned his limited work into a nearly equally efficient 2,062 scrimmage yards and 21 TDs in 40 career games (299 total touches).
Historical production matters, especially within the assembly line of Alabama backs that have impacted the NFL in recent years. Jacobs produced when he was on the field — but does his small sample success stand up under the Yards Created microscope?
Jacobs benefited from Alabama o-line
Across the last four college football seasons, I’ve charted over 40 running backs that entered the NFL. In this time, no offensive line was more dominant than Alabama was last season. The Tide opened up 1.81 yards on average when Jacobs carried the ball, which is the best figure I’ve ever charted:
|Josh Jacobs YC statistics||Rank (out of 41 RBs)|
|Yards created per attempt||29th|
|Alabama yards blocked per attempt||1st|
|Missed tackles forced per attempt||9th|
Not only did Jacobs benefit from the nation’s best offensive line, Alabama’s offense was ripe for production, by design. With Tua Tagovailoa under center, opposing defenses rarely stuffed the defensive box to pressure the run game. In fact, Josh Jacobs saw a loaded box — at least one extra defender unaccounted for by the blocking scheme — on 31 percent of his carries. For reference, Bo Scarbrough faced a loaded box on 56 percent of his carries in 2017 with Jalen Hurts at quarterback.
Wisely, the Crimson Tide rarely ran into eight-man fronts, too. While the average college back slams their running back into 8 or more defenders in the box 29 percent of the time, Josh Jacobs saw an eight-man front on just 14.5 percent of his sampled carries — which is exactly half the collegiate average.Even though Alabama had a near perfect rushing climate, Jacobs deserves plenty of praise for his fantastic contact balance and ability to string missed tackles together. Bama’s offensive line cleared the lanes, but Jacobs dropped hammers on defenders. All told, Jacobs 0.40 missed tackles per attempt ranks 9th-best over the last four seasons and is in a similar class as Nick Chubb (0.47), Kareem Hunt (0.47), Sony Michel (0.46), and Christian McCaffrey (0.40).
While Alabama deserves credit for some of Jacobs’ success on the ground, Jacobs constantly sustained runs and battled for extra yards. Last year, Jacobs created five or more yards on 37 percent of his rush attempts — tying Saquon Barkley for the third-best clip in Yards Created history behind Joe Mixon (41 percent) and Sony Michel (39 percent). Alvin Kamara (36 percent) and Kareem Hunt (35 percent) round out the top-six backs.
Accomplished receiver & pass protector
Last year, Alabama asked a lot of Jacobs as a receiver when they actually used him. The Tide sent Jacobs in motion on one-quarter of his pass snaps and deployed him on a diverse route tree that included seams/go’s, angle routes, out routes, and even curls (when split out wide). Relatively speaking, only Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara have been used similarly in college in recent years.
It’s a real shame Alabama didn’t throw Jacobs the ball more last season because every time that they did, he repeatedly rewarded the offense. Jacobs averaged 2.4 receiving yards per route run in 2018, the second-best clip in the 2019 RB class.
This is hardly a revelation, but this play truly signifies how refined Jacobs already is as a receiver. He runs a seam route past two men in coverage, has to switch tracking shoulders on a pass that is thrown over 20 yards in air, and then evade more defenders:
Not only does Jacobs have featured back qualities, but he is also one of the most polished receivers and pass blockers to enter the pros recently. Jacobs’ 88 percent pass protection execution rate ranks 5th-best behind Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Sony Michel, and DeAndre Washington over the last four years. He many not have seen enough snaps to showcase it routinely in college, but Jacobs will make an immediate impact in an NFL passing attack in 2019.
Focus on where he wins
Although Jacobs’ pro day numbers disappointed and he was never a featured back at any point in college, Josh Jacobs earns yards on his own and can bust through tacklers with ease. Alabama’s offensive line paved the way for Jacobs’ success, but his top notch missed tackle figures showcase an elusive playmaker waiting to be unleashed. More importantly in an NFL offensive environment that is more pass-heavy than ever, Jacobs can be entrusted as a versatile receiver and an accomplished pass protector the moment he is drafted. Jacobs easily deserves to be the first back taken in the NFL draft.
— Games charted for Jacobs’ YC study: Mississippi State, UGA, Tennessee, Auburn, Clemson, Louisville, Oklahoma