After a dominant college career where he burned nearly every defense he faced and rewrote every record book in ACC and Clemson history, expectations are high for Travis Etienne in Jacksonville.
The second player drafted by the Jaguars in this year's draft at No. 25 overall, the Jaguars have big plans for Etienne and his role in the offense in 2021 and beyond. They added him to the offense with an immensely valuable asset, all while having a productive running back already in James Robinson.
As a result, Etienne and his place in the Jaguars' offense has become a topic for much debate in NFL and fantasy circles. So, how exactly do we think his rookie year plays out? We take our best educated predictions and deliver them below to give an idea.
Etienne records over 115 caries
Few players dominated their team's carries as much as James Robinson did in 2020. Robinson was the Jaguars' entire rushing game and essentially the only running back who saw the field on a consistent basis week in and week out, with the Jaguars sparingly taking him off the field or easing up on his usage. That should change with the addition of Etienne and should lower his 240-carry total from a year ago.
With Etienne now on the Jaguars' roster to share carries with Robinson (and Carlos Hyde, to a much lesser extent), it can be be hard to sort out exactly how the carries may be divided in Jacksonville. There are some pieces of evidence we can look at from Darrell Bevell's past offenses, including the 2020 Lions' offense when Adrian Peterson (156), D'Andre Swift (114), and Kerryon Johnson (52) shared the backfield. Ultimately, this makes sense for how the Jaguars' backfield could look in 2021, with Robinson taking the Peterson role and Etienne stepping into Swift's. Each fit from a skill set and scheme perspective, especially in the context of Bevell calling the plays for each pair.
Robinson will get his carries, even if he doesn't average the 17 carries per game that he did last season. But Etienne will cut into those, and ultimately we think Etienne averaging at least 6 carries per game over a 17-game season is more than possible.
Etienne and Lawrence connect for four touchdowns
Etienne and No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence were quite the duo at Clemson. The most productive ACC running back of all-time and a generational talent at quarterback, the pair was everything they were hyped to be. Etienne had nearly 20 games with multiple touchdowns and most of those came with Lawrence as his quarterback, so the chemistry the two share as playmakers is one that has already been down pat for some time. The two will have to adjust that chemistry to the speed of NFL defenses, but they know each other's habits and how to work off one another. As a result, we predict that Lawrence throws four touchdowns to Etienne over the course of their rookie seasons.
While four touchdowns may not seem overly daunting, it is worth remembering what past running backs have done. Gale Sayers (1965) and Doak Walker (1950) are the only two rookie running backs to ever catch six touchdowns in a season. In the post-merger era, only Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey and Bill Jones (1990) have caught five touchdowns as rookies. Lawrence and Etienne having good chemistry should give them a leg up on other running backs when it comes to this stat, but history is working against them combing for much more than four.
Etienne sees more snaps in the backfield than split out wide
For all of the hype that surrounded Urban Meyer's comments on Travis Etienne during rookie minicamp, there isn't much evidence to suggest Etienne will truly be used exclusively at receiver. Instead, there is more evidence to suggest that his play out wide will be secondary to what he does in the backfield. While the theory of lining up a running back at slot receiver or out wide may be enticing, Etienne is still a running back first, and the recent trend of pass-catching running backs shows they do most of their work catching the ball out of the backfield.
Players like Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and prime Le'Veon Bell spent significantly more time lining up in the backfield than in the slot and as outside receivers. The same goes for James White, Duke Johnson and virtually every other running back in this archetype.
Go down the list. You will be hard pressed to find any player like Etienne who has truly split his time 50/50 at running back and receiver, at least in the current generation in the sport. For all of Meyer's comments during minicamp and the draft, Etienne is still an NFL running back playing for experienced NFL minds in Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer. He will play receiver a fair bit, but we predict he spents much more time in the backfield.
Etienne starts three games at running back
Classifying "starts" at running back is sometimes tough. A running back can get the first carry or snap of the game and go on to be sparingly used, and in situations like Jacksonville's, there is a good chance some weeks may see two running backs on the field at the same time on the first offensive snap. With this in mind, this prediction is based off what the NFL will officially record in its history books. And ultimately, it is our belief Etienne will be on the board with three starts as a rookie, though we expect him to play a major factor in many, many more.
Ultimately, James Robinson just has the look of the running back who will get the early work for the Jaguars' backfield. The Jaguars have said over and over they want to be a physical running team, and using Robinson as that initial hammer to start games and get the offense in rhythm makes sense. We think the Jaguars change things up based on opponents, of course, which means there will be some games where Etienne is the lead rusher and gets the first crack at the defense. But for now, it seems more likely Robinson helps set the tone for the offense while Etienne helps put defenses away.
Etienne totals the fourth-most receiving yards on the team
It would be a bit of a stretch to say the expectation for Travis Etienne is to step into his role in Jacksonville and immediately be one of the team's go-to weapons. While he is immensely talented and has potentially the most home-run threat ability of any skill player on the roster, the Jaguars do have three veteran receivers in front of him on the pecking order in DJ Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault.
With that said, there is little reason to think Etienne won't command more of a focus in the offense than players like Phillip Dorsett, Collin Johnson or any of the tight ends on the team's depth chart. As a result, our final prediction is that Etienne finishes with the fourth-most receiving yards of any player on the roster, outpacing every other offseason addition to the offense outside of Jones. D'Andre Swift finished fourth on the Lions' team in receiving yards in 2020 with 357 solely because he had a designed and emphasized role in the passing game, even if it wasn't the biggest role on the offense. The same should be expected for Etienne.
If Etienne can stay healthy for a 17-game season, he should be expected to be given more chances to make a big plays based on either play design or sheer mismatches against linebackers than any player on the roster outside of the team's trio of starting wideouts. He doesn't have to play outside or in the slot to achomplish this, either.