Josh Jacobs Should Be a First-Round Pick in Fantasy Football Drafts
Despite missing three games in 2019, Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs led all rookies in rushing -- by an impressive 332 yards. As an added bonus, he also led rookie rushers with seven scores.
Jacobs didn't enter his rookie season without expectations. The former Alabama back was a real-life first-round pick and a fantasy third-rounder this past season. It's fair to say he lived up to the hype.
Speaking of expectations -- they're sky-high for Jacobs' sophomore season. How should we value the 21-year-old in fantasy drafts? Let's take a look.
According to BestBall10s, Jacobs has an average draft position (ADP) of 14.74 since the beginning of May -- 11th at his position. Fellow second-year back Miles Sanders is a smidge ahead of him, at 14.30. However, unlike Sanders -- who lasted as long as 34th in some drafts -- Jacobs' variance isn't quite as high, never falling below 23.
Now that we have an idea of where you'll need to select Jacobs if you want him on your fantasy roster, let's see if he's worth the price.
In 13 games last year, Jacobs finished as the RB18. He posted a 16-game pace of 1,619 total yards, 25 receptions, and 9 scores. In half-PPR leagues, that pace would have placed him 1.1 points short of the RB8 spot.
Consistency was an issue for the rookie, especially in any sort of PPR formats. In leagues awarding 0.5 points per reception, Jacobs totaled fewer than 12 fantasy points in 7 of his 13 contests. He posted more than 17 in four of the other six games.
Most of the erratic production was directly correlated to game-script. In wins, Jacobs averaged 19.8 points, compared to just 9.2 in losses. That makes sense, given that just 47 of his 242 carries came when the team was down by a touchdown or more. In fact, his snap rate in wins was more than 10 percent higher than in losses. Additionally, none of his targets and just 16 of his carries came after second down.
Among the 30 running backs with at least 150 totes last year, Jacobs ranked 12th in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) and Rushing NEP per carry, and he was 14th in Rushing Success Rate (i.e. the percentage of carries that lead to positive NEP for a team’s offense).
Within that same group, though his sample size was small (just 28 targets), he also ranked 11th in Reception NEP per reception, 9th in Target NEP per target, 10th in Reception NEP per target, and 19th in Reception and Target Success Rate. In all of those categories, he was either near or above league average.
While none of those ranks will jump out as elite, it's worth noting that even the running back position can be tough on rookies. Here's a look at how each of the backs going ahead of Jacobs performed in their first seasons, sorted by Rushing NEP per carry.
These are the backs that are currently the fantasy cream of the crop at the position, and Jacobs finds himself in the middle of the pack in most categories. As you can see, few of these stars had metrics as rookies that were far ahead of what Jacobs did in 2019.
All in all, Jacobs holds his own compared to how those going ahead of him fared as rookies.
Yes, Jacobs should have been utilized more. Not just as a runner, but as a pass-catcher, too.
If you had any doubt as to who was the better or more efficient runner, this chart should help clear that up. It was Jacobs.
Though he had 12 fewer targets than Washington and 15 fewer than Richard, Jacobs made an impact as a receiver. He was best of the three in Reception NEP per reception and wasn't too far behind in Target NEP per target.
All that's to say that Las Vegas doesn't have another back good enough to justify consistently having Jacobs' snap rate in the 50s again in 2020.
At this time last year, FanDuel Sportsbook had Oakland's over/under for wins at 6.5, with 62.3 percent implied odds on the under. This was despite the presence of Antonio Brown, who was receiving rave reviews in camp and hadn't yet begun his antics.
Las Vegas' current win total is at 7.5, with more than 50 percent implied odds on the over -- 51.23, to be exact. That doesn't hurt Jacobs' value. The Raiders were dogs by five or more points a whopping nine times in 2019. As of today, they are only underdogs by that much in their two matchups with the Kansas City Chiefs. That definitely doesn't hurt Jacobs' value.
It's also possible that Jon Gruden and company finally came to the revolutionary realization (sarcasm, if you couldn't tell) that they should be using Jacobs more -- four of his six highest snap shares came in his final six weeks. His snap rate was over 55 percent in seven of his last nine games after failing to reach that number in three of his first four.
A more competitive team -- a team that's smarter about how it uses one of its best players -- could lead to an even bigger season for Jacobs than where he's currently being drafted.
numberFire's models project Jacobs for 1459.8 total yards, 28.1 receptions, 11.5 scores, and an RB8 finish. That line would have made him the RB8 in 2019 as well.
If you're drafting Jacobs with the expectation that he'll be an RB1 or RB2 every week, you're more than likely going to end up disappointed. And outside of the top five or six backs, those kind of players are damn near impossible to find.
That said, if you're looking for a guy who, A) will post a heap of week-winning performances, and B) has a great chance of finishing the season as a top-10 running back, Jacobs is your man.