Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs curiously earned the start in Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Several Raiders offensive starters such as Derek Carr, Davante Adams, and Hunter Renfrow watched from the sidelines. Jacobs wasn’t afforded that same treatment. It suggests Jacobs isn’t a guaranteed starter in Vegas’ offense this season.
Jacobs received a handful of touches throughout the first half. Jacobs ultimately carried the ball on five occasions, gaining 30 yards. Jacobs added two receptions for 14 yards to his total. The Raiders coaching staff wasn’t afraid to place him in harm’s way in their first of four exhibition contests. It speaks volumes regarding their feelings toward Jacobs currently.
Jacobs is playing for a new regime. Head coach Josh McDaniels has no reason to show preferential treatment. Raiders General Manager Dave Ziegler didn’t draft Jacobs, which means he has no ties to the former Alabama ball-carrier either. Ziegler declined Jacobs’ fifth-year player option earlier this offseason too. It means Jacobs is entering a fate-deciding contract year, where he’ll earn a base salary of $2.1 million, via Spotrac. Jacobs’ future in Las Vegas is as cloudy as ever.
Injuries have slowed Jacobs down in recent years. He suffered ankle and toe injuries last season that limited his overall effectiveness. He ran for a career-low 872 yards in 15 regular-season appearances. It marked the first time in Jacobs’ three-year career that he didn’t manage to cross the 1,000-yard threshold. Jacobs also averaged a rather pedestrian 4.0 yards per carry. It’s nearly a full yard less than the 4.8 yards per carry mark he enjoyed throughout a breakout rookie campaign in 2019. It’s eerily similar to the 3.9 mark he averaged in 2020.
Further complicating matters was the debut performance of rookie ball-carrier Zamir White. The No. 122 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, White was electric on Thursday, carrying the ball on 11 occasions for a team-high 52 rushing yards. White looked decisive, explosive, and dynamic with the ball in his hands. White is a candidate to supplant Jacobs on early downs. Unlike Jacobs, Ziegler and McDaniels hand-selected White to be a part of their roster. In a league where general managers are always searching for creative ways to get younger and cheaper at every position, particularly at running back, White represents a legitimate threat to Jacobs’ playing time and roster spot.
Kenyan Drake and Brandon Bolden are also in the mix. Like Jacobs, Ziegler and McDaniels inherited Drake (on a bad contract). Should Drake make the Raiders’ final roster, he’s a candidate to play on third downs—neither Jacobs nor White are ideal passing-down backs. Jacobs was miscast in that role last season, and White enters the NFL with 17 career receptions in three seasons at Georgia to his name. Drake recorded 30 receptions for the Raiders last year. Bolden didn’t feature on Thursday, but he signed with the Raiders as an unrestricted free agent earlier this offseason. He has a history with Ziegler and McDaniels in New England. Bolden is almost exclusively a third-down back. The plot thickens for Jacobs.
Jacobs isn’t a lock to serve as the Raiders’ workhorse back this season. His spot is threatened by several new additions and similar holdovers. Thursday’s showcase indicated less-than-desirable feelings from the Raiders’ new regime toward Jacobs. A crucial campaign for all parties involved looms large. Jacobs will make the Raiders’ 53-man roster, but both sides already appear headed toward an inevitable split.
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