The Jacksonville Jaguars are slowly but surely marching along with the rest of the NFL to the start of the 2021 season, arguably the most anticipated season in franchise history. As fans count down the seconds until the debuts of Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars are putting in time, energy and sweat to prepare for the season.
From now up until the start of Week 1, we will see the Jaguars grow as a team in Meyer's vision. The 90-man roster will be cut down as position battles take place throughout the roster.
As this offseason progresses, we will take a look at each position and give our best guess as to what the depth chart will look like come Week 1 -- at least based off the information we currently have.
We have already hit the quarterback room. Now, we move onto the running back position.
The Jaguars had one of the NFL's most productive running backs and one of the league's best rookie performers in James Robinson in 2020. The undrafted running back rushed for over 1,000 yards and was a one-man show on an otherwise struggling Jaguars offense.
Despite Robinson's stellar 2020, the Jaguars still opted to invest heavily into the running back position this offseason. General manager Trent Baalke emphasized getting faster while Meyer wanted to bring in a veteran voice.
The Jaguars accomplished both of these goals, but what does it mean for how the running back room may shape up in September? We give our best educated guess below.
For some context, the Jaguars' specific running back depth chart will be unique because Travis Etienne will also play split out wide at times and could very well get the most touches of any back in the offense while not being the starting running back. As a result, we are going to base this projection off of who we think takes the most snaps in the backfield as a natural running back.
No. 1 RB: James Robinson
Few players on the Jaguars' roster had their roles questioned more frequently by outside observers this offseason than Robinson, though to no fault of Robinson's own. Despite this, Robinson shouldn't be considered down for the count when it comes to the starting role.
Robinson was a revelation for the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent last year, rushing for 1,070 yards (4.5 yards per carry) for seven touchdowns. He led rookie running backs in receptions (49) and touchdown receptions (three) while recording 344 yards. In 14 games, Robinson finished with 1,414 scrimmage yards (1,070 rushing, 344 receiving), the most scrimmage yards by an undrafted rookie in the common-draft era. He was also the only rookie in the NFL to average more than 100 scrimmage yards per game last season.
On the surface, it may be surprising to some to see Robinson listed as the No. 1 running back when the Jaguars did nothing but add competition to Robinson in the offseason. The first round investment in Etienne alone suggests to many that Robinson could be on the outside looking in. But offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has shown a past tendency to give more of his offense's rushing focus to backs with skill sets similar Robinson in the past. Robinson is also the best pass-blocker of the group, is functional as a receiver, and has earned praise from the Jaguars' coaching staff.
"James Robinson is one of my favorite guys. I can’t name a harder worker right now on our team, and that started in January all the way through June now. So, I love that guy," Meyer said on June 3.
Robinson should still be expected to be the top running back in terms of the depth chart, even if the Jaguars have bigger and more expansive plans for Etienne. Robinson should be expected to be the hammer of the offense, a role that is still supremely important. His role will likely be diminished compared to his rookie season, but he should still get his carries in the offense.
No. 2 RB: Travis Etienne
There is a very plausible scenario where Robinson edges Etienne out in terms of carries or snaps in the backfield while also being dwarfed by Etienne's total impact or place in the offense. The No. 25 overall pick in this year's draft, Etienne has been described by Meyer as the Jaguars' "slash" player, seeing reps with the wide receiver group during rookie minicamp and flashing as a receiving threat throughout the entire course of the offseason program.
Etienne is the most productive running back in ACC history and has already been described by the Jaguars' coaching staff as more or less a finished product as a rusher, but they are looking to add more and more to his plate as a receiving threat. The Jaguars will use him as a movable piece throughout the offense and he could be considered the favorite to be the Jaguars' top receiving back, but he is still a rookie who is facing a learning curve that Robinson has already mastered. He will play a big role, but his time as a lead back may be more likely to be in 2022.
"He’s got the electric speed, he’s got the finishing speed, we know what he is as a runner, he’s amazing in space," Jaguars passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said on Wednesday.
"And now it’s been kind of fun to try to take him and teach him some of the nuisances that go into the passing game because all we’re doing by doing that is adding value for him. And again, there’s been growth, we just had a great session outside, he was unbelievable with some of the things we were asking him to do in the passing game. As a coach, that gets you excited."
No. 3 RB: Carlos Hyde
The veteran leader in the Jaguars' running back room this year, the Jaguars have continued to mention Carlos Hyde's name throughout the course of the offseason. As a result, it would likely be unwise to not consider him a candidate to be at least a rotational contributor at running back.
Snaps for Hyde could be few and far to come by considering Robinson and Etienne are younger and more explosive options, but Hyde could be in line to see a legitimately high volume of carries in any event that Robinson ever misses time. Robinson is a power back with explosion and receiving versatility, while Hyde is just a power back. Hyde will back Robinson up in that regard, but he shouldn't be considered a threat to Robinson's carries.
Hyde's value to the Jaguars will likely come from his leadership and veteran presence in the running back room as opposed to his actual production. He will be in a prime spot to be a mentor to Robinson and Etienne and spell the two now and then during the season, but it is clear he is third in the pecking order for snaps.
No. 4 RB: Devine Ozigbo
This was a tough one and as of right now is based strictly off what I have seen during the team's offseason programs. I ultimately think the Jaguars' No. 4 running back spot will go to either third-year running back Devine Ozigbo or veteran backup running back and special teams ace Dare Ogunbowale.
For now, I lean toward Ozigbo as the more likely option to win the role. He is immensely comfortable as a receiving threat out of the backfield and could serve as a potential backup option to Etienne's skill set the same way that Hyde does for Robinson. Ogunbowale is a serviceable receiver as well, but Ozigbo is the more explosive option.