The time has come for us to take a deeeeeeep dive into the Jaguars' 2021 running back room. This is the second installment of my offseason position group breakdowns.
Check out my guide to the safety room here.
So, let's talk some running backs!
James Robinson, 5'9", 219 lbs., 22 years old
Travis Etienne, 5'10", 215 lbs., 22 years old
Carlos Hyde, 6'0", 229 lbs. 30 years old
Devine Ozigbo, 6'2", 225 lbs., 24 years old
Dare Ogunbowale, 5'10", 205 lbs., 27 years old
Nathan Cotrell, 5'11", 193 lbs., 24 years old
When it comes to the Jaguars' backfield, there's are the haves and have nots. From my view, Robinson, Etienne, and Hyde are all locked into roster spots, while the rest of the bunch will be fighting for a job.
James Robinson is entering his second year as a pro. As an undrafted rookie in 2020, he earned the starting job during training camp and never relinquished it. Robinson ran the ball 240 times for 1,070 yards and seven scores in 14 games. He also caught 49 of 60 targets for 344 yards and three additional touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield. To say Robinson was a revelation would be an understatement. His vision, contact balance, explosiveness, and power made him a difference-maker for the Jaguars last season. He was the catalyst for much of the offense. The team lacked any form of consistency in the passing game, and despite defenses stacking the box against Robinson, he still managed 4.5 yards per carry. In the passing game, Robinson showed soft hands and proved to be a quality pass protector. J-Rob has quickly established himself as one of Urban Meyer's favorite players and believes he has improved his speed throughout the offseason. He should lead the team in carries once again in 2021, but he'll have some legitimate competition in this backfield.
Who should get the second-most snaps of this group in 2021? First-round pick Travis Etienne. It's important to preface our Travis Etienne talk with the fact that he's going to be a "slash" or "slot back" as I like to call it. He'll line up in the backfield plenty, but Etienne will also line up as a receiver in this offense. Urban Meyer envisions a Percy Harvin type role for Etienne. Still, I think Etienne will get plenty of standard running back carries as well and will have the second-most rushing attempts on the team. The 25th overall pick in this year's draft, Etienne already has chemistry with Trevor Lawrence after playing alongside him for three years at Clemson. Etienne is a big play waiting to happen thanks to his speed, power, and subtle elusiveness. He was a touchdown machine in college and should continue to be a threat to find the end zone in Jacksonville. I'm projecting Etienne to take about 30% of the Jaguars' rushing attempts in 2021, while also receiving 75 plus targets as a receiver.
Next up on my projected running back depth chart is Carlos Hyde. Hyde played for Urban Meyer at Ohio State and was drafted by Trent Baalke in San Francisco. He now reunites with both in Jacksonville. After a strangely short stint in Jacksonville in 2018, Hyde found success in Houston and Seattle over the last two seasons. He carried the ball 326 times for 1,426 yards for an average of 4.4 yards per carry. He also found the endzone ten times during that span. Hyde is experienced in Meyer's rushing scheme and will provide veteran leadership and a backup plan for Robinson and Etienne. While Hyde could see some standalone carries here, his primary value should be as an injury replacement. He's more than capable of carrying the load for a few weeks or more if need be.
Behind the big three, Dare Ogunbowale, Devine Ozigbo, and Nathan Cotrell are likely fighting for one roster spot.
Ozigbo offers a similar playstyle to James Robinson and Carlos Hyde but lacks legitimate experience, having carried the ball just ten times in his young career.
Ogunbowale came over from Tampa in 2020, and when his number was called during James Robinson's absence due to injury at the end of the season, Ogunbowale performed admirably, toting the rock 32 times for 145 and catching ten passes for another 54 yards. Dare's best role is as a third-down back.
Then there's Nathan Cotrell, the diminutive speedster from Georgia Tech. He's a special teamer through and through. He returned seven kickoffs for the Jaguars in 2020 and made five total tackles. His odds of making the roster as a core special teamer are slim at best.
Who will the Jaguars elect to keep as a potential fourth back? It's possible they roll with just three, but I believe Meyer will want to have options in the backfield. If he wants another bruiser that can emulate some of what Robinson and Hyde can do, he'll go with Ozigbo. If it's someone who can excel in space, it'll be Ogunbowale.
On the whole, this is an excellent room. The three-deep depth chart is as good as it has been in a long time in Jacksonville. Robinson played at a Pro Bowl level as a rookie while Travis Etienne brings pure speed and power to the table. Carlos Hyde is a steady vet that knows how to get the job done in an Urban Meyer zone rushing attack. We know that these are three talented backs. What we don't know is what their snap counts will look like. If I were running the show, it'd be a whole lot of James Robinson and Travis Etienne with small doses of Carlos Hyde here and there. This is a running back group that should have no problem finding success on the ground and through the air with regularity. With all five offensive linemen returning, there will be plenty of holes to be found, and with what should be an improved passing offense, Robinson, Etienne, and Hyde could feast.
This room earns a B+ for me. Robinson proved to be one of the best young backs in the league in 2020, and he's now joined by a home run hitter and balanced veteran that should both find success in Duval. This group could easily end up having an A type season as Robinson and Etienne could emerge as one of the top running back duos in all of football.
What grade would you give the Jaguars' running backs? Let me know on Twitter @jordandelugo
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