Josh Jacobs always had the potential to be a three-down back in the NFL, but the Raiders' coaching staff wanted to see growth in a crucial part of his game before he took on that responsibility.
At the University of Alabama, Jacobs operated in a shared backfield with now-New England Patriots running back Damien Harris, seeing limited reps over his three years in Tuscaloosa. Despite being in a committee, Jacobs proved to be the superior talent and an explosive runner, but there wasn't a large sample size as a receiver.
In three seasons, Jacobs totaled 48 receptions, 571 receiving yards, and five touchdowns, demonstrating that he was a capable pass catcher, but he needed to improve his route-running. After being selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Jacobs established himself as one of the best running backs in the league as a rookie, but like his college career, he was used scarcely as a receiver.
However, Head Coach Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson had plans for Jacobs' offseason.
After watching Jacobs work diligently throughout his rookie year, Gruden and Olson tasked the phenom with studying the route tree, knowing his desire to become a complete back.
"Part of his offseason, he wanted to become a complete player," Olson told reporters Friday. "He didn't want to be taken off the field, and part of our challenge to him was to become a complete route-runner."
Jacobs isn't the type of person to back down from a challenge — it's apparent in the way he plays, he's always looking to muscle out an extra yard. Using his resources, Jacobs decided to spend time with fellow teammates Hunter Renfrow and Jalen Richard. Renfrow might not be the flashiest player on the field, but his footwork and route running are top-notch. Adamant about becoming a threat as a receiver, Jacobs put himself in a different frame of mind while training this offseason.
"I did a lot more of not putting myself in a running back aspect but like a receiver," Jacobs said earlier this week. "Whether it was going outside in the slot and actually learning how to get off a release, stemming the guy and learning leverage and all the different kind of things like that. And then watching Hunter [Renfrow] on his choice routes, just how creative he is and just try to put it in. Find what I like and make it my own."
The time spent watching Renfrow paid off.
Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, Jacobs hauled in four receptions on six targets, resulting in 46 receiving yards and a pair of first downs. After one game, Jacobs is already one-fifth of the way to last season's receptions total, and one-fourth of the way to his receiving yards total.
"We feel like he's developing into that full-time player," Olson added Friday. "We're happy with his development in that area. He can still get better. He's still out working right now with the quarterbacks, working on choice routes and other routes that we ask our running backs to run in third-down situations. So, it's been great."
If you pay attention to Jacobs' press conferences, he's never satisfied. Three touchdowns and nearly 100 yards rushing last week and he wasn't content with his performance because he expects more from himself.
Dedicating himself as an improved route-runner this offseason was a big step toward becoming the three-down back the Raiders know he can be.
The 22-year-old knows he has a ways to go, but he's proven he can carry the load.
Check into Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center for another day of practice as the Silver and Black prepare for their home opener against the Saints.