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Travis Etienne, Jaguars

3 early predictions for Travis Etienne in his rookie season with Jaguars

A few eyebrows were raised when Urban Meyer and the new Jacksonville Jaguars front office followed their No. 1 2021 NFL Draft selection, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, by taking his longtime running back Travis Etienne with the No. 25 selection.

1) Travis Etienne will get 30% of carries for Jaguars

First-year NFL coach Urban Meyer inherits a rising talent at running back, second-year professional James Robinson, who surprised everyone with a subliminal 2020 rookie campaign.

The undrafted free agent out of Illinois State (Missouri Valley Conference) rushed for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns and added 49 catches for 344 yards and three more scores — setting the undrafted rookie offensive record for total yards from scrimmage, while becoming the fourth undrafted rookie in league history to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing. (He was also the fastest to do so.)

Robinson, however, was the Jaguars’ leading rusher by a wildly large margin — quarterback Gardner Minshew was second with 153 yards — and there’s little doubt Meyer selected Travis Etienne not just to pair him up with his old pal, quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but to help the running back room in general. The 917-yard margin between Robinson and Minshew was the third-largest gap between a team’s top and second-leading rusher in the NFL last season, trailing only Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee (2,027 to 266), and Dalvin Cook and Alex Mattison in Minnesota (1,557 to 434).

There’s no reason both Robinson and Travis Etienne can’t both be successful this season and in the future.

There’s nothing wrong with a team having its bell-cow back to get the job done, but if Meyer has any thumbprint on what this offense will look like moving forward (spoiler: he will), then rushing — and rushing successfully — is a key component. Travis Etienne will be expected to contribute, but he might not be the RB1 for most of the season.

In his last season as a college football coach (2018; Ohio State), the Buckeyes had 561 passing attempts between Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell, and 549 rushing attempts between J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber, Haskins, Martell, Master Teague, Brian Snead, Parris Campbell and Demario McCall — fractions away from a true 50/50 split.

For reference, Doug Marrone’s Jaguars in 2020 finished with 616 passing attempts and 337 rushing attempts — a 65/35 split — though admittedly had to pass often while playing through deficits.

Dobbins and Weber combined for 402 total carries in Meyer’s 2018 offense, with Dobbins getting 230, and Weber getting 172.

If this same football math holds, and Robinson *wins* any running back battles in the pre-season, Travis Etienne still doesn’t lose. He quickly slides in as the presumptive No. 2 rusher, and if Jacksonville runs the same number of plays it did last season — but gets closer to Meyer’s metrics of 50/50 — there’s 140 more carries up for grabs.

Opportunity is knocking, and Travis Etienne will answer the door.

2) Travis Etienne will eclipse 1,000 yards from scrimmage

Much like his draft contemporary in elite Alabama Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris, Travis Etienne did nothing but improve over his final two seasons with the Clemson Tigers — particularly in the passing game.

The 5-foot-10, 215-pound star doesn’t have as much bulk as his buddy, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but his hands may be just as good. He came into 2019 with just 17 total receptions in his college career, but snagged 37 passes for 432 yards and four receiving touchdowns in that campaign, then one-upped himself in 2020 with 48 catches for 588 yards and two more receiving touchdowns.

Dobbins (26) and Weber (21) combined for 47 catches at Ohio State in 2018, but it’s clear Lawrence’s rapport with his longtime backfield mate could be the difference here. The No. 1 overall draft pick was nothing, if not comfortable, using running backs as checkdowns during his collegiate career, and this is a place where Travis Etienne can truly thrive.

If Meyer opts to keep defenses honest by loading up both Robinson — himself a solid pass-catcher — with Etienne, or maybe slide Etienne in the slot, defenses will have no choice but to spread thin in the box to limit catches in the flat/slant or gashes in the gap. It’s a pick-the-poison scenario, and a dreamy one for Travis Etienne, who could find himself with one-on-one coverage in passing situations — thus buying him extra touches if Robinson is the one rolling in the running game.

3) At some point in 2021, Travis Etienne will ‘start’ for Jaguars

This is, in no way, an indictment of what Robinson did last season — somehow shrugging off the frustrations of a 1-15 year by producing nearly 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage as a rookie.

But it’s possible, almost likely, that Meyer will put Travis Etienne in the backfield with Lawrence on the first snap of a game this season, and for multiple reasons.

No. 1, it’s a unique and not-so-subtle way of stating, “Hey, I’m Urban Meyer. These are my guys, and things are about to change in Duval County. This is our future, right here in front of you.” It would put Robinson in a tough position, sure, but if he comes in as “relief” and splits carries with similar or even better results, he’s probably fine. He gets to save his legs for future seasons, and if everyone eats, no one gets complacent.

No. 2, and it’s already been mentioned, but Lawrence and Travis Etienne obviously already have quite a bit of college chemistry.

What if Lawrence hands off to Etienne on the first play of the game, and he dashes for a 75-yard score? Or what if Lawrence checks down to Travis Etienne on a crisp wheel route on the opening drive, and hits it for a 70-yard passing touchdown?

It’s poetic electricity, and something Meyer could be mustering for these Jacksonville Jaguars.