One would assume that if a team’s undrafted rookie running back ran for 1,070 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns in 14 games (all of which he started) that would be convincing enough to warrant him keeping the starting job heading into the following season. However, for the Jacksonville Jaguars, that wasn’t the case. Despite the breakout season for James Robinson, the team still selected Clemson prospect Travis Etienne with the 25th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. In doing so, the new regime in Jacksonville essentially declared that Robinson’s talents weren’t good enough and that they look at Etienne as the lead running back going forward, right? Well, the answer to that isn’t that simple.
This isn’t some type of newsflash to anyone who pays attention to the NFL today, but the philosophy of teams having one featured running back for their offense isn’t commonplace anymore. You have teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, and Minnesota Vikings who still utilize mainly one lead guy, but most teams don’t follow suit. Dual tandems or committees have been the way to go for many years now, and good reason.
Therefore, did the Jaguars draft Etienne because Robinson alone wasn’t enough? Yes, because they loved Etienne’s dynamic playmaking ability and believe his talent would make their offense better (and because Kadarius Toney wasn’t available). On the other hand, that’s not to say they don’t see Robinson having a significant role in the offense going forward. The two running backs complement each other’s skillsets very well, hence why having both as part of your RB corps makes complete sense.
James Robinson doesn’t possess great athletic traits. He’s not fast or explosive, and that’s part of the reason why he went undrafted. What he does have, though, is good vision and footwork behind the line of scrimmage. He consistently stays disciplined to the run design of the play and knows how to properly set up his blockers. Also, despite not having explosive lateral ability, his footwork is efficient and precise. He knows how to turn and open his hips in the proper angles to get skinny through tight running lanes and avoid tackles. This is where Robinson’s value will remain, the interior ground game. He can grind out and gain tough yards between the tackles, which Etienne still needs improvement.
As I alluded to earlier, the area of James Robinson’s game that is lacking is the explosive athletic traits, and that’s where Etienne comes in. Etienne is one of the more explosive athletes at the running back position to come out of the draft in recent years. His ability to hit a home run every time he touches the ball adds an element to the offense that wasn’t present last season.
Not only that, but Etienne could potentially add some versatility out of the backfield as a receiver. The Jaguars have been giving him reps at wide receiver throughout mini-camp in hopes that he could be a mismatch weapon for them. Some have scoffed at the idea of giving him those reps instead of at running back, but it’s honestly a great idea. A running back who can serve as a dual-threat is something the league has been trending towards for years now, and it’s not going away anytime soon.
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) July 7, 2021
I do see the tandem of James Robinson and Travis Etienne having the potential to be one of the better ones in the league. One of my pro comparisons for Etienne in my prospect evaluation was Alvin Kamara because I saw the potential of him being a deadly dual-threat. Looking at Robinson on top of that, I wouldn’t be shy to say that the two of them could end up being the next Kamara-Ingram duo, which worked remarkably well for the New Orleans Saints during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The big question mark for them, aside from health, is whether new Head Coach Urban Meyer has the creative mind to effectively use both in ways where they can both flourish together. If he can do that then defenses will have a tough time containing both players.