Every single person in the NFL world knew that the Jacksonville Jaguars were going to use the first-overall pick to select quarterback Trevor Lawrence. However, nobody expected the Jaguars to use their other first-round pick on his collegiate teammate. James Robinson was one of the biggest out-of-nowhere surprises last year, but the presence of Travis Etienne will obviously cut into his workload. With a new man in town, let’s take a look at what we can expect from the Robinson-Etienne timeshare in 2021.
Travis Etienne, James Robinson, and the Jacksonville Jaguars Backfield
What Urban Meyer Says And Does
First-year head coach Urban Meyer met with reporters following the first round of the draft and outlined his plan for Jacksonville’s backfield. According to the collegiate legend, he plans on using James Robinson and Carlos Hyde as the primary runners with Etienne coming in on passing downs. Of course, this is the same guy that said Robinson was “integral” to the success of this team, so we shouldn’t take what Meyer says at face value.
Urban says he sees J-Rob, Carlos Hyde as the 1-2 punch, Etienne as a third-down back.
“We wanna be Top-8 in the league… and with James Robinson, Hyde and Etienne, we think we’re there” #Jaguars
— Mia O'Brien (@MiaOBrienTV) April 30, 2021
Urban Meyer believes that an offense needs an effective running game in order to be successful. The longtime collegiate coach has not shied away about his belief in the run game, and how running backs in particular play a large role in the success of play action. Whether or not the data supports these claims is irrelevant – Meyer believes that this is true, and he will make his personnel decisions around these beliefs.
Travis Etienne is going to see a larger role than Meyer is letting on. After all, you don’t take a running back in the first round to only use him on passing downs. However, how big of a role will the rookie have? Meyer has a reputation for using a workhorse back, but a deeper dive shows that this isn’t always the case.
James Robinson, Travis Etienne Usage Projection
Meyer served as Ohio State’s head coach from 2012 to 2017. During that timeframe, he had the privilege of coaching many a great running back, including Ezekiel Elliott, Carlos Hyde, and J.K. Dobbins. Elliott had complete control of the backfield during his time at Ohio State, but he’s Ezekiel Elliott. Talents like him just don’t come along every day, and it would have been coaching malpractice to not use Elliott as much as possible.
Following Elliott’s departure, Meyer used more of a committee approach in the backfield. In 2016, J.T. Barret finished with 205 carries while Mike Weber recorded 182. One year later, J.K. Dobbins had 195, J.T. Barrett had 165, and Mike Weber had 101. Based on this, we can assume that Meyer will use a committee approach as long as one back is not vastly superior to the others.
Even though Robinson was an undrafted free agent, he clearly proved that he belongs in the NFL. Etienne might be more of a home run hitter, but the talent gap between the two players isn’t that large. Both runners will get their fair share of touches, and Robinson will probably lead the committee early in the season.
No matter how talented they are, just about every rookie needs some time before they’re ready to handle life in the NFL. Last year, Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, and D’Andre Swift all started the seasons behind lesser talents due to their inexperience, and they’re far from outliers.
Expect something similar to happen with Etienne. At the end of the season, Robinson will probably receive 45% of the backfield touches to Etienne’s 40% (with Carlos Hyde receiving the leftover touches). However, Robinson will probably see a higher percentage of the work early in the season, while Etienne will eat into that workload as the season progresses.
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