The Jaguars made the splash of all splashes, landing generational quarterback talent Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Adding Lawrence to the roster, the Jaguars "won the draft" by default. But they made nine other selections during the 2021 Draft. Some of those picks have been met with praise, some with skepticism, and some with a mixed bag of responses.
Perhaps the most volatile selection, in the eyes of many fans and draft analysts, was the 25th overall pick in the draft, former Clemson running back Travis Etienne. Trevor Lawrence's teammate for the last three years, Etienne was one of the most productive and dynamic backs in college football history. He stands 5'10" and weighs in at 215-pounds. The speedy playmaking back rushed the ball a total of 686 times for 4,952 yards, averaging 7.2 yards per carry and scoring 70 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 102 passes for an additional 1,155 yards and eight scores. Etienne's contact balance and speed pop off the tape. Those traits allow him to be a virtual walking big-play. And he tested well at his pro day, putting up 18 bench press reps, jumping 1008 in the broad, and running a 4.40 40-yard dash.
So why has the selection of Etienne been a hotly debated topic? For one, the running back position has been devalued in recent years, meaning they can be found later and later in the draft and signed in free agency on relatively cheap contracts. Secondly, the Jaguars already have an impressive stable of running backs, including second-year rusher James Robinson and veteran Carlos Hyde.
But what those who have been critical of the pick fail to see is that Etienne's skill set paired with Jaguars' head coach Urban Meyer's creative offensive mind will allow the 22-year-old back to evolve into much more than just a running back in Jacksonville. The Jaguars will use Etienne as a slot back, or slasher, in the mold of the great Percy Harvin.
"I know Travis, just from my time at Ohio State and even the last two years, the fact that the Buckeyes have played them—hours upon hours upon hours," Urban Meyer told the media. "And the way we've always looked at offensive football is that, just over the years, any time you can find that dual-threat guy that can carry the ball and catch the ball, obviously the name that comes up is Percy so often. I'm not saying he's a Percy; we'll find out. But he's a guy that's a piece of the puzzle that is kind of hard to cover, hard to defend."
The Jaguars coaching staff will bring Etienne along slowly throughout the summer, but with his skill set and physical ability, the sky is the limit for the versatile offensive weapon. If you want a blueprint for how Meyer will likely use Etienne, look no further than the Tigers' week six matchup against the 'Canes.
Now, Etienne isn't a perfect prospect. He's not the best pass blocker, or even close to it, and he's not super elusive. But his contact balance, speed, patience, hands, and vision will allow the Jaguars to use him in a variety of alignments. His presence will make defenders pause for just a moment, allowing other areas of the field to open up. And best of all, he will provide chunk plays.
I'm anti-running back in the first round, but if you watch Travis Etienne and consider how Urban Meyer will use him and you don't see this prospect as much more than simply a running back, I can't help you.
Etienne has a rare combination of skills, is comfortable lining up in the backfield, in the slot, and out wide, and already has a strong on-field relationship with Trevor Lawrence. THIS was an exceptional pick by GM Trent Baalke and HC Urban Meyer that should pay dividends in 2021 and beyond.
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