The 2019 running back class didn't have a once-in-a-generation star. But many rookie running backs still have a chance to score massive amounts of fantasy points in 2019. As we know, landing spot matters a lot for running backs. And in the 2019 NFL Draft, many backs got drafted to teams in dire need of a running back.
The most talented of the bunch was clearly Alabama prospect Josh Jacobs. But the question remains, is Josh Jacobs the best fantasy rookie running back to draft in 2019?
The answer to that is undoubtedly yes. Don't say 'yeah but I think Miles Sanders blah blah blah or David Montgomery blah blah blah.' I know you (the reader) are saying that right now. But take off your contrarian hipster glasses, put down the Pabst Blue Ribbon, and keep on reading.
Why Jacobs the better option
Sure, there were plenty of other talented rookie running backs with promise. Miles Sanders went in the second round to Philadelphia, a team with a good offensive line and only an injury-riddled Jordan Howard to beat out. David Montgomery went to Chicago, which was a solid spot since there's no clear-cut starting RB on the roster. Both backs have good potential opportunity in 2019, but Jacobs rises above them all for several reasons.
For one, there was no running back in a weak 2019 class more NFL ready than Jacobs. At Alabama, he showed he could run between the tackles, catch the ball and also pass protect (a common bugaboo among rookies). No running back in this rookie class was that solid in all three phases like Jacobs.
Sanders and Montgomery, while talented, have some holes. Sanders runs tentative at times and Montgomery lacks long speed to separate from defenses.
Jacobs isn't a speed demon either, but he's by no means slow. Jacobs even improved his 40-time on his second Pro Day, clocking in at 4.52 compared to 4.6 he ran on his first attempt. Plus, Jacobs' size creates more chances to break tackles and gives him a chance to rip off a big run.
Where Jacobs can become an elite fantasy RB
Jacobs is no doubt an excellent inside runner. He has great balance and runs with some anger to create yards after contact. According to Rotoworld's Graham Barfield (creator of Yards Created metric for Running Backs), Jacobs tied Saquon Barkley for 3rd highest percentage of carries to create 5 or more yards. This shows his propensity to break tackles.
That alone is exciting. But there's an even bigger factor that could help Jacobs be the man in 2019.
That factor comes in the passing game. Jacobs averaged 2.4 receiving yards per route in 2018, according to Graham Barfield. This ranked second among all rookie running backs. A good route runner who moves incredibly well for a guy his size, Jacobs can adjust his body to make difficult catches in ways most 220 lb backs can't. You can see some highlights of in this article here. He also has massive hands 10 inch hands, an obvious good trait for a pass catcher.
Receivers do fantasy better
In 2018, the Top 5 running backs (Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffery) all had at least 80 targets. And 3 of the 5 (Kamara, Barkley, and McCaffery) had over 100 targets. In 2017, three of the Top 5 fantasy RB's had over 87 targets, and the fourth had 79. While this is only a two-year sample, it's looking more like target numbers are becoming a huge indicator for fantasy success among running backs.
Catching running backs score fantasy points regardless of game script. They rarely post '0' point weeks. If the defense is stopping them in the run game, they can flare out on screen passes and create yards in the open field. If the defense has slow linebackers, they can exploit those matchups for big gains in the pass game.
Catching the ball is also good because it allows running backs to gain bigger chunks of yards in the open field. We saw Kareem Hunt do this especially well in 2017 on screen passes. Same thing with Barkley on the Giants in 2018. Jacobs isn't incredibly elusive like those backs, but he's fast enough and athletic enough to make people miss in the open field as well.
The right spot with Oakland
Jacobs steps into a golden opportunity with Oakland to showcase his receiving ability. With only Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington to contend with, it's tough to see Jacobs not starting immediately in 2019.
The Raiders made some major splashes in free agency. grabbing arguably the best wide receiver in the league in Antonio Brown. They also added Tyrell Williams, a high-quality No. 2 who was a consistent touchdown producer with the Chargers. Williams is already impressing coaches in practice, and these receivers will move the chains and give Oakland more scoring opportunities in the red zone. When the Raiders get done around the goal line, Jacobs will be the top candidate to punch it in. This gives him added touchdown value.
The big question is quarterback Derek Carr. Will he be able to return to his 2016 form when he was a Pro Bowl quaterback? He hasn't played at that level since the injury, but you could argue 2018 was a rebuilding year since the Raiders lost key weapons in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Carr has proven he's capable when he has the tools, and the Raiders certainly have them in 2019.
Even more promising is the game script within the division. The Raiders play in the loaded AFC West, featuring MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City and future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers. There's going to be a lot of shootouts in these games, leading to more chances of getting Jacobs involved in the passing game and score touchdowns.
Rookie running backs are the best kind of rookie
Running back is a young man's position and so it's not surprising to see Jacobs as one of the top contenders to win this year's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. If you're playing the odds, three of the last five AP Offensive Rookie of The Year players were running backs. Those were Saquon Barkley (2018), Alvin Kamara (2017), and Todd Gurley (2015). All running backs finished in the Top 5 in standard fantasy scoring at their respective position.
To go deeper on one of them Alvin Kamara finished 4th overall in standard fantasy scoring as a rookie. A big part of that was his 105 targets, which allowed him to snag 81 catches and 709 receiving yards. Kamara also had the fortune of playing with one of the three best quarterbacks of this generation in Drew Brees.
But while it's safe to say you won't expect Jacobs to amass 105 targets as a rookie since the Raiders are unlikely to be THAT prolific on offense, there's still plenty of opportunity to utilize his catching ability. The Raiders passed the ball 59 percent of the time last season, good for 12th overall. It's expected they'll throw more given their new weapons in Brown and Williams on the outside. So expect Jacobs to see his fair share of targets in 2019.
Josh Jacobs is an NFL ready running back. He has a scintillating opportunity with zero running backs ahead of him on the depth chart. There's potential for Oakland to give him plenty of targets since they're a fairly pass-friendly offense. He'll also be playing in a high-scoring division where several games could become shootouts.
He's a no-brainer RB2 in all standard scoring leagues this season. You should also snag him a ton in best ball and he should be one of the first picks off the board in dynasty leagues at running back.
To see all our rookie coverage, check out our 'Talent Evaluation' section here.