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Raiders’ Josh Jacobs enjoying career season in contract year

He spent the first five weeks of the NFL season running through linebackers and bulldozing safeties, but Josh Jacobs insisted he wasn’t sore amid his return to practice after the Raiders’ bye week.

“I feel pretty good. I felt pretty good going into the bye week. I did probably a couple days of treatment and I was good,” said the 24-year-old running back from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I’ve been feeling pretty good this season.”

Running even better.

Jacobs is on pace to establish career highs in rushing yards, carries, yards per carry, receptions — and seemingly every other statistical measure pertinent to his position. He ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards (490) despite playing one fewer game than a majority of other qualified runners, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt — up from 4.0 the past two seasons.

He’s also established single-game career highs of 144 and 154 yards the past two games against the Broncos and Chiefs, prompting praise from quarterback Derek Carr.

“He’s running extremely violent,” Carr said while comparing Jacobs to one of the most physical runners of the modern era, Marshawn Lynch, formerly of the Raiders and best known for his six-year stint with the Seahawks.

“His cuts are violent. His mentality is violent,” Carr added. “You see when he gets in the open field, we all know he can make people miss and stuff like that, but you’ve seen a couple times in the last couple weeks, him eye the safety out and say, ‘OK, here I come.’ He’s going to do it play after play after play. … I don’t know how he does it. It’s really impressive.”

Focused on football

The burst Jacobs is running with seemed to vanish after his rookie season of 2019, during which he rushed for 1,150 yards in 13 game while averaging 4.8 yards per carry after three years at Alabama.

He totaled 1,065 rushing yards in 2020 and 872 in 2021.

Nagging toe and ankle injuries stymied his production.

As a result, a new brass spearheaded by general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels declined the fifth-year option built into Jacobs’ rookie contract. The Raiders also selected running backs Zamir White and Brittain Brown in the fourth and seventh rounds of the NFL draft, signaling a contingency plan should they not re-sign Jacobs.

Jacobs did not attend organized team activities or minicamps in the offseason, electing instead to train for two months in Miami alongside other standouts such as Packers running back Aaron Jones and Chiefs defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

Jacobs said he focused more on “fast twitch” type of things instead of going “heavy or whatever.” He also tabbed a nutrition for the first time, replacing doughnut burgers with lean proteins such as chicken and fish in an effort to maximize his performance.

When he arrived in training camp in July, he said, “I really don’t think too much about” the franchise declining his fifth-year option.

“I’m a firm believer in the work that you put in is going pay off for itself,” Jacobs said. “I had to be here either way, and this is where I want to be. So, I didn’t have a problem with it. It gave me more of a reason to come in every day, jell with the guys and work.”

Through five games and a bye, Jacobs has done exactly that with increasingly better results.

Score and circumstance limited him to 42 carries through his first three games, but he’s settled in with 49 through his past two — including his first three touchdowns of the season. On Sunday at Allegiant Stadium, he will face a Texans defense that is allowing 164.8 rushing yards a game, 30th in the league.

While speaking about Jacobs’ spike in production, McDaniels credited the offensive line, tight ends and receivers for their blocking and Carr for “getting us in good plays” that allow Jacobs to thrive.

“Then (he’s) just done a tremendous job with his opportunities,” McDaniels said. “There’ll be a tug of war Sunday to try to get control of the score, and they’re going to be trying to do the same thing we’re doing so that we can hand him the ball and let him do his thing. He’s been tough to tackle, very durable. … Just a really good complete back.”

Tough to tackle, indeed

Perhaps no running back has been tougher to tackle than Jacobs, who leads the NFL with 327 rushing yards after contact, according to Pro Football Reference. His 12 broken tackles are second to Texans running back Dameon Pierce, and Jacobs averages a broken tackle every 7.6 carries to rank sixth.

Raiders center Andre James indicated that chemistry is finally starting to develop across an offensive line comprised of Kolton Miller, Alex Bars, Dylan Parham and Jermaine Eluemunor after ineffective combinations were utilized.

But James believes Jacobs is the “most important component” for the resurgence of the Raiders’ rushing offense.

“Josh is running the rock really hard, and it makes our jobs easy when you have a dude like that running that rock,” James said. “The way he’s hitting gaps, it’s unlike I’ve really seen him before. He’s running with a mean motive. It’s awesome to see.”

Jacobs has played on 74 percent of the offensive snaps, representing a career high amid his impending free agency. He’s also one of five ball carriers averaging more than 18 rushing attempts, reflecting the continued leaguewide deviation away from one feature back and toward a timeshare.

But he’s embracing the role as a bell cow, noting that “this game is about availability, but it’s also about the more you can do. … The more you can put yourself on the field to impact the game, it’s definitely huge.”

There’s also another role he’s come to embrace with every blow he delivers to a defender.

“If I feel like we hit a lull in a game, it could be a time where I feel like I could maybe juke a dude and go around him, but I be like, ‘I’ma set the tone, and I’ma get the sideline hype, and I’ma get everybody energized to go play,’” Jacobs said.

“That’s just kind of the role that I feel like I took on.”

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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