The Jaguars selected Clemson running back Travis Etienne is one of the most perplexing picks of the 2021 NFL Draft. Etienne was widely regarded as one of, if not the, best running back in that draft class, and for good reason. Despite not starting any of his 13 games as a true freshman, Etienne led Clemson in rushing and totaled 6,107 yards from scrimmage and 78 total touchdowns during his four years at Clemson. His draft comps were Alvin Kamara and Giovani Bernard, both of whom are smaller pass-catching backs. Etienne may have been a fantastic fantasy option if he had been a workhorse someplace, but he now has to compete for time with James Robinson.
Robinson had a great rookie season last year rushing for 1,070 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also saw an astronomical use rate at 87%, which means that it was most likely Robinson when a Jaguars RB was on the field. Now Robinson has to compete for snaps with now first-round pick Etienne. When a team picks a running back in the first round, history says he’ll see a lot of use. According to Fantasy Pros, there has only been one running back chosen in the first round in the previous eight years who hasn’t touched the ball at least 197 times, and that was Rashaad Penny, who has been plagued by injuries. This will be an Urban Meyer offense, which means there will be a lot of rushing and innovative ways to get the ball to Etienne. He’ll play a part, just not as significant a position as he may have had elsewhere.
There are a couple of reasons why you should be favoring Etienne over Robinson for fantasy, even though they both might not be fantasy-relevant next year. One major reason being the draft capital. Etienne was not only drafted in the first round but he was also drafted by a new coaching staff. The Jaguars will likely use Robinson as the more pure runner and Etienne as the elusive pass catcher. This can be backed up by the fact that there were reports from training camp that Etienne was taking reps at WR. Etienne will offer more chances for points in PPR and will likely have a 50/40/10 share with Robinson and Carlos Hyde. Etienne’s pass-catching and playmaking abilities mean that he doesn’t need a lot of rushing attempts or TDS to be a successful running back.
There also is a high likelihood that the Jaguars will use both RBs at the same time. The Jaguars’ offense in 2021 will be improved with the addition of Trevor Lawrence and a new coaching staff, but will still likely throw more than run to stay competitive. There are a couple of running back duos in recent memory that have both had success including Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen. At their ceiling, Robinson and Etienne can somewhat replicate the success of the Saints duo which likely won’t happen next year, the Saints’ offense was one of the best with Kamara and Ingram both on the roster.
What will most likely happen is they are more like Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, where Robinson averages about 10 PPG and Etienne 15 PPG because of the additional receptions. In Dynasty leagues I would try and buy Etienne, as his value is much lower than it would be someplace else. For redraft leagues, I would value Etienne similar to someone like Nyheim Hines or JD McKissic, and a flex play or bye-week replacement. Over time we may see Robinson be given less playtime and the reigns handed to Etienne, so it’s a situation that needs to be monitored. For right now Etienne is the RB to own in Jacksonville and has more value than Robinson in PPR leagues.