Josh Jacobs enters rookie season for Raiders with high expectations

Josh Jacobs enters rookie season for Raiders with high expectations

The Raiders will need tons of help from their rookie class if 2019 produces significant improvement over the year before. Even first-round picks can need time to develop, but it's a safe bet running back Josh Jacobs can plug in and play well right away.

The No. 24 overall pick is the best runner in his draft class, and the Raiders have made it clear that he walks in as their No. 1 back. Returning runners have been gracious in helping him along.

Let's break down the possible scenarios for how his rookie season will go, and what's a realistic expectation heading into his first NFL season in our series on the entire Raiders draft class.

Check back in Friday morning for a Johnathan Abram breakdown.

Josh Jacobs

Draft slot: No. 24 overall (First round)
Position: Running back
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 220 pounds
School: Alabama

Skill set

Jacobs was the consensus top running back in this year’s draft class, someone highly coveted by Raiders coach Jon Gruden. He has the size, power, burst and agility to be an every-down NFL back, a diverse talent that should fit well into Gruden’s offense.

He’s solid between the tackles and outside. He’s adept as a receiver out of the backfield and is a willing pass protector. He’s an aggressive, decisive talent who isn’t afraid to mix things up with opposing defenders.

Training camp proving ground

Jacobs was slowed some by a hamstring injury during the offseason program -- he would've practiced and played if the ailment occurred in-season -- but it didn’t hinder him. OTAs and minicamp are all conducted without pads, an important step to see how a running game fits together between blockers and runners in a specific scheme.

We’ll get a look at that during training camp practices, which will be important considering he likely won’t see much action during preseason games themselves.

Best-case scenario

Jacobs is the every-down back Gruden believes he will be during his first professional season, despite the fact he was never a bell cow at Alabama. Durability should provide plenty of touches, which should lock in production as a runner and receiver.

Hitting 1,500 yards total offense is certainly possible, though that seems a high projection but definitely doable. If he can do that, that means Jacobs kick-started his professional career and thrived in an offense with plenty of firepower at the skill positions.

Worst-case scenario

Jacobs struggles to hold up under the rigors of a full NFL season, with high per-game touch totals he didn’t endure with the Crimson Tide. The Raiders need him to carry a significant load, and the offense will be harder to operate without him in the lineup.

There’s also a possibility of diminished returns after early carries, though this part of the doomsday scenario is tough to imagine considering how much he has put into offseason training in preparation for a heavy workload.

Inefficiency could be a concern, but again unlikely considering Jacobs’ skill set.

Maintaining health is a more legitimate concern considering the punishment running backs take from regular NFL carries. Losing him for stretches would be a real blow to the Raiders’ offensive balance.

Realistic expectations

Jacobs will get plenty of opportunities, especially on first and second down. Gruden has historically given chances to several running backs, even with a thoroughbred in the stables.

Jalen Richard will get chances on third down, though backup Doug Martin might act more as injury protection.

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Jacobs is too talented not to thrive when healthy, and plays a position where instant impacts are common. Pass protection will be key to him staying on the field, and proving capable in that arena could set him up for a solid first season.

More than 1,000 yards total offense should be a certainty, with 1,000 yards rushing a realistic option. Jacobs can play. If he’s healthy, he’ll produce.

How Raiders' bolstered secondary depth can help defense vs. Packers

How Raiders' bolstered secondary depth can help defense vs. Packers

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have some serious cornerback depth right now. They’re healthy at that spot and have activated Nevin Lawson after a four-game suspension and a week’s practice as a roster exemption.

The veteran’s primed and ready to contribute right now, if he’s worthy of an active roster spot over some others. Isaiah Johnson is set to come off injured reserved after next week’s game at Houston, further fortifying the deepest defensive position group.

Those numbers will also allow Daryl Worley to move around the defensive backfield in what Jon Gruden called a hybrid role.

Coaches aren’t spelling out exactly what that will look like, but defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Worley’s comfortable playing several different spots in the defensive backfield, from cornerback to safety to down low in the box.

“Daryl is a smart guy, he can be like having an extra corner cover guy on the field,” Guenther said. “He understands the run fits, the blitzes, the leverages in coverage, whether it’s inside or outside. So, to have a guy with that knowledge and that ability and the physicalness to play inside versus the run on some early down and distances, that’s something that we utilize him for, and he can do it. That’s kind of what we are talking about there, it’s having an extra corner on the field.”

That means Lawson or rookie Trayvon Mullen would slide into Worley’s regular cornerback spot opposite Gareon Conley to fill a gap. That allows the Raiders to use more of their secondary strength while countering some deficiencies at linebacker with Vontaze Burfict suspended the rest of the year. They got creative to keep Lamarcus Joyner on the field when he was largely schemed out of Week 3’s loss to Minnesota, and are coming up with creative ways to enhance coverage against tight ends and in bigger packages.

“You have to give credit to our coaches credit,” Lawson said. “They are doing a great job of getting people involved. We have some talent across the board in the secondary, and we have depth there as well. The defensive backs have to rise to the occasion, no matter who is out there or where guys are playing. We look forward to the challenge of playing well."

While we don’t know who will be among the 46 active players on Sunday at Green Bay, Lawson is excited for a return after missing the season’s start due to a PED violation. The anticipation’s certainly high for the veteran hoping to make his season debut.

“I’m more than excited to be out there,” Lawson said. “I got really tired of watching. This is a good team and we’re getting better every day. I just want to contribute to the group and help us win.”

The Raiders know they can’t survive forever playing just two linebackers on defense, even with Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow operating well as a pairing.

[RELATED: Raiders must pounce with Mahomes out]

“Well you got to have linebackers,” Gruden said. “Anytime someone comes out and wants to play old-fashioned, big boy football you got to have linebackers. Losing Burfict is big, I’m still not happy about it. I’m just not happy about it. … I’m not happy about that but it is what it is, and we’ll get Dakota Allen and whoever the next man up is, we’ll get him ready to go.”

Allen and Justin Phillips are linebackers in reserve, though the Raiders won’t just put them out there because it says “LB” on their football card. Secondary depth will play a role in the defensive scheme, which is forced to adjust to some setbacks in the front seven.

Raiders need help from new receivers Trevor Davis, Zay Jones vs. Packers


Raiders need help from new receivers Trevor Davis, Zay Jones vs. Packers

ALAMEDA -- Trevor Davis hasn’t been a Raider long. The fourth-year veteran was traded from Green Bay during Week 3, immediately getting a crash course in Raiders football.

It wasn’t realistic for him to play Minnesota just days after the trade, but he integrated quickly and has played both games since. Honestly, he had no choice. Ryan Grant got cut and J.J. Nelson couldn’t get right enough to play in Week 4 or 5, making the Raiders reliant on the lightning-quick Cal alum right away.

He introduced himself to Raider Nation with a 60-yard touchdown run against Indianapolis, and then caught four passes for 42 yards on as many targets against Chicago in London. He made a major mistake in that one, getting the ball punched out at the goal line in the second half of a tight Bears game.

It was at that moment, oddly enough, his lowest as a Raider, that he truly felt accepted on his new team.

“It’s a tight-knit group. It was clear when I got here, especially when I made a bad play in the Chicago game,” Davis said Friday. “They all rallied around me even though some of the guys barely even know who I am. They backed me up, and that was big for me and my confidence here.”

The Raiders picked him up that day, knowing full well that they’d need him to produce all season long. That’s especially true heading into Sunday’s game against his old team.

Tyrell Williams has been ruled out against the Packers with plantar fasciitis. Nelson’s on the street, leaving Davis as the receiver corps’ primary target. As crazy as it sounds, Hunter Renfrow’s the only receiver to have played every game this season.

Davis is finally comfortable working with quarterback Derek Carr and within Jon Gruden’s offensive system heading into this important showdown at Lambeau Field.

“I have most of the offense down at this point, which is a good place to be after coming to a team during the season,” Davis said. “Your head can spin coming in from a different offense. There are similar concepts with completely different names. You have to have trigger something in your mind to the concept is associated with something different. The transition is hard, but you have to have to delete everything you knew and focus on what you’re learning now.”

Davis certainly empathizes with Jones, who is in the in-season integration process’ early stages. Jones was added in a trade from Buffalo nearly two weeks ago now and admits his head is spinning a bit trying to get everything down. He spent the bye week in the classroom with Gruden and extra time with receivers and offensive coordinator Greg Olson after each practice.

“He’s a very quick study, quick learner,” Olson said. “We had him in last week early in the week. Very intelligent football player and that jumped out at us right away and then we got a chance to see him on the practice field here early in the week running full speed. He’s got tremendous speed and quickness. It’s early right now, but we like what we see.”

Jones obviously doesn’t know the entire offense, and it seems unlikely he even all the plays in Sunday’s game plan down. There will be ways for him to contribute right away and to get the talented young receiver involved quickly.

The Raiders will need Davis and Jones to step up and help diversify a passing game that’s more focused on tight ends and running backs in recent weeks.

“Can’t say enough about the job Trevor [Davis] has done, as our returner, as our flanker,” Gruden said. “And to get Zay for what we feel like we gave up is a risk worth taking and we’ll see if it pays any dividends, but he’s a good young player. He’s got some size and speed and was a very, very productive receiver, so we’re happy to have him.”

Davis was in Green Bay for three-plus seasons and tried to help the defense out with some Packers' offensive tendencies. Grant is a Packer now and is certainly doing the same thing with his Raiders experience.

[RELATED: Raiders must take advantage with Patrick Mahomes out]

Davis knows a return trip to Green Bay will be meaningful, but he’s trying to tone down the emotions and treat this like any other game. While getting traded away from the team that employed him so long is difficult, he appreciates learning from some excellent veterans while there that gave him a step up heading into this new venture.

“I learned a lot there,” Davis said. “Playing with Aaron and with Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, those guys taught me a lot about the game. I’ve learned a lot that I’m able to apply here with the Raiders. It was nice to come in and feel like I knew nuances of the position joining this offense, and that came thanks to the veterans I have played with.”