By now you’ve heard the reviews and read the reports. Josh Jacobs is the consensus number one running back in this draft class.
He’s quick and powerful, and able to power through tackles, avoid tacklers in the open field, and bounce to the outside when plays break down. The statistics and measurables are outstanding, and he can play in any system he’s drafted into. I’ve even read comparisons to Todd Gurley and Saquon Barkley.
Well, I don’t buy all of that and neither should you. Stats only tell half the story, and anybody with a keyboard can tell you he’s the 2019 rookie running back to own. It’s my job to help you slow down, show you some tape, and consider that maybe there are some flaws to his game, and those flaws should be taken into consideration prior to drafting him onto your team. After all, the best owners not only draft the best players, but they also avoid potential busts as well.
At 5’10”, 216 pounds, Jacobs has the build of a quality running back. He’s not too lanky and has a strong compact frame. He only had around 300 total touches in his three-year career at Alabama, so there is plenty of tread left on the tires. Plus, he had a 5.9 yards per carry average over that time. His 5:1 ratio of rushes to catches is a characteristic of a true three-down running back. He was hard to tackle throughout his years at Alabama, and is now the darling of all fantasy writers in fantasy land.
Well… almost all. I am going to pull some tape in the form of gifs and show you some possible flaws in hisgame. It’s my job to try to think analytically and not to take Josh Jacobs at face value.
On the surface, this looks like a nice three-yard run. Jacobs fell forward even though he made contact at the line of scrimmage. The defense had seven men in the box vs six blockers for Jacobs. So all-in-all; not a bad run given these facts.
My focus, however, is on Jacobs’ actions during the play. This run utilizes a man-blocking scheme with a pulling guard towards the play-side A-gap, which is located to the right of the center. That means the play is specifically designed for there to be a hole at this particular spot, and it’s the RB’s job to hit the hole as quickly as possible.
The problem is that Jacobs didn’t take the ball and run full speed to where the hole is supposed to be. Instead, he used a stop-and-go technique, which is what running backs are supposed to do on zone blocking plays, not man.
A “stop-and-go technique” is where a running back is running full speed down the line of scrimmage along with an offensive line that is supposed to be running laterally in the same direction, and when the RB sees a hole big enough to run through, he uses his outside foot to ‘stop’ his momentum while he places all of his weight on his other foot to propel or ‘go’ off of.
Jacobs uses a zone technique on a man scheme, wasting time getting to the line of scrimmage and therefore meeting the defender earlier than he should have. He is unable to avoid the linebacker, and has to settle for a three-yard gain rather than what should have been a five-yard gain at a minimum. Either Jacobs forgot that this wasn’t zone blocking, or simply had a lapse in concentration. Either way, it’s a mental mistake.
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This is another run play with man blocking. The left side of the line crashes down, the pulling right guard (#70) seals the edge rusher and the lead blocker (#82) has a clear path through the line in order to block the linebacker at the second level. This is a perfectly executed play by the offensive line and lead blocker.
Jacobs, on the other hand, decides he wants to deviate from the play and proceeds to run wide for apparently no reason. The linebacker easily rushes the edge while the defensive end peels of his block and helps make the easy tackle for a loss. This is a perfectly blocked play that Jacobs fails to execute because he inexplicably decided to call his own number.
This play made me somewhat agitated. Jacobs is asked to stay in for extra pass protection. He does the right thing and looks at the middle linebacker, the most dangerous possible blitzer on the play, and steps up to block.
When he realizes there is no blitz but instead a stunt on the right side, Jacobs seemingly watches it unfold and does nothing to help his right tackle, allowing pressure and forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away. Jacobs has his head pointed in the direction of where the rush was coming from, was only one yard away from being useful, and did nothing to prevent the danger from unfolding.
Want to see some unimpressive run blocking? Granted, it’s not what he’s known for, but for a guy who supposedly loves contact and is a team player, I’d like to see more of an effort than this.
This is just straight-ahead man blocking. Jacobs’ job is to see the field, pick the best spot and go. See the right side of the line? His linemen are four yards down field and not a threat in site. Jacobs chooses to run the ball to the left side. He should have taken an extra fraction of a second to make a decision.
I’m not going to show every play I found. I won’t show the play where he side-steps at the line for no reason, juking with zero defenders nearby, and all he accomplished was wasting enough time and allow the linebackers to close in for the tackle.
I won’t show the moment he was at the goal line and rather than using four points of pressure to secure the football (hand, forearm, bicep, and chest), he held onto it with one hand and fumbled instead. I won’t show a passing play where he tried to block a defender and whiffed terribly because he put his head down. I won’t, because I’ve beat up on the guy enough.
Instead, let’s look at some great plays.
On this first play, his line is man blocking so all he has to do is run up the middle. Seeing that this would be impossible at the hand-off, Jacobs smartly decides to run outside but encounters two defenders on the play.
In an amazing display of athleticism, he jump-cuts both defenders and saunters into the end zone – simply amazing body control and ability. This is the kind of stuff only a few RBs in the NFL can do.
This play is the same exact play he screwed up earlier (Play 2). This time, he follows his blocks and takes it all the way to the end zone.
It was one of my favorite run plays Alabama ran that year, and when Jacobs ran where he was supposed to – then used his natural athleticism to finish it off – he looked like the best running back in college football.
In conclusion, I do think Josh Jacobs deserves to be in the conversation for the first running back taken in the NFL draft, and a worthy top-six pick in this year’s rookie draft. However, I do not believe that it’s the slam dunk that everyone else thinks it is.
While he does protect the ball well for the most part, catches out of the backfield better than most, and runs hard when danger is ahead of him, there are often lapses in concentration and perhaps a bit too much bravado that makes him do some questionable things.
I think he’s a true three-down back and he’ll thrive in a zone system. Most of his best plays came out of zone, and most of his mistakes came when the line was blocking man. These types of things can be coached, but in order for Jacobs to be great right out of the gate, he’ll need to go to a zone system where he can be creative and do his own thing. The rest is up to coaching, and it’s up to Josh Jacobs to be the best student he can be going forward.
You can follow his opinions on Twitter @MikeEHavens