'Backup' RB Josh Jacobs emerging as a key NFL prospect for top-ranked Alabama

Nov 24, 2018; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Josh Jacobs (8) scores a touchdown against Auburn Tigers defensive back Daniel Thomas (24) during the second half at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa delivered yet another Heisman-worthy performance as Alabama exacted revenge for last year’s stunning lost to rival Auburn, throwing five touchdowns and rushing for another as the Crimson Tide rolled to an easy 52-21 win to finish the regular season a sparkling 12-0.

A true sophomore and therefore ineligible for the NFL until 2020, Tagovailoa is essentially a “look, but don’t touch” prospect from a scouting perspective.

That normally would also be the case for backup players, such as teammate Josh Jacobs, a junior running back who entered Saturday’s tilt with Auburn ranked third among Crimson Tide rushers in both rushing yards (384) and carries (81).

Describing Jacobs as a backup hardly does the 5-10, 216 pounder justice, as he has plenty of fans in the scouting community. It is easy to see why given explosive runs like this one.

The sheer power Jacobs creates during the collision above is noteworthy in itself but those who have watched him run before know that he is very physical, passionate player. It is among the reasons why Nick Saban appears to trust Jacobs every bit as much as top-rated senior running back Damien Harris in the red zone, with the former leading the Tide with nine rushing touchdowns this season.

The way Jacobs finishes the run above will get most of the attention but scouts will be just as pleased with the way he starts it, quickly pressing the line to draw Auburn’s defenders up before showing off his sharp change of direction and acceleration to jet across the right side of the line for easy yardage before absolutely posterizing Auburn’s defender, No. 4 (Noah Igbinoghene).

This was, of course, just one run. And to be clear, Jacobs only rushed the ball five times Saturday for a total of 28 yards.

Of course, for running backs to see the field in today’s NFL they need to be effective in the passing game. That is why the fact that Jacobs caught a career-high four receptions for 53 yards (season-high) in this contest is noteworthy. And this touchdown reception – Jacobs’ second of the season – will only serve to get scouts even more excited about his untapped potential as a receiver out of the backfield.

Notice that Jacobs initially looks over his right shoulder for the ball, before adjusting in mid-sprint to corral the pass over his left shoulder before maintaining his balance after hits from two would-be tacklers before finishing with the touchdown.

While there are plenty of talented mid-round candidates to help NFL teams looking for help, extraordinarily rich running back crops the past two years have left the cupboard a bit bare in 2019 and teams in search of a true bell-cow may have few worthwhile candidates to consider on Day One or even Day Two (rounds two and three) of the draft.

Should his breakout play continue, he elect to leave Tuscaloosa early and impress in pre-draft workouts – admittedly a big collection of ifs – Jacobs could emerge as one of the most coveted running back prospects available in the 2019 NFL draft, making him a rare underrated NFL prospect for the dominant Crimson Tide.