Why Travis Etienne Will Help You Win Your Fantasy League in 2022

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One of the more polarizing players in fantasy football this year will be Travis Etienne, running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Etienne was a surprising first-round draft pick by the Jaguars in the 2021 NFL Draft after James Robinson had a great year for the team as an undrafted free agent. Unfortunately, we never got to see Etienne take the field in his rookie year due to a Lisfranc injury that occurred in the preseason.

In this article, I will dive into how Etienne was viewed as a prospect since we didn’t see him on the field last year. I will also look into why I believe that he will help fantasy managers who take a chance on him in the draft win their league!

Elite Pass-Catching Ability

It’s no secret that pass-catching running backs are heavily desired in fantasy football, and Travis Etienne is an elite receiving back. A name you will likely see him compared to, if you haven’t already, is Detroit Lions running back D’Andre Swift. Swift proved that pass-catching running backs in “bad offenses” can still produce fantasy points, finishing as the RB12 in points-per-game in 2021 in half-point PPR scoring. He did that despite being 30th in both rushing attempts and rushing yards (32nd Rushing YPG). Swift was fourth in targets among running backs in 2021 with 78 (six targets per game).

Etienne offers that same type of upside that Swift does. Etienne became a great pass-catching running back at Clemson, and it’s exciting that the rapport between him and Trevor Lawrence at the college level has a chance to transition to the NFL level. I could see 70-80 targets going Etienne’s way, which would be 4.1-4.7 targets per game, a doable feat, in my opinion, for an elite pass-catching running back like Etienne. I would not put that as his ceiling, though, as Etienne could average even 5-to-6 targets per game.

To put into perspective just how good of a pass-catcher he was in college, Etienne averaged 2.0 YPRR (yards per route run) and saw at least 10% of his team’s targets in his final season. With that stat line, Etienne joins some recent elite RB prospects such as Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon, Jonathan Taylor, Saquon Barkley, and Kenneth Gainwell. Pro Football Focus also had Etienne as an elite receiving running back coming out of college. The below tweet shows Etienne’s receiving ranks among running backs in 2020, and his 90.9 receiving grade is higher than D’Andre Swift‘s grade when he came out.

Etienne May Be Utilized All Over the Field

The coaching staff that drafted Etienne had planned on using him all over the field, and it seems that the new coaching staff plans to do the same. Doug Peterson was asked about Etienne recently and had a lot of good things to say about him. In a quote from an article by Myles Simmons of Pro Football Talk, Pederson said the following:

Gosh, it’s just exciting to get him out here and get him on the grass this whole offseason and really work with him,” Pederson said in his press conference. “He’s doing a great job handling a lot of information we’re throwing at the guys and putting him in different spots. [We’re] just seeing what he can do right now.”

As for moving him around to different places on the field, Pederson said, “It is fun. This is the time to do that stuff, to really experiment on both sides of the ball and just kind of see what the guys can do, and he’s one of those guys.

Coach speak doesn’t always come to fruition (see Ron Rivera comparing Antonio Gibson to Christian McCaffrey in Gibson’s rookie season). Still, it sounds like Pederson and the offensive coaches are trying their best to see how they can utilize Etienne as a weapon all over the field. There have been reports that Etienne has spent entire practices catching passes.

In an article by Jonathan Jones of CBS, Etienne was asked about changing his designation to wide receiver. He responded by saying, “Nah, nah just position flexibility,” Etienne says. “If I’m in those positions throughout the game and we get good matchups, we’ll be able to exploit them. So it’s just me being able to do more and being valuable.

In my opinion, there is a difference between a running back who can catch passes vs. a running back who can be utilized as a pass-catching threat all over the field. That’s the type of player that Etienne is and can be for this Jaguars’ offense.

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Not Just a Pass-Catcher

Etienne was an explosive runner at Clemson who had a knack for scoring touchdowns. Since we didn’t see Etienne in 2021, I will look at his prospect profile. In college, Etienne scored the 7th most rushing touchdowns of all time in college football and has the record for rushing touchdowns in the ACC. Per data from Campus2Canton.com, Etienne had a higher explosive rush rate (number of rushes when rushing yards over expected is greater than 10) every year than D’Andre Swift, Najee Harris, and Javonte Williams, who are all coveted fantasy assets.

Etienne also leads most of this pack in rushing yards over expected, although he pretty much tied with Javonte Williams in their junior years. There was a dip in production for Etienne in his senior year in both metrics, but he was still above the expected mark for a senior running back.

According to NFL Next Gen prospect grades, Etienne falls into some great company with a 99 overall elite grade. Next Gen Stats began tracking this info in 2014, and all of the names on this list are coveted fantasy football assets. Excluding Etienne and rookie Breece Hall (who have yet to play a down in the NFL), all of the Next Gen Stats elite tier running backs on this list have a top-12 finish, and 6-of-8 have a top-5 finish.

At 5’10” and 215 pounds, Etienne has the size to grind out on the ground and be a pass-catching weapon. He may not offer bell-cow type volume, but he doesn’t have a slight frame that should scare us off.

Doug Pederson Playcalling History

During his time with the Philadelphia Eagles (2016-2020), Pederson called most of the plays for the offense. Towards the end of his tenure with the Eagles, he did “share” playcalling duties. One of the coaches who assisted in playcalling was Press Taylor, who rejoins Pederson as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator. It sounds like Pederson will call the plays again, so I looked at the Eagles’ history of targets to the running back position during his time there to get a feel of what we might expect.

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Year Team RB1 Targets RB1 Target Rank Total RB Targets Total RB Targets Rank
2016 Philadelphia Eagles Darren Sproles 71 6th 115 11th (Tied)
2017 Philadelphia Eagles Wendell Smallwood 18 32nd 75 31st (Tied)
2018 Philadelphia Eagles Wendell Smallwood 35 31st (Tied) 102 21st (Tied)
2019 Philadelphia Eagles Miles Sanders 63 12th (Tied) 114 12th
2020 Philadelphia Eagles Miles Sanders 52 16th 97 20th

What jumps out at me about this chart is I believe that if Pederson feels he has a pass-catching weapon at running back, he will utilize him. In Pederson’s first year, Darren Sproles was sixth in targets among all running backs. Unfortunately, that was Sproles last year staying healthy and only played in 15 games in his final three years. The Eagles turned to Wendell Smallwood as the pass-catching back for 2017 and 2018, and the targets to running backs immediately dipped to the bottom of the league. After drafting Miles Sanders, the Eagles rose the ranks in running back targets once again in 2019 and 2020.

Travis Etienne is a better receiving threat at running back than Pederson has had on offense since Sproles in 2016, and I believe he will be fed targets in this offense because of his talent.

No Target Hog on the Jaguars’ Offense

The Jacksonville Jaguars made a splash in the free-agent market by signing Christian Kirk to a four-year deal worth up to $84 million, per CBS Sports. The Jaguars also added Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram to the offense to team up with Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones. It’s safe to say that even with adding a talented receiver such as Christian Kirk, the Jaguars have what looks to be a bottom-five receiving core in the NFL going into 2022.

Not having target hogs in this offense bodes well for Etienne. Christian Kirk will likely be the WR1 on the team, but he has only seen over 100 targets twice in his four-year career (108 in 2019 and 103 in 2021).

James Robinson May Miss Time & Have Limitations During Season

One potential obstacle for Etienne to overcome is the return of James Robinson from his Achilles injury that occurred on December 26th, 2021. Most running backs have lost explosiveness and production when returning from this significant injury. Cam Akers seemed like a miracle case when he returned from his Achilles injury just six months after it occurred, but that type of recovery may be extremely rare.

Unfortunately, due to the injury, there is a good chance that Robinson isn’t ready to start the season and that Etienne has the backfield to himself to start the year. An Achilles injury typically takes around a year to recover from, and Robinson would be near the nine-month mark come Week 1 of the NFL season. Recoveries vary, but there is a chance that Robinson doesn’t see the field for several weeks into the season. We also don’t know if Robinson will be 100% healthy when he returns to the field, which may limit his playing time and production.

The Lisfranc Injury is Healing

Etienne’s Lisfranc injury was severe, and there is no downplaying that. I would understand why it scares off fantasy managers preparing for drafts. There have been studies that have shown a decrease in performance for players coming off of this injury. I’m sure that there will be mental and physical hurdles that Etienne will have to get through, but having an entire year to recover from the injury should be beneficial. Matthew Betz wrote more in detail about Etienne’s injury and many others in the Ultimate Draft Kit, so be sure to check that out!

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It may just be a singular training camp hype video, but one of the reasons that I am less concerned about the injury that I was before is the clip below from the Jaguars’ official Twitter account. Several reports have been coming out of the Jaguars’ camp that Etienne has been impressive, and in my opinion, those reports and this video helps ease the nerves a bit.

Conclusion

While the injury is concerning, I will be drafting Travis Etienne for the upside he offers at a crucial position in fantasy football. Per the Ultimate Draft Kit, Etienne is currently drafted as the RB23 at 6.02 in half-point PPR leagues. He is being drafted behind running backs such as David Montgomery and Antonio Gibson, who don’t quite have the same pass-catching upside that Etienne offers. I think taking Etienne at his current ADP is a smash hit. Getting him in the early-to-mid sixth round of fantasy drafts when he offers top-12 upside at the position can help many fantasy managers on their way to a championship!

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