What kind of a season could Josh Jacobs be in line for, statistically speaking?
As Vic Tafur wrote in The Athletic recently, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was displeased with Jacobs not winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019. Jacobs, the first running back taken last year in the draft, rushed for 1,150 yards on 242 carries in 13 games. He also had 20 catches for 166 yards.
Paced out to 16 games, and accounting for the matchups vs Denver, Tennessee, and the LA Chargers games he missed, Jacobs may have run for at least 1,400 yards.
Since 1970, 14 rookies have rushed for at least 1,400 yards, with the most recent being Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 with the Dallas Cowboys. That year, Elliott had 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns in only 15 games. Elliott has of course had the type of career one would’ve expected based on that first campaign.
In 2012 there were two such players: Alfred Morris in Washington and Doug Martin with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Morris was a sixth round pick in a wonderful situation with Mike and Kyle Shanahan figuring out a run-first approach with rookie Robert Griffin III. He had 1,613 yards in 16 games that year.
Martin may be a more interesting comp for Jacobs. And no, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Both were drafted in the late first round and they have comparable size, around 5’10, 220 pounds, and their 40-yard dash was similar too: 4.55 for Martin, 4.6 for Jacobs at his pro day. Martin was a run-first player at Boise State and the was basically the case for Jacobs at a time when he was splitting carries at Alabama with Damien Harris and Najee Harris.
As a rookie, Martin had 319 carries for 1,454 yards, 11 touchdowns, 4.6 yards per carry, 49 receptions for 472 yards and another touchdown. He only fumbled one time.
Had he played in 16 games, Jacobs would not have caught Martin in receptions, but he was in line for the carries, yards, yards per carry (4.8), and touchdowns. He also fumbled only once.
Unfortunately for Martin he missed 10 games during his second season and Tampa Bay was falling apart at the seams regardless, going 4-12. Martin didn’t quite acclimate with the new coaching staff in 2014 and he ran for 494 yards, 3.7 yards per carry in 11 games, splitting time with Bobby Rainey. The Bucs went 2-14.
However, in year four, Martin acclimated and then some as the team turned the quarterback position over to Jameis Winston. For all his faults, he was much better than Josh Freeman and Mike Glennon.
Martin carried it 288 times for 1,402 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, six touchdowns, adding 33 receptions for 271 yards and another touchdown. He did fumble five times. The team still fired Lovie Smith after going 6-10 that season and then brought in Dirk Koetter’s persistently mediocre offense.
Koetter offenses have finished 24th or worse in rushing yards in seven of his last eight seasons. In four of those years they were in the bottom four.
Martin missed half of 2016 and ran for only 421 yards and 2.9 yards per carry. The NFL suspended him for four games that December and it cost him $15 million in guaranteed money from a $35 million contract he had signed in March. The Bucs kept him around for another year anyway but it did not get better.
Raiders fans are aware of his final NFL season, rushing for 723 yards with Oakland in 2018 and preceding the era of Jacobs.
So long as Jacobs does not get injured — a footnote for every player in the National Football League — then Martin is not a bad comp at all. He rushed for 1,400 yards twice in his career, something that only 29 players have accomplished in the last 50 years.
Next season I would expect Jacobs to attain 20 rushing attempts per game with a 4.8 yards per carry average, and that comes to 1,536 yards. Touchdowns are even harder to predict and not really all that meaningful until we get a sense years down the line of whether it is a “skill” (LeGarrette Blount) for that player or not.
A Josh Jacobs projection: 320 carries, 1,536 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns, 30 catches, 240 yards
If he were to do this, 1,776 yards from scrimmage would be the fifth-highest total in franchise history, behind three other players. Without cheating, could you name those three?