Travis Etienne Will Demand Touches in Jacksonville
With the second NFL Draft decision of the new Trent Baalke/Urban Meyer regime in Jacksonville, the Jaguars used the 25th-overall pick on Clemson running back Travis Etienne. He will join superbly effective 2020 UDFA James Robinson and journeyman Carlos Hyde to round out a running back group that will try to ease first overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, into his role as a franchise cornerstone.
Editor's Note: Read more player profiles from the rest of the 4for4 staff!
There are through lines weaving in and out of this entire Jaguars team. Ignoring the one with the old overhyped quarterback turning into a tight end to be reunited with another erstwhile broadcaster, there is also the more concrete storyline of former Seahawks (and Texans, Browns, 49ers, and even a previous stint with the Jaguars) running back Carlos Hyde reuniting with Urban Meyer, who coached him at Ohio State nearly a decade ago. Is Hyde really going to carry the load as the 1A running back? Will Lawrence easily progress from college great to NFL elite? Will Meyer simply retire the moment things aren’t going perfectly?
I can’t answer all of these, but I will attempt to answer what kind of fantasy relevance Travis Etienne will have for us in the 2021 season.
Usage Continues to go North in South Carolina
The ACC’s all-time leading rusher, it comes as no surprise that Travis Etienne was immediately involved in the offense as a freshman, but once he worked on his route-running he became an integral part of both the run and pass game. His use as a receiver peaked in his senior year when he commanded a 17% target share while sharing the field with future NFL wide receivers Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell. Given a full season, it’s safe to say we would have seen wild numbers from Etienne.
Racking up over 6,000 scrimmage yards on his way to 78 touchdowns, Etienne was an utter ball-hog the further his college career went. With 786 touches to his credit, 10.1% of them went for scores, helping to exhibit how explosive he is with the ball in his hands. That is a lot of wear on the tires for a college running back, but he did come out of it unscathed, with no significant college injuries.
With game-breaking speed, a low center of gravity, and some of the best contact balance you’ll ever see, the former Tiger is a headache for defenses. On the relatively negative side, he does exhibit a small lack of patience sometimes to allow holes to form in front of him, and he can look a little clumsy in pass protection. Pass pro is almost a universal knock on rookies though, and can sometimes feel like a contrived weakness when an evaluator can’t find anything negative to say about a running back. And, hey, Trevor Lawrence has already played with him for years, and that can’t hurt their communication on passing downs.
A Fleeting Buckeye Reunion
Etienne checks all the boxes we’re looking for in a rookie; college production, athletic profile, draft capital, and familiarity with his quarterback. Except maybe one; his fit in the offense. As mentioned in the opening, the backfield will ostensibly operate as a three-headed attack, with James Robinson and Carlos Hyde handling a majority of the early-down work while Etienne operates as a hybrid wide receiver/third-down back and possibly alleviate the workload when necessary from the other two. Let’s debunk that and let’s start off with Carlos Hyde. As to be expected from a running back drafted back in 2014, Hyde has lost a step in recent years. According to PFF’s elusive rating, Hyde has finished 43rd/63, 37th/61, and 44th/62 over the last three years and Sports Info Solutions has him finishing 44th/64, 24th/57, and 38th/59 in missed tackles over that same time span. Maybe he’s lost some wiggle, but is he a better attribute in the passing game?
Over the last three seasons, Carlos Hyde has run 332 total routes despite logging 1,269 snaps. Twelve running backs have run more routes in a single year in that time span
Here are Hyde's routes run over that stretch:
'18 - 111 (52nd among RB)
'19 - 123 (45th)
'20 - 98 (60th)
— Justin Edwards (@Justin_Redwards) June 25, 2021
His last four coaching staffs didn’t seem to think he should be used extensively on passing downs, and with the explosive weapons in his own backfield, I don’t see why Hyde would see any extra work in the passing game in 2021. James Robinson, the deserving incumbent finished 2020 21st/63 in Elusive Rating, 10th/66 in Missed Tackles, and was entrusted with 235 pass routes last season. Statistically, there is no reason for Robinson to be pulled for Carlos Hyde at this point in their career(s).
With Urban Meyer’s insistence that he wants to keep speed on the field and the fact that Travis Etienne will have a role in this offense right off the bat, I think the idea that this is anything more than James Robinson and the rookie’s backfield is ludicrous. Being that Jacksonville could throw Hyde’s body into the pile on the goalline translates into Etienne being the only back with a true ceiling in this offense.
John Paulsen currently has Etienne projected for the fourth-most receptions (65) from the running back position, behind only Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, and James White. It might not take too long for Robinson to find himself second in the rushing pecking order, either.
- The Jaguars didn’t accidentally select Travis Etienne with the 25th-overall pick and the March signing of Carlos Hyde isn’t about to stand in the way of his touches
- Etienne’s increasing role in the Clemson passing game wasn’t by necessity; it arose from improvement in play and efficiency with the ball in his hands
- A usable fantasy piece from the onset, the rookie should have a majority piece of the pie immediately following the Week 7 Bye
- Going as the RB23 at 52 overall (5.04) on Underdog, Etienne is still worth sprinkling into his lineups with veteran options to balance an early season that could be a slow climb