I’m picking Josh Jacobs to rush for the most yards in the NFL this season. Here are some reasons why and this is the total intro paragraph endinnngggggg ... now.
Here is a list of running backs to rush for at least 1,000 yards at the age of 21:
- Ezekiel Elliott, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Barry Sanders, Jerome Bettis, Jamal Lewis, Saquon Barkley, Marshall Faulk, Marshawn Lynch, Todd Gurley, Rashaan Salaam, and Josh Jacobs.
Among those 12 names are four Hall of Famers, four active players, three interesting Hall of Fame cases, and Rashaan Salaam. But here’s another catch: Jacobs only played in 13 games last season. His 88.5 rushing yards per game is more than every back on the list save Elliott, Sanders, James, Portis, and Bettis.
Jacobs also pulled this off in 2019, well after the days in which running backs were expected to contribute at the level of being the actual number one option on offense. Jacobs carried the ball 242 times, which is remarkably less than the 369 carries of James as a rookie, the 322 carries of Elliott, the 314 carries of Faulk, and the 309 carries of Lewis.
Lynch also missed three games as a rookie, but averaged 3.98 yards per carry. Jacobs averaged 4.75 yards per carry as a rookie.
So what does this have to do with Jacobs leading the NFL in rushing yards next season? Because it’s fair to assume that if this is how Jacobs started, he’s got considerably more in store over the next 2-3 years, at least.
Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards per game in each of his first three seasons; Sanders led the NFL in rushing yards in year two, then three more times in his career; James led the NFL in rushing yards in each of his first two seasons; Lewis tore his ACL in year two but led the NFL in rushing yards in year four; Faulk never won a rushing title, but twice led the NFL in yards from scrimmage; Gurley’s highest rushing totals came in years three and four, when he led the league in touchdowns both seasons; Portis averaged 1,474 rushing yards per season from years 2-4; Bettis topped his 1,429-yard rookie total two more times in his career, including 1,665 yards in 1997; Lynch didn’t achieve his best seasons until years six, seven, and eight.
Jon Gruden got his first offensive coordinator job in 1995 and his Eagles offense ranked second in carries, fourth in rushing yards. They were fifth in carries the next season, then ninth. During his first three seasons as the Raiders head coach, they ranked 17th, then seventh, then third. He never managed to get back to a rate like that with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but from year one to year two in his return to Oakland, Gruden increased rush attempts enough for the Raiders to go from 23rd in carries to 11th.
They had the third-highest rush attempt rate in the first three quarters last season, then turned to the pass in the fourth. Had they not been blown out in Weeks 12 and 13, right before Jacobs’ first missed game, he could have even more attempts.
After 12 games last season, Jacobs ranked fourth in rushing yards:
You may also notice that Jacobs is the youngest running back on this list by two years.
If Jacobs doesn’t miss any games, we could instantly project him for 1,440 rushing yards if he averaged 90 yards per game. That would have led the NFL in rushing in both 2017 and 2018, while only falling 45 yards shy of winning the rushing title in 2015. In three of the last five years, 90 rushing yards per game for 16 games would lead the NFL in rushing.
Last season, Derrick Henry’s late rushing explosion led the NFL with 1,540 yards. Jacobs would need 96.25 yards per game to match that. Assuming another back didn’t top it. I’ll briefly talk about those players:
- Derrick Henry is an obvious candidate, but I don’t think enough people remember that Henry was averaging 3.9 yards per carry after nine games last season. He was on pace for 1,145 yards prior to his final six games. The Titans also lost tackle Jack Conklin to the Browns.
- Conklin will now block for Nick Chubb. Did you know that Chubb had six games last season when he averaged fewer than 3.7 yards per carry? Jacobs only had one such game. If Jacobs adds 500 yards to his rushing total in year two, like Chubb did, Jacobs will finish with over 1,600 yards.
- Saquon Barkley has a lot of offensive line issues to overcome with the Giants, especially after Nate Solder opted out.
- Zeke should always be a threat, but we’ll need to see how Mike McCarthy plans to run an offense without Aaron Rodgers. Also without Travis Frederick, who I think remains underrated, as most centers do.
- Dalvin Cook could do it too. Did you know that he had seven games (out of 14) under 3.5 yards per carry last season? Did you know he had three under 2.6? (Jacobs’ worst game was 3.4 yards per carry in a game that was well out of hand early.)
- I’ll be really surprised if a dual threat player like Christian McCaffrey ever leads the NFL in rushing. Same “issue” Faulk had at trying to lead the league in rushing maybe.
I know other players will be in the mix, but I’ll stop there. I think that if you want to build a team right now, and you want to build a rushing team, and you can have any running back in the NFL: why not Josh Jacobs?
I expect the Raiders to run the ball a lot, to need to run the ball a lot, to ask Derek Carr to hand the ball off a lot, and for Jacobs to be successful more often than not when he does get the ball, and therefore I think Jacobs will lead the NFL in rushing this season.
This is the outro.