James Robinson was one of the biggest fantasy football breakouts last year, and he has a chance to be a star again following an injury to fellow running back Travis Etienne. The first-round pick suffered a mid-foot sprain in Monday’s preseason bout against the New Orleans Saints and will be sidelined indefinitely. This leaves Robinson all alone in Jacksonville’s backfield, but can he recapture the magic with a new coaching staff and quarterback?
Fantasy Football: Projecting James Robinson Without Travis Etienne
What James Robinson did last season was nothing short of amazing. Entering the league as an undrafted free agent, the Illinois State product finished the season as the RB7, accumulating 1,070 rushing yards and seven touchdowns to go along with 49 receptions for 344 yards and three touchdowns. He did all this despite playing for a talent-poor Jacksonville squad that ranked dead last in rushing attempts per game.
Robinson is a solid player, but the primary catalyst for this feat was the complete lack of competition in the backfield. The Jaguars cut Leonard Fournette just before the season, Ryquell Armstead lost his entire season to COVID-19, and Devine Ozgibo spent half the year on the short-term injured reserve. This created a perfect storm for Robinson, allowing him to have the type of market share typically reserved for Christian McCaffrey.
Even with Etienne sidelined, Robinson won’t have that same command of the backfield in 2021. In addition to having a new coaching staff (we’ll get to that later), the team also signed Carlos Hyde as a free agent. Now, Hyde is anything but a superstar, but he’s capable of playing a supporting role in the offense. So, instead of having 85% of Jacksonville’s running back touches, Robinson will probably be in the 60-65% range, at least until Etienne returns.
This is why James Robinson is the #Jaguars starting RB. Points out the blitz to Lawrence pre-snap then picks it up perfectly to give him time to convert the first third-down of the game. pic.twitter.com/fSNLX5GSvh
— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) August 17, 2021
The Coaching and Quarterback Change
Of course, projecting touches is only one part of the equation. Last year, Robinson had to deal with a below-average head coach in Doug Marrone and a trio of terrible quarterbacks in Gardner Minshew, Jake Luton, and Mike Glennon. Touchdowns are everything in fantasy football, and, needless to say, this offense didn’t score too many points.
Even though Trevor Lawrence has yet to make an NFL start, it’s safe to assume that he will be better than Minshew, Luton, and Glennon. Widely considered to be the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, Lawrence will move the ball down the field and give Robinson more opportunities to find the red zone.
Of course, targets are also important, and Robinson should see a respectable target share. Lawrence isn’t afraid to check it down to the running back, as he connected with Etienne throughout their respective collegiate careers. Additionally, head coach Urban Meyer loves to utilize a hybrid receiver/running back as a part of his passing attack. Laviska Shenault is probably the best bet to fill this role, but Robinson will see some additional targets from this favorable scheme.
As of this posting, we do not know exactly how long Etienne will be sidelined. If he’s gone for the entire season, then I would be drafting Robinson in the RB12-15 range. While he won’t have the same ridiculous market share he had as a rookie, he’ll be in a better offense and should still have enough targets for a safe floor.
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