We all know the NFL is a copycat league, and that’s not a bad thing. Why not copy something that works? In 2021, what worked was the emergence of the “wide back.” The term was coined by the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel, a wide receiver doubling as running back. But it can also be applied to a running back featured heavily in the passing game. Last season, that role was epitomized by Cordarrelle Patterson. In 2022, an intriguing candidate for all-purpose breakout back could be the Jaguars’ Travis Etienne.
First, a look back at last year. In his third NFL season, Samuel became a fantasy stud – finishing third in fantasy points among wideouts. In addition to his 1,405 receiving yards, he added 365 rushing yards and scored a total of 14 touchdowns. His eight rushing touchdowns broke Hall of Famer Lenny Moore’s record for most rushing TDs in one season by a receiver.
In his ninth season, Patterson became a fantasy breakout performer, taking the league by surprise in 2021 with 1,166 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns for the Falcons. Undrafted in most fantasy leagues, Patterson finished as the RB12.
Could Travis Etienne be 2022’s fantasy breakout star in this wide-back role? Let’s take a closer look.
Etienne was a first-round talent coming out of Clemson last year, but it was somewhat of a surprise when the Jaguars drafted him with the 25th pick. They had taken QB Trevor Lawrence with the first pick, and with veteran back James Robinson already on the roster, there were more pressing needs. Either way, Etienne suffered a Listfranc injury to his left foot and missed his entire rookie season.
“Whew, if there was any year to miss, I missed a great one,” Etienne quipped this offseason, following the dismissal of head coach Urban Meyer, whose one season in Jacksonville was a disaster even by this troubled franchise’s standards.
Etienne, who is reportedly 85-90% recovered from the Listfranc injury and should be ready for training camp, will benefit from the presence of new head coach Doug Pederson, an offensive guru with a Super Bowl win on his resume.
Pederson inherits an offense that is still developing. Lawrence will only get better after a mediocre rookie campaign. The Jaguars gave him new weapons with the free-agent signing of wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones.
But there is a need for explosive plays, and Etienne can fill that role.
The 5’10”, 215-pound Etienne had 55 runs of 20-plus yards during his four years at Clemson, most in the NCAA during that stretch. On top of that, he caught 102 passes, improving those numbers every year. He caught 48 passes for 588 yards and two scores as a senior.
Robinson suffered an Achilles injury in December. He likely won’t be 100% by the start of the season. Regardless, the starting job could be Etienne’s to lose.
In SI Fantasy’s first 2022 experts mock draft, Etienne went off the board with the second pick in the fifth round, 50th overall. He was drafted by Shawn Childs, who had taken wide receivers with each of his first four picks. “He’ll be a popular pick in such zero-RB strategies,” SI Fantasy’s Michael Fabiano wrote about Etienne going in that spot. Overall, Etienne was the 23rd running back drafted in the mock.
In early drafts in the high-stakes National Fantasy Football Championship, Etienne’s average draft position has been 57. In 68 drafts, he’s gone as high as 40 and as low as 73.
Playing in what should be a more creative offense under Pederson and having an established rapport with Lawrence are two factors that will help Etienne thrive in 2022. Whether on the ground or through the air, getting Etienne in space will lead to big plays, making him a potential fantasy breakout star in 2022.
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