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Raiders priority free agent: Jakob Johnson

Fullback is key example of a “culture fit” for Josh McDaniels

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Jakob Johnson is an unrestricted free agent that the Las Vegas Raiders would be wise to re-sign. The fullback position has a strong place in Josh McDaniels’ offense.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders have tough decisions ahead of them as the team embarks on a key offseason. Questions are abound on the future quarterback position, running back Josh Jacobs’ long-term status in Silver & Black, amongst other things.

But there’s one decision that shouldn’t be difficult at all: Re-signing fullback Jakob Johnson. The position isn’t glamorous nor sexy, but it’s a requisite spot for Josh McDaniels’ Raiders offense. And it’s not difficult to see why.

At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Johnson fits the bruising pathfinder fullback role succinctly for what McDaniels wants out of the fullback position. Turn on the tape and you’ll see No. 45 taking linebackers and other defenders out of the equation for his backfield mates like Jacobs and others. It hasn’t been perfect, of course. There are the whiffs along with the wham blocks. But for the Raiders — one of 17 teams in the league that deployed a fullback in 2022 — that give and take is just fine.

It’s hard not to see Johnson doing the dirty work as lead escort in the run game in his 301 total snaps on offense (27 percent of the team’s overall offensive snaps). When he’s in the formation, it’s about matching up as many blockers (or impediments) on defenders, especially for a Las Vegas offense that ranked 12th in first downs gained via rush. Johnson’s ability to take on would-be tacklers and clear the way was essential to the Raiders rushing attack (which tied for No. 5 in the league in yards per carry at 4.8 yards per tote).

Bringing back Johnson is independent of what the team does at quarterback or with Jacobs. Because regardless, the run game will still be a valuable component to McDaniels’ Silver & Black attack. Whether it’s a pocket quarterback (with mobility) or a signal caller that can scramble, having Johnson in the backfield gives you a lead blocker or pass protector. And the combo of Johnson-Jacobs will continue to be effective — more so if Las Vegas improves in trenches.

Los Angeles Rams - Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders fullback Jakob Johnson (45) takes on a Los Angeles Rams linebacker as running back Josh Jacobs follows.
Photo by Maximilian Haupt/picture alliance via Getty Images

And here’s a solid touchpoint: The Raiders don’t have to break the bank for Johnson, either.

Which makes a reunion that much more likely. He joined the Raiders as a free agent last offseason to reunite with McDaniels in the desert (Johnson himself noted his return to the New England Patriots vanished when McDaniels went west as his position wouldn’t be used in the new offense in Foxboro). Thus, he found himself a Raider on a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Something similar to that should be on the horizon for the 28-year-old Germany native.

While Johnson doesn’t offer the receiving skills out of the backfield like his well-compensated counterparts Kyle Juszyczyk (San Francisco 49ers) and Alec Ingold (Miami Dolphins), he does give the Raiders much-needed physicality at the position. Something that gels with and compliments quite well with Las Vegas offensive line’s ability to run block. In fact, Johnson assumed the fullback mantle from Ingold when the new regime allowed the latter to hit the free agent market.

Which harkens on another key factor besides play and contract: Culture. Whether it was Ingold coming off a torn ACL or if it wasn’t a philosophical fit, Johnson took the spot. But it appears both McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler aren’t done bringing in players that mesh with their philosophy.

“Meanwhile in Vegas, I’ve talked to a few people around the league who expect coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler to continue aggressively tweaking the roster. McDaniels is big on ‘culture fits’ and will want his own guys,” ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote in his Insider piece late last month.

Johnson is without a doubt a culture fit. And unless the Raiders find a younger option in or after the draft, one can assume safely, Johnson returns to the fold.