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NFL Draft

How Will Jaguars Use Travis Etienne?

  • The Draft Network
  • May 10, 2021
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There were two ways to look at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ pick at No. 25, their second selection of the first round. 

On one hand, you could have looked at it from a pure, logical team-building standpoint. The Jaguars played a lot of single-high safety looks last season, perhaps a player like TCU’s Trevon Moehrig would have suited them well. Then again, the interior of their defensive line needed some new blood, and Christian Barmore was likely the top player from that category in the draft class. Flip sides to the offensive line and their left tackle, Cam Robinson, is currently on just the franchise tag and nothing more. That could have lent itself to an investment into the offensive line. Each of those areas would have been seen as priority positions, and ones most fans would agree are worthy of a first-round pick.

But then there was the other side of predicting what the Jaguars would do there, the more impulsive train of thought. For that equation, the main component was new head coach Urban Meyer. Meyer, the first-time NFL head coach whose football background for the last 10 decades has been out-recruiting everyone with speed and dynamic ability, both at Florida and Ohio State to the tune of multiple National Championships, was walking into a roster where the only player he hand-picked was his quarterback. Though using No. 25 on a more premium position could have made sense, especially since the Jaguars had two second-round picks, you just knew that the ultimate trump card was Meyer and his regime having an unstoppable desire to get faster.

And that yielded running back Travis Etienne.

Though Etienne brings rare speed to the position, there were plenty of Jaguars fans who weren’t happy with the selection. After all, the team just hit the jackpot. They just had a rookie undrafted free agent running back, James Robinson, rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2020. Their team didn’t have to spend any draft capital on a position that depreciates like a luxury car off the lot, and yet saw all the benefits of hitting the gas and getting those looks at the stoplight in a new BMW. Why in the world would they then go use a first-round pick on a running back in the next draft? 

The only way you ever—and even then—use a first-round pick on a running back is if you believe they are truly special. Well, the way Meyer talked after the draft, he gave off that vibe.

“And the way we’ve always looked at offensive football is that, just over the years, any time you can find that dual-threat guy that can carry the ball and catch the ball, obviously the name that comes up is Percy [Harvin] so often,” Meyer said. “I’m not saying he’s a Percy, we’ll find out. But he’s a guy that’s a piece of the puzzle that is kind of hard to cover, hard to defend.”

Anytime you consider a player to even be in the same thought as Percy Harvin, you’re talking about some rare air. It’s clear Meyer has big plans for Etienne, but they might start tempered, as Meyer also spoke about a three-deep rotation when it comes to his rushing attack in 2021. 

“I see Carlos [Hyde] and James the 1-2, downhill, powerful running backs,” Meyer said. “And I see Travis—there’s times where we could be in two-backs and Travis is a guy that goes out. Or we’re still playing with it, but he’s certainly a third-down back and he’s a guy that’s a match-up issue for the defense.”

Now, is drafting a running back in the first round just to be a third component in a deep rotation—even if it’s the passing down component—worth it? In almost any situation the answer is no. But I don’t think Etienne’s role will just be that of a third-down back for very long, even in 2021.

“I’ve just always had a very strong belief in speed and we’ve tried to address that with free agency with Phillip Dorsett and Marvin Jones,” Meyer said. “We have a good, young group of receivers that can run well, and we have two good backs. This is a multi-dimensional back that we’ve kind of, from day one, I know Coach [Darrell] Bevell and [Coach] Schotty [Brian Schottenheimer] and I all feel that the idea of offense is to create match-up nightmares. And I’ve had some good fortune over the years to have a guy that can do both, flex out. He’s as good outside as a receiver as he is as a running back. So, [he’s a] high-end character guy that has elite speed—really, really excited.” 

The fact of the matter is, Etienne will bring more dynamic potential to each play the Jaguars have him on the field for, and they certainly see it that way, too. The reason why you don’t just anoint Etienne as the top all-around back is because you do need him to make sure he’s consistent in early-down work, something they believe they already have with Hyde and Robinson. Robinson rushed for 1,070 yards with a healthy 4.5 yards-per-carry average in 2020.

But the even bigger fact of the matter is Meyer didn’t draft Robinson. He wasn’t there last year when Robinson was consistently carrying the Jaguars offense. He has no ties to Robinson at all. Instead, he recruited Etienne. He watched Etienne light up college football for three years. Simply put: he knows Etienne more than he knows Robinson, and for a first-time head coach in the NFL doing everything he can to put his best foot forward, that’s going to go a long way.

The Jaguars may say they’re going to ease Etienne into things as the third-down back, but they’ll get him on the field wherever they can early on. If he performs well, they won’t hesitate to put more on his plate.

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