You know those guys every year that seem to come out of the draft process late and make us all say, "why the heck wasn't I reading about this guy earlier?"
Yeah, I got your next candidate for that. It's Alabama running back Joshua Jacobs.
Alabama has become an absolute talent factory over the last decade or so, so you figure that we would just have our radar pointed at every single scholarship athlete on the Crimson Tide going into the season. But due to the fact that there actually are other players around the country, some guys, even on a team like the Alabama, can slip through the cracks for a while.
But I say "for a while" because top talent always rise -- and eventually they can't stay hidden anymore.
Going into 2018, the expectation was that running back Damien Harris would once again be the feature and most talented draft-eligible back for the Tide. And after him, the focus was even more on Najee Harris than it was for Jacobs. But as the year went on, though Damien Harris had his carries and his production with it due to the offense he was in, when it came to the flash plays, it was the 5-foot-10, 215-pound junior tail back Jacobs who was stealing the show.
It's funny because when it comes to efficiency, this is Jacobs' "worst" year statistically. As a freshman two years ago, Jacobs had a 6.7 yards-per-carry average with 567 rushing yards. The next year he averaged 6.2 yards per carry, but only on 46 carries. This season he's been given his most carries with 94, but is averaging a slightly lower 5.3 yards per carry. However, this year he has 11 touchdowns.
But it's not just in the rushing game. What makes Jacobs such an interesting and alluring prospect is that he's a three-down player. He can be used as a weapon as a runner, a pass catcher and even as a blocker.
To give you a visual on that, here are five (or so) plays that best encapsulate Jacobs' game, and why he could be one of the highest running backs selected in this upcoming draft class, if he declares.
Play No. 1: Never Say Die
Jacobs runs with a purpose, and those kinds of running backs will always have a place on my team. There is no timidness with Jacobs when he has the ball in his hands. When Jacobs finds contact, he's often the initiator, and even in situations where he's not, he'll make sure he's the finisher.
Jacobs will fight for every yard. It doesn't matter is he outweighs the player he's up against by 10 or 15 pounds or if the player outweighs him by 60 pounds. Jacobs constantly keeps his legs (which are very strong) churning through contact, and his balance allows him to pick up extra yards in eye-popping ways, as shown above.
Play No. 2: Balance & Breaking Tackles
Speaking of balance, that is one of Jacobs' best talent traits.
When you have good balance, it enhances all parts of your game as a ball carrier. Balance can allow you to put the moves on a defender via a juke or a spin and it can also allow you to keep up right and run through contact when breaking tackles, as shown above.
Jacobs' tackle breaking ability is one of the best I've seen in this class. Part of it has to do with his balance, but the rest is just pure strength -- then going back to that mentality that he never wants to be brought down.
Look at that stiff arm in the clip above. I mean, that was just vicious. That was a textbook stiff arm on how to put a defender who has no business tackling you on the ground and out of the play.
Jacobs' running style is certainly violent, and anytime you have players like that who show his athleticism and mentality, you have yourself the potential for the full package, which brings us to our next play.
Play No. 3: Receiving Threat
Though there is a ruggedness to his game as a violent running when the ball is in his hands, Jacobs has a soft spot to his game when it comes to receiving -- and I mean that in a good way.
Jacobs' receptions over the last three years read: 14, 14 and 15. His receiving yardage total has gone up every year, and his two receiving touchdowns this season match his two from last season.
But Jacobs' good hands aren't the only part of his receiving game that makes him more of a complete prospect. Alabama doesn't just toss passes to Jacobs out of the backfield. There are plays, like the one above, where Jacobs is lined up in a wing formation or as a slot receiver running actual routes. Jacobs isn't as natural as player who play that position consistently, but in terms of what you'd like to see from a running back, Jacobs' route running and separation are some of the best I've seen for backs of his size in this class.
Play No. 4: Crushing Blocker
NICE TO SEE YA.
My oh my, can this kid block his ass off. Jacobs is know for delivering some crushing blows as a lead blocker. He has the frame at 5-foot-10, 215 pounds to be able to pass protect in the pocket and lead block, shown in the clips shown above.
Jacobs' blocking highlights also confirm his mentality as a player, as the determined running style hinted at in the first section. Jacobs is a player who truly believes he's going into battle when he straps that helmet on. Not only is he ready for contact, he welcomes it; he initiates it. There is no job too tough for him, and no assignment he won't give his all for.
That's what makes him a three-down back. It's not just the talent and the size he has, it's the mentality behind all of it.
Play No. 5: Big Play Speed
As you would expect with a running back who crushes souls as his main calling card, Jacobs won't be the fastest back in this class, but he is plenty fast enough.
Jacobs' big runs are often a combination of his tackle breaking ability and his balance, but within those runs he is still able to maintain top speed. Acceleration also isn't a worry for me because I know how strong his legs are and what can happen when he puts that foot in the ground. As stated before, he won't have the get-away speed of the best in this class, but the top speed he can get to and maintain through contact in space is certainly a compliment to his size and style.
Overall, this kid is good. I mean real good. I would be hard-pressed to find you a back with a higher ceiling in this class outside of Rodney Anderson from Oklahoma, who has a lot of injury concerns behind him.
If someone were to tell me they have Joshua Jacobs as their RB1 in this class, I wouldn't put up much of an argument against that.
He might be my RB1 when it's all said and done.