Remember The Name: Travis Etienne
Article by Joseph Volpe
If you are reading this, there's a chance you're a James Robinson truther. My hope is by the time you are done reading this, I would have convinced you otherwise. So let's dive in!
First of all, James Robinson had a fantastic outing as an undrafted free agent running back on literally the worst team in football, and more so the worst rushing offense in the league.
"People really undervalue how much Etienne means to Lawrence, how much it will affect his presence on the field." — Joseph Volpe
The Jaguars had the fewest rushing attempts in the entire league in 2020, as well as the 4th Least Rushing Yards, and the Least Rushing TDs. (That's for the total team, not just running backs).
Yet, James Robinson finished with the stats shown above against all odds. The end-of-year stats are impressive, but what truly sticks out is his volume/usage.
According to playerprofiler.com, James Robinson ranked 1st out of all RBs in the entire leagues in opportunity share. Which essentially means on a per snap or per opportunity basis Robinson was getting more than any other player. On 85% of all plays related to running backs, Robinson got the opportunity. Robinson also had the 6th Most carries as well as the 7th Highest Snap Share!
So, what did all that volume translate into?
- 32nd in yards per touch
- 48th in breakaway run rate
- 17th in yards created per touch
- 46th in goalline carries
Basically, in every category that involves a per touch basis, Robinson was at least outside the Top 15, and typically outside the Top 30.
Yes, the offensive line wasn't great, but Robinson wasn't exactly a threat as a runner. He only saw a stacked front (8 or more men) on 17.1% of his runs. In fact, on most of his runs (43%), he only saw 6 or fewer defenders in the box. The Jaguars also were ranked 22nd in the league for their offensive line performance in 2020, ahead of teams like the Vikings who produced Dalvin Cook, and the Cowboys with Ezekiel Elliot.
My point here is that yes, James Robinson is a special player because he went unrecognized in the 2020 NFL Draft, but on the field, he isn't elite and although he might have earned a role, he isn't guaranteed one.
Which is where my guy Travis Etienne comes in!
SOURCE: NFL / Logan Bowles
Travis Etienne was selected 25th Overall, right after his college teammate Trevor Lawrence was taken at 1st Overall.
Both Etienne and Lawrence played together at Clemson for three years, and in that span, the two connected on 97 Catches for 1,098 Yards and 8 TDs through the air. Now given the injuries to Justyn Ross and lack of receivers overall in Clemson, Etienne really has been Trevor's right-hand man throughout his young career. And that isn't going to change this year either.
Etienne player card from 2020 Draft Guide
Urban Meyer would not have come out of retirement to coach at a level that he's never coached at if Trevor Lawrence was not coming to Jacksonville. Trevor himself has also been touted as one of the BEST QB Prospects since Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning.
With that being said, I like to consider Lawrence the golden boy, and although he isn't running the team or making personnel decisions, the organization is going to want to make their golden boy as happy as possible. What better way to do that than to keep his right-hand man by his side at all times? Not to say Etienne will never leave the field, but people really undervalue how much Etienne means to Lawrence, how much it will affect his presence on the field.
Not only that but Etienne was drafted for a purpose. That purpose is to play the "slash" or "Percy Harvin" role under Urban Meyer's coaching.
As you can see above (Harvin's college stats under Urban Meyer), Harvin had two years with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Including 10+ TDs as well in those years.
In 2007, Harvin averaged just 12.9 Touches a game.
In 2008, Harvin averaged just 9.2 Touches a game.
Both resulted in 1,000+ Yards and 10+ TDs in each of those years. I didn't include Harvin freshman year, because well, he was a freshman. It's still notable, however, how as a freshman WR, Harvin put together over 800 Yards from scrimmage including over 400 Rushing Yards.
We see Meyer repeat this trend with a name everyone is now familiar with, Curtis Samuel. Samuel was most effective in his "slash" role in 2016, where he followed a similar path to Harvin with 10+ TDs and over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Yet again, Samuel similar to Harvin finishes the year with 13.2 Touches per game. Meyer did use Parris Campbell as well in the slash role, but he wasn't as effective and didn't have end-of-year numbers similar to Samuel or Harvin.
So what makes me think Etienne could play that role? And if he does, won't that just mean fewer touches? First of all, Meyer has already said himself that he envisions Etienne playing the slash role, similar to how Harvin did.
"I think you need complements," Meyer said. "I just love great backs, and at Ohio State, we had Zeke Elliott, Carlos Hyde. And right now, we have James Robinson — who is a stud and Carlos Hyde, with who I have a great history. So we have two big, downhill backs — and they can do other things, too — but I think Travis is he's that dual. He's the Percy (Harvin) — we're hoping. I mean, those are big shoes, when you say something like that, but you've got Parris Campbell, you've got Curtis Samuel, those types of players. Offensive coordinators love those kind of guys who can do multiple things."
Meyer then went on to talk about the worst-case scenario with Etienne is that he's a running back with elite receiving skills, comparing him to prime Le'Veon Bell. Typically, other than Samuel who was labeled an RB in college, who then was a WR in the NFL, the "slash" role has been made for WRs. This is why most of us thought that someone like Laviska Shenault would've been perfect for that role. But, Meyer views Etienne as the focal point of that offense and given his natural hands and chemistry with Trevor, it's hard to imagine a world where Etienne sees less than 15 Touches a game.
What I imagine for Etienne is the slash role on offense, on top of a role as a runner. He's already been practicing as a WR to perfect his routes, but he will remain an RB. It's hard to not get excited and think of a guy like Alvin Kamara because that truly is the upside that Etienne possesses.
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Now don't get me wrong, Robinson still has a chance at value as well. We've seen Mark Ingram and Latavius Murray have success next to Kamara in similar situations, but their upside is capped without that receiving work.
So to make a long explanation even longer, when you get to that 3/4 turn, and you are staring down different options and looking for the greatest upside, remember the name Travis Etienne, and remember the guy who told you to draft him. 😉
Joseph Volpe...Code Name FFA…. On a mission…. To help YOU WIN YOUR FANTASY LEAGUES, ONE POST AT A TIME!
— You can see more of Joseph's writing and analysis on Instagram @fantasy.football.analyst