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Josh Jacobs: From Unknown To MVP

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The rise of an undersized 3-star to SECCG MVP

SEC Championship - Alabama v Georgia Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

A week ago, the name of Josh Jacobs was known only by Alabama fans, a few astute SEC fans, and the poor opposing players who came face-to-face with him on the playing field and found themselves grasping air or being plowed down the field. Today, his name in very well known after being named MVP of the 2018 SEC Championship Game. Soon, Jacobs and his Crimson Tide teammates will be facing the team of his home state, the Oklahoma Sooners – a team that did not recruit him until late in the game.

Jacobs

Around this time three years ago, Jacobs was thought of – if thought of at all – as an undersized wildcat quarterback with some potential as an all-purpose back. He was ranked 3-stars by 247sports and the No. 514 player in the nation for the Class of 2016. Rivals also had him as a 3-star but did not have him among their nationally ranked players. None of the nearby FBS programs gave him a first look: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, even Tulsa ignored him. All this despite averaging an astounding 15.1 yards per carry and 245.8 yards per game as a senior with 2,704 rushing yards on 179 carries with 31 rushing touchdowns.

Jacobs attended McLain High School which was not really known for their football prowess and his family did not have the means to send him to national scouting camps all over the map. Add in that an injury limited him to four games as a junior and somehow he flew under everyone’s radar.

Burton Burns

In the 2016 recruiting cycle, Alabama had one running back commitment in high 4-star B.J. Emmons. Kenyan Drake was out of eligibility, Derrick Henry declared for the NFL draft, and a cloud of uncertainty surrounded Bo Scarbrough and his injuries. Nick Saban wanted one more back for this class. He turned to legendary Alabama recruiter and running backs coach Burton Burns who was tasked with finding a recruit with just weeks to go before National Signing Day. That is when he saw game film of Jacobs. This was followed by a trip to Tulsa. Then Burns went to his boss.

“We thought something was wrong with the guy, maybe he’s too small or whatever, and (Burns) said ‘No, this is a pretty good looking guy and I watched him practice basketball and he’s very athletic and very explosive,’” Saban said. “I said ‘Well there’s got to be something wrong with the guy.’”

Soon enough, other programs got wind of Burns’ discover and the offers started fly in.

“All I was thinking about was whether Wyoming or New Mexico State would be a better fit for me. Now, I’ve got coaches calling from all over the country.”

In the end, it came down to three schools - Alabama, Missouri and Oklahoma. Jacobs went on short recruiting visits to Missouri and Alabama over a weekend and came back sold on the Crimson Tide.

YEAR 1

It didn’t take long for the true freshman to turn heads. Despite enrolling in June, Jacobs soon found himself in the top rotation of backs with Bo Scarbrough and sophomore Damien Harris. He saw action right off the bat rushing four times for 20 yards against Southern Cal in the opener. In his third collegiate game against Kent State, he ran 11 times for 97 yards with two touchdowns and caught a pair of passes for 23 yards. His first 100 yard rushing game would come a week later against Kentucky.

It was clear that the Tide had something special in Jacobs. He would finish the season with 585 yards rushing and four touchdowns. He was fifth on the team in receiving with 14 grabs for 156 yards.

SET-BACKS

Injuries took a toll on Jacobs as he saw his numbers take a slight step back from the previous year. After missing the Crimson Tide’s first two games with a hamstring injury, he injured an ankle against Ole Miss in Week 5. He would sit out the next week but returned for the next game. Jacobs was limited for much of the season finishing with 284 rushing yards on 46 carries and a touchdown. He also had two scores as a receiver. At the conclusion of the season, Jacobs also announced that he had been playing on a broken ankle for much of the season and would be having surgery on it. But would he ever be back to his old self? You know the answer to that, right?

STEPPING INTO THE SPOTLIGHT

Jacobs reintroduced himself to the world in the opening game of 2018 with an 18 yard scoring run and a dynamic kick return for another score against Louisville. Not only has he not been slowed down, the junior has become a vital cog in the offensive machine that has run roughshod over every team that has crossed their paths.

With the emergence of the Tua Tagovailoa passing attack that has had most games in the bag by halftime, all of the running backs have seen their touches limited in preparation for a post-season run. In the first six games of the season, Jacobs had either five or six carries. Yet, he had six rushing scores over that span. But as the games get more important, it is Jacobs who has stepped up.

Against Mississippi State, Jacobs had a career high of 20 carries to help run down the game clock in a 24-0 win. He gained 97 yards on the ground against the vaunted Bulldogs defensive line and another 12 yards on a pair of receptions. He was responsible for one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown in that game.

MVP

Last Saturday in Atlanta, it was again Josh Jacobs that the Tide turned to. He led the ground charge with 8 rushes for 83 yards and a duo of scores, being named SEC Championship Game MVP. This performance was done while he was sick with flu-like symptoms and needed two IV injections. He has come a long way in just three years.

As of now, he has 94 carries for 495 yards and 15 catches for 171 yards while sharing running back duties with Damien Harris and Najee Harris. He is also the main kickoff return man with 398 yards on 13 returns.

Jacobs leads the team in touchdowns with 14 - eleven rushing, two receiving, one kickoff return. He is second behind wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (1,103) in all-purpose yards with 1,064.

BULLISH ON JJ

But the 5’10” 216-pound back is not just about his speed. Jacobs is a bull. He can run over linebackers and defensive backs with brute force. Much of his playing time in the backfield has been earned by his blocking ability. Najee Harris is a 6’2” 230-pound running machine, but he needs to improve his quarterback protection. Damien Harris has improved over the years but it’s still Jacobs who is the best at this skill, often stonewalling much bigger foes.

All these skills (running, receiving, blocking, kick returning) make him a complete package who will be highly coveted by NFL scouts. If he declares for the next draft, he could be as high as the second round though some think he could be the first back off the board.

JJ VS THE SOONERS

How appropriate for Jacobs that he gets to face his home-state team that basically ignored him while he was in high school. The Tulsa native may have a little more motivation in his tank than his teammates when facing the Sooners on December 29th.

Jacobs should be a match-up nightmare for Oklahoma’s dreadful linebackers. They do not have the speed to keep up with his elusiveness. The Sooners may once-again be ruing the day they missed the boat on an undersized wildcat quarterback from down the road.