Josh Jacobs is one of the premier young running backs in the NFL — and might just be the best of the young group still on first-time contracts.
When the Las Vegas Raiders drafted Jacobs last season, it was with the intention of making him Jon Gruden's bell cow.
And thus far he's delivered.
After a very promising rookie campaign, Jacobs is off to a stellar start this season with 377 yards on 106 carries and five touchdowns. But a lot of times, running backs tend to wear down quickly so having a capable backup — something the Raiders didn't have yesterday — is a must.
That's why one of Las Vegas' top priorities was finding a capable backup and contributor to Jacobs was vital.
Enter Devontae Booker, the former Denver Bronco who was wasting away in a crowded backfield of Las Vegas' AFC West rival. He signed a one-year, $1.04-million contract in the offseason to serve as a backup and mentor to Jacobs.
“Honestly, when I was in Denver, I didn’t feel like I did get the touches I needed or even just the playing time,” Booker told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I’ve been doing this even when I wasn’t. I just continue to keep working. … The only thing I can do is control what I can control. As of right now, I’m loving the team, loving the opportunity I’m getting.”
Through the first four games of the year, Booker was only seeing in action in about 13% of the Raiders offensive snaps. But that all changed in their upset victory over Kansas City two weeks ago.
Booker filled in admirably when relieving Jacobs, finishing a season-high with seven carries for 62 yards, setting up a touchdown in the first quarter. He played in 21% of the offensive snaps against the Chiefs, and because of his role early, Jacobs was fresher at the end of the game and able to bring it home.
“I told (Booker), ‘I’ve got to do a better job. … Getting you more involved in the offense,” Las Vegas running backs coach Kirby Wilson said. “We think we’re on a really good pace right now to do that moving forward. It just took awhile to figure that out.”
Booker is averaging an absurd 7.1 yards per carry on the season, totaling 121 yards on 17 carries, adding five receptions for 34 yards.
He will have a chance to further cement his status on Sunday when the Raiders host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.
“It’s good to have a running back that can come in and take advantage of some reps,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said.
Prior to his time with the Raiders, Booker was originally drafted by the Denver Broncos with the 136th pick in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft.
After a very promising rookie campaign, he finished his first season playing in all 16 games with six starts, rushing 174 times for 612 yards and four touchdowns, while adding 31 receptions for 265 yards and one touchdown.
But then he struggled mightily over the next three years, as issues holding on to the ball became apparent. He fumbled seven times in his career with the Broncos, before ultimately being replaced in the 2018 season when Denver drafted former Oregon star Royce Freeman and added undrafted free agent Philip Lindsey.
During his final three seasons with the Broncos, Booker appeared in all but three games, but did total 500 rushing yards during that time. So when the Broncos added former Los Angeles Charger Melvin Gordon this offseason, it signaled the end of Booker's time in Denver and forced him to look elsewhere.
Booker starred for the Utes for two seasons. As a junior, he racked up 1,512 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and another 43 catches for 306 yards and two touchdowns. During his senior season, Booker was on pace to surpass those numbers but a knee injury caused him to miss the last quarter of the season — but he was named a semifinalist for the Maxwell and Doak Walker Awards.
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