ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Josh Jacobs first met Marcus Allen at a charity softball game in Las Vegas last summer. The Raiders' first-round running back and the Hall of Fame running back hit it off immediately, staying in contact through Jacobs' breakthrough rookie season.
So impressed was Allen with Jacobs that he took to Twitter to laud his young charge.
"That's my guy," Jacobs said in a phone interview Friday from Miami, where he was participating with Panini, the trading card partner of the NFL and NFLPA, in a Super Bowl skills clinic for kids.
"Just to know that he sees certain things in me and to have that belief in me? That's huge. Especially with me trying to carry the legacy of the great running backs that's been with the Raiders. For him to be a part of that is just genuine support. He calls and texts me. That's just unconditional love."
And after rushing for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns, and catching 20 passes for 166 yards in 13 games, Jacobs is primed to join Allen as the Raiders' only two NFL offensive rookies of the year, as named by the Associated Press. Allen won it in 1982, a year before being named the MVP of Super Bowl XVIII and three years before he was the league MVP.
Jacobs would be keeping pretty heady company with the award.
Because, on one hand, Jacobs -- who was already named Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association -- missed three of the Raiders' last four games because of a fracture in his right shoulder.
"It's good," he said. "I still haven't had anything like any surgery or anything. I've just been letting it rest a little bit. I have all of my range of motion and everything like that, so it's been smooth."
On the other hand, Jacobs suffered the injury on his first carry of a Week 7 game at Green Bay, when he absolutely trucked Packers safety Adrian Amos. Meaning Jacobs played that day and the next six games with the injury, literally carrying the Raiders into the playoff race, where they would not be eliminated until Week 17.
"Josh is special," Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said in early December. "If Josh wasn't able to play, I would completely understand, with what he's dealing with. But the fact that he keeps suiting up and going out there and not only running but running with the style that he runs with, I don't think enough can be said about that guy."
It was also around this time when Jacobs' name started being bandied about as the front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Jacobs, though, would have none of it.
Every week, every time it was mentioned, he shot the notion down, saying he didn't care about individual awards. Winning games, he said, was the thing.
And therein might lie a problem for Jacobs' candidacy, because while the Raiders once sat at 6-4, they lost five of their last six, with Jacobs missing three of those last four.
Murray, meanwhile, plays the most important position in team sports and passed for 3,722 yards and 20 TDs with 12 INTs while rushing for 544 yards and four scores.
And Brown, with the Titans making a playoff run, went off with five catches for 153 yards and two TDs against the Raiders in Week 14 (the Tennessee game was one of the three Jacobs missed down the stretch) and caught a combined 12 passes for 238 yards and two scores against Houston in Weeks 15 and 17. On the season, Brown averaged 20.2 yards per reception in catching 52 passes for 1,051 yards.
But Jacobs plays a more physically demanding position and, when he was right, he was nice.
He had five games in which he rushed for at least 100 yards and had a 99-yard outing. And coming to the Raiders with the No. 24 overall pick, he was taken with the selection they acquired in the Khalil Mack trade a year earlier, so that healed a wound in the minds of many Raiders fans.
As the Raiders opened camp, coach Jon Gruden wondered aloud about how "hungry" Jacobs would be to become the team's featured running back. By the end of the season, Gruden had his answer.
And then some, with his patient but powerful running style, preternatural downfield vision, the ability and, perhaps more importantly to Gruden, the willingness to play through pain.
"He's tough, man, he's tough," Gruden said. "He is a tough guy, he is a great kid and he's smart and he's a great competitor ...
"He's the perfect centerpiece for our offense."
Or, as many would say, the perfect candidate to be feted with the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
"Honestly, I've been going back and forth if I even want to go to this event," Jacobs laughed."“Because it is, obviously, a blessing to be in this situation and to have the opportunity to win an award and things like that. But it's not really why I play the game -- I play to win. I play to, hopefully, be in this position next year -- to play in the [Super Bowl]. That's the biggest thing on my mind."
And if he did win the award?
"I will say it would mean more to my community, people that I inspire, and, obviously, the Raider organization, it would look good for them, too," he said. “But for me, personally, I wouldn't stamp myself or label myself what I did this year based on if I win or not. To me, it's just about becoming a better player and just trying to be the best version of me. And however that pans out, that’s just how it pans out.”