It was a small sample size, but Josh Jacobs’ awareness and ability to make decisive cuts against the Arizona Cardinals defense Thursday was impressive.
Head Coach Jon Gruden decided to trot several of his starters on the field in Week 2 of the preseason — Jacobs being one of them — and it was the University of Alabama product’s first real NFL action. To start the game, Gruden wanted to see what the No. 24 overall pick was capable of, opting to go with three consecutive handoffs all to Jacobs. The rookie only played the first series — which lasted roughly a little more than three minutes — but he toted the rock four times for 21 yards, demonstrated his ability to read the running lanes, and bulldoze his way for consistent gains.
It’s rare you see a rookie running back so well-balanced in all skill sets, but Jacobs is the complete back, and his quarterback Derek Carr compared him to some of the best backs he’s played with thus far.
“Really good, right? His vision,” Carr said Saturday when asked about Jacobs’ ability to make reads. “You know I’ve been able to hand the ball off to some really good running backs. I’ve played with some fun ones, MJD [Maurice Jones-Drew], D-Mac [Darren McFadden], Latavius [Murray], Marshawn [Lynch], Doug [Martin], and that’s just the guys that’ve carried most of the footballs. I’ve played with a lot of good backs. Watching his vision was really impressive because I have the best seat in the house. I’m sitting back there playing Madden tell him to cut back and trying to run for him. He’s right up there with those guys. For him to do that, especially in his first game. I think the thing that rubbed off on me the most about Josh was his want to.
Carr continued, “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh man this is my first game.’ None of that. He was out there just trying to bully people. He was out there trying to run hard. He didn’t care that he’s a rookie. He’s trying to prove that he’s the best back in the NFL. That’s his mindset. Really impressed. Obviously the runs and all of that, the offensive line did a great job, but more so impressed with his demeanor and mentality.”
“He’s a good back, there’s no doubt,” Coach Gruden added. “He can run the ball. He has good vision. He can break arm tackles. He has some acceleration and burst, no doubt. I think he’s going to be a really good player.”
Jacobs has been a bright spot for the Raiders throughout training camp, doing his part to prove to Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock he’s worthy of becoming a three-down back. The Silver and Black have a running backs room loaded with talent, and finding playing time for each of them will be difficult, but it’s clear Jacobs will be given every opportunity to earn a significant role. Whether it’s been in pass protection or as a receiver out of the backfield, Jacobs has impressed his peers.
Pass protection is an area that some backs struggle at, especially their first couple years in the league, but that doesn’t seem to be an area of weakness for Jacobs.
“Yeah, he’s very, very advanced,” Carr said. “I think everyone knows you have to be really good in the passing game to play in Coach Gruden’s offense as a running back. A lot of our quick game, the old West Coast, Joe Montana, Rodger Craig kind of plays, all that kind of stuff. He has to be able to do that and he can. I think that coming in we knew how good of a runner he was. We knew he’s tough, we knew he could block. You just never know with rookie running backs that are that big. How flexible are they? Can they run the routes? Can they catch? He’s been really impressive. I’ll let his game speak for it, but for me I’ve been impressed by him.”
While we didn’t get to see his receiving abilities on display Thursday, make no mistake, Jacobs will be utilized out wide at throughout the year. He told reporters during Mandatory Minicamp that Coach Gruden has asked him to memorize the entire route tree and learn the plays of each receiver position.
During wide receiver Tyrell Williams’ press conference Saturday, he referenced one of Jacobs’ highlight-reel plays in the early stages of training camp that stood out to him.
“I think it was a couple weeks ago, he had a little one-hand grab a few weeks ago and it was kind of surprising,” Williams said. “You don’t really see running backs especially make plays like that, catches like that, so I feel like he’s super versatile. He can run you over, run around you. His vision is crazy. I saw in that last game the holes that he sees on those three plays is awesome, and definitely being able to catch out of the backfield is going to be huge for him, so it’s nice to see.”
Jacobs is a complete back and watching him get his first NFL reps Thursday was exciting. It’s not clear how much — or if at all — he’ll play against the Green Bay Packers in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, but if we don’t see him, I think he’s shown enough in one drive to prove he’s ready for the league.
Check out the top photos from the Raiders' 33-26 preseason victory over the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.