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Josh Jacobs, not Le’Veon Bell, should be the target if the Packers upgrade at RB

Green Bay may be just fine at the position with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, but the Alabama product could be had for a much lower financial cost and still give the Packers an all-around threat.

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl - Alabama v Oklahoma Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Oklahoma safety Robert Barnes knows a little bit about NFL Draft prospect Josh Jacobs. After all, he is the one lying on the ground in the picture above after being violently punished by the Alabama running back on his way to the end zone in the College Football Playoff. And if the Green Bay Packers really need an upper-echelon running back as many media figures have suggested, then it is imperative that they get to know Jacobs as well.

The current hot topic among Green Bay reporters is the price tag for the Packers to acquire Pro Bowler Le’Veon Bell and if he would even accept their offer. Though not the only one to ponder the possibility, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky proposed that Green Bay would have to give the 27-year Bell a four-year, $60 million contract. While Bell has avoided the wear-and-tear on his body over the past two seasons as a contract holdout, how will his body hold up once he begins taking hits after over a year away from the game? On top of that, a $15 million annual average for a running back that would be signed into his age-31 season seems like a risk. And in a time when the Packers are trying to improve their locker room, an often-disgruntled player like Bell seems like a sketchy fit.

Do the Packers need a running back? My personal answer would be no, not really. If used correctly by the new offensive regime, Aaron Jones may blossom into one of the NFC’s top backs as a player that can also help in the passing game. Jamaal Williams additionally offers third-down back promise as a capable pass blocker and receiver. But if they really are to upgrade the position, the Packers should avoid all the risks with Bell and zero in on Jacobs, oone of the draft’s top playmakers.

Jacobs is a do-it-all back who has taken on limited contact of his own after sharing a three-headed college backfield with two other future NFL players. Unlike those other backs, Jacobs was not a five-star prospect and flew under the radar as a three-star player from Oklahoma. While he saw action his first two years on campus, Jacobs made his name as a junior and carries that underdog mentality and passion on to the field.

Jacobs would be able to slide in immediately as a contributor, if not catalyst, in all facets of the game for Green Bay. He has played special teams as a punt coverage player while returning kicks. He provides physicality as both a pass blocker and run blocker in space. He has wide receiver-type skills downfield and on screen plays. He has the cut-on-a-dime agility to pair with his never-quit physicality and vision as a runner. The best part of Jacobs is that he shows these traits on just about every play, not just the highlights as seen below.

Recent history would suggest that a first-round caliber running back can make a quick impact. Saquon Barkley totaled over 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year with 15 touchdowns as a rookie for the New York Giants. Leonard Fournette recorded 1,300 total yards and 10 touchdowns the year before, while Ezekiel Elliot almost contributed 2,000 yards of his own as a first-year player in 2016 to go along with 16 scores. Like Barkley and Elliott specifically, Jacobs’ value in the passing game is paramount to his value.

As a player personnel person told me last week, Jacobs is “an elite talent” who will not be able to prove himself in all capacities at the NFL Combine due to a groin injury. He has the potential to be the draft’s late riser and his stock is difficult to predict as of now, but Jacobs certainly fits the mold of an early-to-mid first-round prospect. For around $12 million less each year than Bell, Jacobs would carry less of a financial burden. Though the draft capital to select Jacobs is an investment in its own right, the ability to add a 21-year old with many of the same characteristics as Bell and a higher ceiling over the long term is appealing.

And while the first-round price might be steep for the Packers considering their other pressing needs, the team’s mantra has been to select the best player available. By the end of the process, that player might be Jacobs and new Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s history of running back success might mean an opportunity for Jacobs to come in and deliver for Green Bay from day one.