Where Does RB1 Go?

In late February, we debuted a new site here at The Draft Network. It's a pretty slick place. You may have noticed there's also a brand new Mock Draft Machine -- check it out if you haven't yet.

The primary -- and really only -- complaint we've received about the mocks produced by the machine concern RB1 -- namely, Alabama's Josh Jacobs. But because you can build your own board and run the simulations with that board in control, it could be any RB1.

The problem was that Jacobs often fell out of Round 1; he was rarely in the Top 20. He regularly made it into the 40s, and even into the 50s, on seven-round simulations.

How could that be, for a player once mocked 5 overall by Daniel Jeremiah on NFL.com? A player who is as nearly consensus RB1 as you can be?

It hearkens back to a familiar tune: the devaluation of running backs. To whatever degree you personally view and understand the running back's role in the modern NFL, there's no denying it's getting smaller. And as it gets smaller, it not only becomes more difficult to justify drafting a running back with an early pick -- it also makes the rostered running backs seem all the stronger.

So let's play a quick game. I'd like to divide the league's teams into three buckets: The first is the Feature Back Bucket, in which we'll place teams who already have a feature back. The second is the Committee Bucket, in which we'll place teams that already have a functioning committee backfield that doesn't demand anything more than a Day 3 pick. The third will be the Jacobs Bucket: teams that could use a player like Josh Jacobs, to at least be the head of a committee, if not a feature player altogether.

We'll go quickly by division.


AFC North

We know the Steelers and Bengals both have their young bellcows in James Connor and Joe Mixon, so they are Feature Bucket teams. The Browns could go in either spot with Chubb as a feature or Chubb/Hunt as a committee, but let's stick them in the Feature Bucket as Hunt is suspended for the first 8 games of 2019. The Ravens just added Mark Ingram to what was a fully operable committee last year; let's call them a Committee team.

Feature Bucket: 3

Committee Bucket: 1

Jacobs Bucket: 0

AFC East

The Patriots will always be a Committee team, and with the signing of Le'veon Bell, we can assume the Jets are a Feature team. The Bills added Frank Gore to LeSean McCoy in what I imagine will be a Committee approach -- Gore, of course, left the Dolphins, who now roster Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage as their primary Committee members. That isn't great, but it might be the strongest position group on Miami's offense, so leave it for now.

Feature Bucket: 4

Committee Bucket: 4

Jacobs Bucket: 0

AFC South

The Titans are locked into their Committee with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, while the Jaguars are still dedicated to their feature player in Leonard Fournette for the time being. Indianapolis is a tough team to bucket, as they were more of a Committee in 2018 but seemingly want to make Marlon Mack a feature guy -- we'll leave them as a Committee for now.

The Texans could be our first team in need of a Josh Jacobs. They'll lose Alfred Blue this offseason and Lamar Miller is a free agent next offseason. Miller's 16.8 touches/game last year was 17th in the league, which doesn't really qualify for feature status -- and D'Onta Foreman, the Day 2 pick from two drafts past, can't stay healthy enough to make an impact.

Feature Bucket: 5

Committee Bucket: 6

Jacobs Bucket: 1

AFC West

The Chargers will ride Melvin Gordon as their feature player just as the Broncos will stick with their one-two punch with Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay. It seems like the Chiefs will go by committee, having added Damien Williams and Carlos Hyde during this free agency cycle.

The Raiders could also prove a Josh Jacobs worthy team, which is all conditional on the future of Marshawn Lynch. The enigmatic and entertaining back has retired once before, and is now three years older and coming off of a serious groin injury. If he hangs up the cleats, the Raiders should be in play for Jacobs.

Feature Bucket: 6

Committee Bucket: 8

Jacobs Bucket: 2

NFC North

Feature backs in Dalvin Cook and Kerryon Johnson take care of the Vikings and the Lions, and a clear one/two committee in James Williams and Aaron Jones accounts for the Packers.

Could the Bears look to add a primary runner to replace Jordan Howard, to keep Tarik Cohen in a pass-catching role? I think so, but they don't have a pick until 88 overall anyway -- so they're gonna be a Committee team. They aren't in the Jacobs sweepstakes.

Feature Bucket: 8

Committee Bucket: 10

Jacobs Bucket: 2

NFC East

Features abound in this division: Saquon Barkley for the Giants, Ezekiel Elliott for the Cowboys, and Derrius Guice for the Redskins. The only team in the Jacobs sweepstakes are the Eagles, who are likely to lose Jay Ajayi in free agency, and suffered under a feeble committee last season when he went down with injury.

Feature Bucket: 11

Committee Bucket: 10

Jacobs Bucket: 3

NFC South

Some good RB talent left this division in free agency. The Falcons said goodbye to Tevin Coleman, but are likely comfortable going committee with Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith. The Saints felt comfortable letting Mark Ingram walk because of their feature player in Alvin Kamara.

Tampa Bay retained the services of Peyton Barber as they figure out what they've got with last year's second-round selection in Ronald Jones -- let's call that a committee, even though it's mostly a mess. And the Panthers? McCaffrey the goat, man.

Feature Bucket: 13

Committee Bucket: 12

Jacobs Bucket: 3

NFC West

Seattle drafted a Round 1 running back and then went by committee, so sure, let's call them a committee. Arizona's got David Johnson and the Rams have Todd Gurley, though with his health question marks, there's a chance they become a committee team moving forward.

And the Niners? The Niners have five different running backs who are worthy of touches. Shanahan loves his 21 personnel, baby.

Feature Bucket: 15

Committee Bucket: 14

Jacobs Bucket: 3


Our three teams potentially in play for Josh Jacobs? That's the Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, and Oakland Raiders.

Now, Oakland has picks at 4, 24, and 27 -- Houston's picking at 23, and the Eagles are picking at 25. As such, it looks like the real sweet spot range for Jacobs, if he is to go in the first round, is between picks 23 and 27. Oakland has much bigger needs than RB, and much better players to select, at four overall.

But will Jacobs go in that range? It's really not a gimme. Houston has huge needs at multiple spots on their offensive line that they have to address, as well as new needs in the secondary created by losses in free agency. Oakland needs help almost everywhere, and they do have Doug Martin and Jalen Richard on the depth chart if Lynch chooses to retire. That's not great, but it's better than a lot of other positions.

And the Eagles are captained by Howie Roseman, a shrewd GM who clearly doesn't put much value in elite players at the RB position. They haven't selected a running back in the first three rounds since 2009 and LeSean McCoy -- it would be shocking to see them deviate from their roster-building philosophy and take a first-round back.

Josh Jacobs' best shot at leaving the board on Day 1 is Oakland at 24 or 27 -- with Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock at the helm, they'll likely value running backs enough to justify taking Jacobs in Round 1, if he's their top back. But even then, that's an outside shot. As it looks at this stage of free agency, a zero-RB first round is more likely than any other eventuality.


Written By:

Benjamin Solak

NFL Draft Analyst

NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Deputy Editor of Bleeding Green Nation. Undergrad at UChicago.

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