Raiders' Josh Jacobs has formed bond with Hall of Famer Marcus Allen

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Thursday, December 8, 2022

HENDERSON, Nev. --Josh Jacobs had just rumbled for 143 yards and three touchdowns in a dominant Week 7 win against the Houston Texans, culminating his first streak of three straight games with at least 100 yards rushing this season, when he was finally corralled by Las Vegas Raiders royalty.

Marcus Allen, the Hall of Fame running back who had taken a shine to Jacobs from the moment his old team drafted him in 2019, pointed at Jacobs outside the home locker room in Allegiant Stadium as he turned to Raiders owner Mark Davis.

"You," Allen excitedly told Davis, "are going to have to pay this dude."

With Jacobs having a monster season in a contract year -- the Raiders' regime of general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels declined to pick up Jacobs' fifth-year option last summer -- and currently riding another three-game streak of century-plus rushing games that has him leading the NFL with 1,303 rushing yards and 1,634 yards from scrimmage, he is indeed heading for a payday. And the franchise record book.

Because while Jacobs' rushing total is already the second-highest single-season mark in Raiders history, he is on pace for 1,846 rushing yards in 17 games, which would break Allen's team record of 1,759 rushing yards in the 16-game, 1985 season, when he was NFL MVP.

And Jacobs perhaps has no bigger backer in his quest not only for the bag, but for football excellence, than Allen, who has become his mentor. Yes, even as the youngster sets his sights on eclipsing the Hall of Famer's decades-old franchise marks, a journey Jacobs, who is nursing a strained left calf and bruised quadriceps, looks to continue Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video) in the city of Allen's greatest football triumphs.

IT WAS JACOBS' personal story of often growing up homeless in Tulsa, Oklahoma, sometimes living out of a car with his father Marty and his four siblings, that first caught Allen's attention.

"It's really a testimony," Allen told recently, "where you start doesn't mean you have to finish there. So, I was taken by the story. Obviously, anybody who comes from a situation like that, you're rooting for them.

"And then, being drafted by the team, the Raider organization that I have great affection for, I wasn't really trying to be an advisor. I was just really telling him I was impressed by him. That's really it."

That initial conversation between the Raiders' all-time leading rusher and the Raiders' first-round draft pick took place at a charity softball game in Las Vegas the summer of 2019, months after Jacobs was selected with the No. 24 overall pick out of Alabama.

The star-struck rookie knew exactly who Allen was when he approached him.

"We just started talking about the old days," Jacobs recalled with a smile. "I saw him in a different light. Him with the fans. And I got to know him.

"Some guys, they say you don't want to meet your idols. But he's one of them guys that's real humble, a real genuine dude. And I've got a lot of respect for him."

It's more than a mutual admiration society.

Because as Jacobs burst through the middle of the line and raced untouched 86 yards for the walk-off touchdown at Seattle on Nov. 27, the immediate comparison was to Bo Jackson and his breathtaking 91-yard TD sprint up the left sideline and into the Kingdome tunnel almost 35 years to the day earlier.

Thing is, it was more closely related to Allen's iconic 17 Bob Trey O reverse-field 74-yard gallop in Super Bowl XVIII against Washington. Because while no one questioned Jackson's speed or power, the knock on both Allen and Jacobs coming out of college was that neither supposedly had breakaway speed.

"It's all about angles," Jacobs said slyly. "It's all about angles."

Allen howled.

"Absolutely," Allen said. "Dude, I took away more angles running. I'd be running side by side with somebody, and I had the ability to step to the right and [the distance] increased like it was a 10-yard difference. It's interesting he says that about angles, too. That's something he has instinctively, but also intellectually.

"It's not only the art of learning the playbook and understanding the game itself, but there's also, I won't say it's a science, but it's almost metaphysical. I wasn't the fastest guy out there, but I was faster than most people thought. And I could certainly create angles, which would create separation and distance."

It's one of the many lessons Jacobs has taken from Allen in their talks or texts, Allen sending the occasional "reminder" to his young charge -- who wasn't even born until a month and a week after Allen had played his final NFL game.

Another reminder: 17 different running backs had led the Raiders in single-season rushing between Allen's final time at the top of that list in 1988 and Jacobs arriving in 2019. According to ESPN Stats and Information, that's tied with the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers and only one fewer than the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots for the most leading rushers in that span

Plus, at 5-foot-10, 230 pounds and with a running style that is reminiscent of a bowling ball picking up a 7-10 split, Jacobs looks nothing like the sleek, 6-2, 210-pound Allen running upright to daylight.

The only time they look similar is when Jacobs mimics Allen by going over the pile at the goal line.

"I had never leaped until I came here," Jacobs said. "That was always something I thought was dope. I don't see a hole, I'm over the top. I had never thought about going over the top until the conversations with him, for real."

So why the kismet?

For Jacobs, it began with watching documentaries and highlight clips.

"I was always a fan of his," Jacobs said, "and I always thought it was interesting for him to do what he was doing and then have Bo come and he's still trying to do what he do with his opportunities. I always thought about that, even when I was at Bama and I'm sharing carries with guys. I always kind of thought, That's how you be a pro.

"A lot of guys in this league, I feel like they think they've got all the answers. They don't feel like they could talk to guys and actually want to learn and be acceptable to listen to things, even critical things. I feel like that's where me and him click."

As impressed as Allen is with Jacobs' production, he is more swayed by the youngster's seemingly old soul approach in a new jack game.

"Everybody's going to have their style but not everybody has that heart, and he has heart," Allen said. "When I was 13 years old, a guy I admired was Muhammad Ali. Just physically gifted as far as speed and all this other stuff, but he was courageous.

"[Josh] has courage and, unfortunately, not everybody has that. Not everybody wants the ball when the game's on the line. Not everybody's going to attack the goal line with the desperation that's necessary for your team to win. So, I love that about [Josh], his quest to be not only a physical force, but an intellectual one as well."

Jacobs is also leading the NFL in first downs from scrimmage (85) while scoring 10 TDs and averaging 5.4 yards per carry (Allen averaged 4.6 ypc in his MVP season). He has rushed for a combined 482 yards his last three games.

Yeah, Jacobs is a throwback.

"We've kind of gotten away from the running game, but the teams that are really effective at running the ball, it is the quarterback's best friend," Allen said. "It is the only part of the game that makes your opponent surrender ... it's the only part of the game that has a psychological impact on the opponent."

ALLEN WAS THE Raiders' first round pick, No. 10 overall, out of USC in 1982, when the team called L.A. home. But his time with the Raiders did not end well, the feud with Al Davis essentially banishing him his last four years with the team before he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993, where he enjoyed a five-year renaissance. Mark Davis welcomed him back to Silver and Blackdom in 2012, when Allen lit the Al Davis Torch before a game in Oakland, a year after the elder Davis died.

Jacobs, ever the football historian, has heard the story as he authors his own.

Even if he says his option being declined was not a slap in the face, or a motivating factor.

"I felt like everybody else thought it was more serious of a thing than I did," Jacobs said. "For me, I'm like, 'OK, that just means I'm going to get paid younger.' Earlier and at a younger age. I'm 24.

"That was my point of view. I felt like it was a perfect situation because it was all on me, I controlled the narrative at that point. Whatever I did, whether it was good or bad, it would be on me. I kind of liked that. I kind of liked that pressure a little bit."

To control his destiny, Jacobs said he had to impress the new staff, as well as new teammates, and earn their respect.

"A lot of people didn't see or necessarily acknowledge the things that I was doing, the work I was putting in, the sacrifices," he said. "It was more so about that disrespect that drove me, for real, if you want me to be honest.

"That's the type of thing that drove me the most this offseason -- having to learn a new playbook, seeing the potential of my role in the playbook. That's the kind of thing that drove me, more than the fifth-year option."

Had the Raiders picked up the option for 2023, they would have been on the hook for $8.03 million. If they choose to use the franchise tag on him next year, estimates it will be more than $12.63 million for running backs.

No, Jacobs has not discussed his contract situation with Allen. Not in a direct way.

Allen did all the talking for him with Davis that day after the Texans game. And Jacobs, a one-time Pro Bowler, chuckled at the memory.

Allen, who has won a Heisman Trophy as well as NFL offensive rookie of the year, Super Bowl MVP, NFL MVP, NFL offensive player of the year and comeback player of the year, exhaled.

"I'm one of those people that believe nothing happens by accident," Allen said. "I think you're supposed to meet people. You're supposed to come in contact with like-minded people, and if they're not 100% like-minded, there's something in them that attracts energies together. I always say for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

"Hopefully, it's a lifetime, but I was certainly put in his path. And really, just want to remind him that what he did collegiately, he can do on this level. If he applies himself, if he really loves it, if he gives it the passion that it deserves and really puts in the work, he can do the same thing."

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