By Austin Gayle
Josh Jacobs is the best running back in football. Knock on wood if you’re with me.
The Oakland Raiders’ rookie running back, who we at PFF highlighted as the top at his position entering the 2019 NFL draft, is in unmarked territory entering Week 11 of the 2019 season. Not only does Jacobs leads all NFL running backs with at least 200 offensive snaps in PFF overall grade (90.4) and rushing grade (90.5), but both marks are the best we’ve seen from a rookie running back since Adrian Peterson in 2007.
Rushing for 811 yards and seven touchdowns across his 168 attempts (4.8 yards per carry average), Jacobs even has box-score pundits pounding the table for him as one of the league’s best backs and a favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The advanced metrics and PFF grades fall in line, as he also leads all qualifiers at his position in positively graded play rate and forced missed tackles per attempt (0.27). He also ranks fifth in yards after contact per attempt (3.6).
Compared to all rookies in the PFF era (2006-19), Jacobs’ 10-week start in the NFL is among the best we’ve ever seen. He ranks tied for first in forced missed tackles per attempt (0.27) and third in yards after contact per attempt (3.6) among the 34 running backs with 100-plus carries as rookies since 2006.
Jacobs’ success is rooted in his ability to add yards above expectation. He forces missed tackles and gains yards after contact with the best of ’em and has done so since his days in Tuscaloosa. He finished his 2018 season at Alabama ranked 12th among Power 5 backs in forced missed tackles per attempt (0.27) and tied for ninth in yards after contact per attempt (4.1).
With his elite elusiveness and agility, Jacobs is rarely bottled up at the line of scrimmage. He enters Week 11 with the second-lowest percentage of runs where he’s gained zero or fewer yards at 14.9 percent. He also leads all qualifying running backs in yards per carry when connected at or behind the line of scrimmage at 2.6.
And Jacobs’ ability to add above expectation as a runner is undoubtedly having a positive effect on the Raiders’ offense as a unit. Oakland has recorded positive Expected Points Added on 48.2 percent of Jacobs’ carries, the fourth-highest percentage of any primary back in the NFL. Only Mark Ingram, Aaron Jones and Ezekiel Elliott rank higher on the list.
That’s not to say Jacobs is perfect or can’t improve. He has earned just 54.9 PFF receiving grade in Weeks 1-10, which ranks tied for 51st among the 64 NFL backs with 10 or more targets. He has caught just 14 of 19 targets for 132 yards and logged three drops. Part of the blame is on Jon Gruden and Co. not getting him as involved as he should be in the passing game, but he also needs to do away with the drops and take more advantage of opportunities.
Oakland faces the sixth-easiest schedule in Weeks 11-17, per PFF’s ELO rankings. Jacobs and the Raiders currently sit at 5-4 with a shot at the postseason, especially if he continues to play at the level he is currently.
For more statistical analysis, go to PFF.com
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