In the first round, with the 25th overall pick in this year’s 2021 NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Clemson running back Travis Etienne. Where does that leave 2020’s waiver wire darling, James Robinson? Both will have value this year, but for dynasty players, the Jaguars’ running back room has left a real conundrum.
Tale of the Tape
In one corner, we have James Robinson, the undrafted free agent who was the fantasy MVP of 2020. He unseated Leonard Fournette, the former number four overall pick in 2017, and rushed for 1,070 yards and 10 total touchdowns OUT OF NOWHERE. Even once Fournette was released, most fantasy players gobbled up the washed Chris Thompson, and even Devine Ozigbo (hand up, I hedged in a couple of leagues).
Until Robinson burst onto the scene. Smart managers already grabbed him after week one, sporting an 81% snap share. Week two was the “coming-out party,” as Robinson was the #9 running back in PPR. He then followed up this performance in week three with a monstrous 30 point, #4 running back performance.
From there, it was officially on like Donkey Kong. James Robinson led many fantasy managers to deep playoff runs. Their waiver wire darling (or late-round rookie draft dart throw) finished the season as the #5 running back in fantasy points per game, and the #1 overall running back in opportunity share (carries + targets) at 85%.
In the other corner, we have Travis Etienne, the Clemson stud running back whose college career was prolific. Etienne earned his first-round running back draft capital, which is becoming more scarce each year in the NFL. Although not touted as a pass-catcher, Etienne’s targets and receptions increased each year, showing that his game is in fact versatile.
He became an ELITE receiving threat on the back end of his career:
Year 1+2: 17 recs
Year 3+4: 85 recs
ETN also posted a 12.2% Target Share in his final szn(87th Percentile)
ETN earned the highest PFF Receiving Grade among all NCAA RBs in 2020 and was the only RB to score 90+ pic.twitter.com/MZ5YLEeHxg
— Ron Stewart (@RonStewart_) May 10, 2021
Travis Etienne is built like a Mack truck and runs like a Porsche (see above PlayerProfiler metrics). Urban Meyer reunited Etienne with his college quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, which is probably insignificant to fantasy, but sure is a fun narrative to talk about!
But seriously, if Etienne does start out as a third-down back (LOL), the college connection with Lawrence may come in handy — he would become the rookie QB’s safety blanket with pro pass rushers bearing down and no real tight end of significance (yes that’s shots fired at Tim freaking Tebow). But beware — we have seen Urban Meyer split his backfield in the past between an uber-talented back and, well, an undrafted free agent.
I’ll quickly knock out the redraft narrative here first. In both redraft and dynasty, I want Etienne over JRob. But JRob should still have some relevancy in 2021 seasonal leagues, at least in the first ½ – ⅔ of the year. In dynasty, however, Travis Etienne is hands-down the player to own, and iT iSn’T pArTiCuLaRlY cLoSe.
Seriously, what are we doing — people still value Robinson over Etienne? It’s simply a preposterous take to have at this point. If you didn’t sell James Robinson in dynasty the second the 2020 season was over (or in season), you’re doing this all wrong.
UDFA running backs who hit are essentially Cinderella before the clock strikes midnight. Like Cinderella, you should ALWAYS get out of that ball by 11:59. Last year, the Jaguars were putrid and not looking to invest (or reinvest, hence cutting Leonard Fournette) in the running back position. JRob got his shot and knocked it out of the park. It’s an awesome, fun story and the reason we love to play fantasy football — for guys like him.
Now, the new regime of Urban Meyer and company is ushered in, and BAM, the fairytale is over. I think Meyer may treat Travis Etienne with some kid gloves/training wheels early on, but by the end of the year, I expect it to be wheels up. Etienne easily has a case to be the rookie RB 1 over Najee Harris.
James Robinson is still young and may have a path to relevancy again via injury, trade, or free agency in the future. His career arc will likely be quite similar to Philip Lindsay, sans the back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons. It won’t happen this year in Jacksonville without an injury to Etienne.
Currently, I have Travis Etienne ranked as my dynasty running back #16 and James Robinson as #23, but I expect that gap to widen as the months move along. Travis Etienne will be clappin’ cheeks and taking names in the NFL for years to come as a high-end RB 1, and I believe we’ve seen the best of James Robinson’s cheek clappin’ days already. That’s the bottom line….because Dynasty Santa SAID SO.