The Las Vegas Raiders and Josh Jacobs continue a stalemate that has been ongoing for most of the 2023 calendar year. Things were set in motion when general manager Dave Ziegler chose not to exercise the fifth-year option in Jacobs’ rookie deal last offseason.
Josh Jacobs’ Eventual Return Might Be Short-Lived
The decision effectively made the former first-rounder perform on a “prove it” deal of sorts. That was fair enough. After all, the new regime did not bring Jacobs to the Silver and Black in 2019. That was all Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden’s doing.
Regardless, one thing was clear to the young ball carrier: A strong 2022 campaign would potentially set him up for a lucrative payday this offseason. And what did Jacobs do? He only led the league in rushing yards and earned a place as a first-team All-Pro. Not too shabby, eh?
The 25-year-old running back accumulated 1,653 rushing yards while chipping in 12 touchdowns. Jacobs forced an astonishing 90 missed tackles on the year and accounted for 41 rushes of at least 10 yards. He even caught 53 footballs for another 400 yards, cementing his status as a true all-around threat out of the backfield.
However, Jacobs was slapped with the franchise tag rather than receiving the long-term pact he coveted. In doing so, the Raiders ensured that the star ball carrier would only don a different jersey in 2023 if they choose to trade him (or rescind the franchise tag tender).
With no reason to let Jacobs walk for nothing, Vegas holds all the chips at the negotiation table. Ziegler and Co. have been steadfast in their stance, offering what they believe is a fair market deal. Jacobs himself has said that the overall dollar amount is not the hang-up. All he is asking for is more security beyond the 2024 season.
It is a reasonable request for a player who just spent the entire year on an expiring deal. But the Raiders have shown no sign of budging. It is anyone’s best guess how this situation turns out. Ideally, the two sides will come together and let cooler heads prevail.
Even If Josh Jacobs Returns, Ziegler And Co. Should Look To The 2024 NFL Draft For A Replacement
Even if Jacobs returns before Week 1, as is being reported, it might be too late to mend bridges. Zamir White and the rest of the running back room have held up admirably in the absence of its leader. However, the Raiders shouldn’t settle for this group when the 2024 NFL Draft boasts upwards of a dozen starting-caliber running backs.
If the worst-case scenario comes to fruition and Jacobs leaves after the season, which prospects will head coach Josh McDaniels have an eye on in next year’s NFL Draft cycle?
Could the Raiders replace a first-round RB with another first-round RB?
Raheim “Rocket” Sanders (Arkansas)
A taller running back out of Arkansas? Raiders fans might be getting Darren McFadden flashbacks. But fear not, Raheim Sanders is the real deal for the Razorbacks. At 6-foot-2 and somewhere around 230 pounds, Sanders boasts bell-cow size out of the backfield. He runs like a bull and excels between the tackles with his impressive vision and contact balance.
Nicknamed “Rocket”, the 21-year-old ball carrier has plenty of explosiveness in open space. When Sanders gets his momentum going downhill, it is nearly impossible to tackle him one-on-one. Few prospects possess this blend of size, strength, athleticism, and intangibles entering the NFL Draft. He is one of them.
Trey Benson (Florida State)
My personal favorite running back in the 2024 NFL Draft is Trey Benson. The Florida State product forced a missed tackle on over half of his rushing attempts last season; an astonishing 79 times in total. Benson, like Sanders, possesses a bigger build for a ball carrier at 6-foot-1 and 221 pounds.
It was surprising to discover that Benson is that size because you would never know it on tape. Rarely does a 220-pounder move as easily and suddenly as the Seminole star does. He accounted for 31 “explosive gains” (via PFF) and even flashed high-end potential as a blocker.
What about the less expensive Day 2 options for Vegas?
Braelon Allen (Wisconsin)
Braelon Allen continues the trend of physically imposing running backs atop the 2024 NFL Draft. Allen flexes the play strength and frame of a ten-year NFL veteran — yet he is only 19 years old. He must clean up his pass-blocking to ever be a true three-down back, but given his size and high football IQ, it is an easier projection for this Wisconsin standout than for some of his peers.
Will Shipley (Clemson)
This former five-star recruit is a forgotten man in the stacked 2024 running back class. But make no mistake, Will Shipley’s ceiling is higher than Snoop Dogg gets on 4/20. At Clemson, Shipley has showcased incredible versatility. He caught 37 passes while lining up in the backfield, the slot, and out wide. Add in 1,171 rushing yards, and it is easy to see how Shipley could quickly become a star for the Raiders.
Some Day 3 prospects that Raiders’ fans should monitor during CFB season…
Frank Gore Jr. (Southern Mississippi)
The long-time 49er, Frank Gore, used to terrorize the Raiders in the old Bay Area battles. But perhaps his son will don the Silver and Black instead. If he is available on Day 3 at the 2024 NFL Draft, Frank Gore Jr. makes all the sense in the world for Vegas.
He is built to last, possessing the same red-hot motor as his pops, even if it comes in a smaller package. The Southern Miss product is absurdly efficient as a runner, boasting a sparkling six-yard-per-carry mark in 2022. He forced 83 missed tackles last season and brings untapped potential as a pass catcher to the league.
Jase McClellan (Alabama)
One Alabama running back out. Another Alabama running back in. That could be the outcome for the Raiders if Josh Jacobs leaves before or after the 2023 NFL season. Normally, it would cost Day 1 or Day 2 draft capital to secure a starting Alabama ball carrier, but Jase McClellan is unlike the rest.
He lacks a truly elite trait, but McClellan is so steady across the board — he is not bad at anything. With Jahmyr Gibbs off to the league, head coach Nick Saban will turn to his fourth-year veteran to lead the way in a young Crimson Tide backfield. If McClellan’s 6.2 yards per carry translates to a full workload, it may cost Vegas a much higher pick than this next April; he would still be worth it.
*Top Photo: John Reed/USA TODAY Sports