Prior to the start of the 2019 season, the NFL Media was giving Chicago Bears rookie running back David Montgomery a lot of praise before he ever played a snap, and many analysts were firing off hot takes left and right suggesting the former Iowa State Cyclone would win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Despite being selected in the first round — two rounds ahead of Montgomery — Josh Jacobs, for whatever reason, wasn't garnering the same kind of attention. One afternoon during training camp, I approached Josh and asked him what he thought about already being snubbed as a potential OROY candidate.
He smiled, paused for a moment, and told me that he was going to let his game speak for itself.
Over 13 games, Jacobs 1,150 rushing yards, seven touchdowns, averaged 4.8 yards per carry, and added 20 receptions for 166 receiving yards — and oh, by the way, he was hurt for nearly half of those games.
What the former University of Alabama running back accomplished in his rookie season was nothing short of spectacular, and by the end of it, he was in the top of the discussion for OROY. Saturday night, Jacobs will find out whether or not he won the award, and among former players and current members of the NFL Media, they think he deserves it.
"Well I mean, you go over 1,000 yards in 13 games as a rookie, playing with an injury, [he deserves to win], you know what I mean?" NFL Network analyst James Jones said Thursday. "Teams knowing you're going to get the ball, teams game planning to stop you, you know what I mean? That's what I tell people all the time [about Josh Jacobs], like, I don't know if people game plan to say they're going to stop A.J. Brown. I think the game plan is to stop Derrick Henry, you know? When you play the Raiders, you stop Josh Jacobs, and he was still able to get the job done. So, I see him running away with this [award]."
In the latter half of the season, Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown turned on the jets and tried to make a late push to get in the OROY discussion, but few players altered their team's identity and impacted the game like Jacobs did.
Since Jon Gruden's return to the Silver and Black, the Raiders' identity has always been to ground and pound the football, and the emergence of Josh Jacobs and fullback Alec Ingold became as the team's best one-two punch really drove that point home. Behind a dominant offensive line, Jacobs thrived, and former Raider Maurice Jones-Drew thinks one more added piece to that offense will catapult Head Coach Jon Gruden's offense into one of the league's best.
"Josh Jacobs did a phenomenal job, you just have to try and stay healthy as much as possible," Jones-Drew said. "I feel like once he got banged up they didn't stick with the running game as much, and you want to add some young playmakers around Derek Carr; you want to give him more pieces."
Jacobs is deserving of the praise and the award, he's not the kind of guy that will lose sleep if he doesn't win OROY. His journey is just beginning, and when I questioned him in August, he made it clear that his main priority was to help his team win games, while also showing people they needed to put some respect on his name.
"I got tired of seeing people saying that the Raiders reached for me and that I wouldn't do good in the league," Jacobs said. "I mean, all of that [hype now] is cool, but it was more about proving to myself that I belonged and I feel like I did that this year. I feel like there's a lot of things I can do better, there's a lot of improvement. I can't wait to see how I play because 2020 is going to be a crazy year for me.
"I'm going to continue letting my game speak for itself. Offensive Rookie of the Year is cool, but my goal is to win games. I want to be in this [Super Bowl] environment next year, but playing in it, so that's my ultimate goal and that's my wish for the Raiders."