How does Travis Etienne fit into Urban Meyer’s Jaguars offense?

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Urban Meyer had his first draft as an NFL head coach. After picking up Trevor Lawrence with number one pick, the Jacksonville Jaguars also had the 25th pick from the Los Angeles Rams via the Jalen Ramsey trade. So with their second pick in the first round, the Jaguars decided to go with one of the top offensive players on his board, running back Travis Etienne from Clemson.

Lawrence and Etienne become the first duo to be selected to the same college team in the first round in pro football history.

Etienne was considered a controversial pick because the Jaguars currently have a running back in James Robinson, who last year, rushed for over 1,070 yards & had seven rushing touchdowns. His 1,414 total yards from scrimmage was the most by an undrafted rookie in NFL history.

The Etienne pick was certainly a head scratcher given that there were some prospects available in areas of need: defensive tackle Christian Barmore, offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, safety Trevon Moehrig, EDGE Greg Rousseau. Right now the Jaguars have Josh Allen, Jihad Ward, DaVon Hamilton, Malcom Brown, and Doug Costin but outside of those players, there is a clear lack of depth on the defensive side of the ball. Last year, the Jaguars ranked 32nd in rushing attempts by offenses and 31st in total rushing touchdowns allowed.

So why not grab a defensive guy high, who can fight for a starting position in an area of need, instead of Etienne in a seemingly covered spot? The answer is comfortability. The guys that were available simply weren’t on the coaching staff’s board and this was Urban Meyer’s first draft as a head coach, so in his mind, it was better to stick with what you know rather than take chance with an unknown defender that seemed like a reach at the time.

Etienne is one of the more versatile players in this draft. What confuses people is when it comes to Travis taking the handoff, Robinson and him have similar run styles, penetrating the A & B gaps and rarely getting to the edge. This is why it makes sense when it came out that Urban wanted a guy like Kadarius Toney, the Jet Sweep is a play call you can build around and spread the field with; but it doesnt mean Etienne can not do that, his speed speaks for itself; he just wasnt asked to do it with the weapons they already had at Clemson.

Etienne had a whopping 4,952 rushing yards and 70 rushing touchdowns and caught 102 passes for 1,155 yards and had 8 touchdown receptions in his college career. In 2020, Etienne was able to split his skills effectively, rushing 168 times for 914 yards on the ground and 588 yards receiving.

Last year with Trevor Lawrence on the horizon, the Jaguars coaching and play-calling didn’t capitalize their rookie back nearly as much as they should have. The Jaguars ranked 29th in total rushing yards,, 28th in rushing yards per game, 27th in 20+ yard rushes in only 337 carries as a team, which was ranked dead last. Its simple, they want to rely heavily on the run and they dont want to let James Robinson do it alone.

So what does that mean for Jacksonville?

Meyer mentions the two most important pieces of a successful team is their run game and defense. The Jaguars plan on doing a complete 180 from last season. They want to be at least top 4th in Rushing. They will have a 1,2 punch in the backfield along with a veteran back who was with Meyer back in Ohio State, Carlos Hyde.

Urban Meyer on Etienne: “The other thing about offensive football is it’s a matchup game too, and that’s where you look for a player that has a little bit of hybrid or can do a couple things. Travis is very appealing when you can move him out there and you figure their fourth-best cover guy is going to cover a guy like this. He’s got a long way to go in certain areas, but he is really talented and Clemson did a really good job with him to this point.”

Etienne is a 5-11 back, 215 lbs, who can run a 4.4. 40-yard dash. He’s is considered an all-purpose back and that is exactly how Meyer plans on using him; he mentioned Etienne being a Percy Harvin-type of player. This isn’t Meyer’s first dual-threat backfield, similar to how Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber were used, and now in the league we have duos like Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

The Jaguars need a change of pace from last year. Despite getting over 1k rushing, when getting the ball, James Robinson saw an eight-man box 20.42% of the time.

When seeing those stacked boxes, Robinson often hesitated trying to find the gap due to heavily-stacked defenses anticipating the run with no change of pace.

There were a few moments last year where due to his smaller stature and speed, he wasn’t able to punch it in for a score. The offensive lineman had to push him in. When he did break free for large gains, he was caught by a defender preventing a touchdown.

So how will the Jaguars use Etienne?

What Etienne can provide will be the attack and acceleration out of the gate using Meyer’s inside and outside zone read.

The inside and outside zone read allows the running-back to do what he does best — identify the hole and use his athleticism to exploit the one-on-one.

Meyer has used this run style while he was coaching in college.

Another very good skill-set Etienne has are his hands. He has some of the softest hands and smoothest transitions out of any back in this rookie class.

As shown in these clips, Etienne can run flats, bubble screens, wheels, and catches them all in stride. Urban Meyer plans on using him on the outside or running routes from the backfield. This might be the most common way he will be used in this offense.

Etienne also lines up as a wide out as well, motions into the backfield or goes out for a streak.

Etienne was used to motion-in (to move the linebacker/nickel corner) or he was sometimes motioned-out. He has multiple releases, active hands through his stem and high physicality at the catch and after. Etienne is a true all-purpose back.

Expect Robinson to have the majority of the touches from the backfield, 60%. Etienne should see zone read run plays and toss’s making up 30% of snaps, leaving Carlos Hyde with 5 or maybe even 10%. Etienne will make more of an impact catching the ball in his rookie year than as a pure feature back.