The Raiders were not what you would call a good rushing team last season. Only seven other teams averaged fewer than Oakland's 101.8 rushing yards per game, and only three other teams scored fewer than the Raiders' nine rushing touchdowns.
After seeing Marshawn Lynch call it a career, the Silver and Black used the second of their three first-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft on Alabama running back Josh Jacobs, a selection most certainly made with the intent of him taking over the reins of the rushing attack. Teams typically don't use first-round picks on running backs and then not utilize them as bell cows.
There's no question that Jacobs looks the part. He's already one of the best pure athletes on the team. He's got a prototypical build, has tremendous vision and has even proven to be an adept pass-catcher. But can he be an every-down back?
Jacobs never played that role at Alabama. Over three collegiate seasons, Jacobs carried the ball a total of 251 times, but no more than 120 times in any one year. For comparison, six NFL running backs rushed the ball at least 250 times last season.
Thus, durability is an obvious potential concern. NFL athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than those in college, and Jacobs will surely feel the cumulative wear and tear that comes with the part. On the other hand, one could argue he's fresher than most rookie running backs, given his relatively light load in college.
In order for the Raiders' offense to take the step or two forward that coach Jon Gruden is hoping for, it's critical that Jacobs lives up to his lofty selection. Yes, receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams will open things up on the outside, and Doug Martin offers great security in a back-up role, but Jacobs is the only back on Oakland's roster capable of being a game-changer.
Given the additions of Brown and Williams, it's unlikely Jacobs will face a lot of loaded boxes, or at least until he puts some NFL highlights on tape. That should only help the rookie, as should the presence of mammoth offensive tackle Trent Brown, who was signed in free agency.
Gruden will be looking to get the ball in Jacobs' hands in every which way possible, and his ability to be an effective pass-catcher both out of the backfield and from the slot will help him stay on the field. If Jacobs can stay relatively healthy, he just might run away with the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.