The Jacksonville Jaguars selected tailback Travis Etienne 25th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, and while many decried the choice due to his position, his hybrid role in the pros may increase the perceived value of that pick.
New Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer said Etienne will line up exclusively at wide receiver during minicamp, as the plan is to make the Clemson star an all-around weapon in his rookie campaign, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
#Jaguars coach Urban Meyer told reporters that first-round RB Travis Etienne will take all of his minicamp reps at WR. “Worst case scenario you have a running back that's elite with receiver skills,” Meyer said. Similar, it seems, to Le’Veon Bell in his prime.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 15, 2021
That’s a lot to put on a first-year player’s plate. Even though Etienne was excellent throughout his college career, it’s a whole new ballgame in the NFL.
Etienne isn’t a receiver by trade, but then again, he did rack up 85 receptions over the last two seasons, catching balls from No. 1 overall draft pick and new Jags teammate, Trevor Lawrence.
The innate chemistry between Lawrence and Etienne is definitely a plus. Having a “slash” player who can line up anywhere on the field to keep opposing defenses guessing is a serious advantage.
Travis Etienne will take all his mini-camp reps at WR, per @RapSheet— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) May 15, 2021
Etienne receiving ranks among RBs in CFB last season:
90.9 receiving grade (1st)
588 receiving yards (1st)
29 1st down/TD receptions (1st) pic.twitter.com/YzL6SRMJZD
Someone with Etienne’s lateral quickness, demonstrated pass-catching prowess and change-of-direction skills can definitely pick things up. Asking him to run a full, nuanced route tree is a different matter, but at least to start in Jacksonville, the coaching staff is probably going to work in a lot of concepts that Lawrence and Etienne can execute at a high level.
Pro-style offenses incorporate increasing amounts of college concepts, particularly from spread schemes and in the form of run-pass options. That’s where Lawrence and Etienne devastated defenses at Clemson.
If opponents don’t know whether Etienne will truly align at receiver or running back until the ball is snapped, that can create all kinds of mismatches. Even in the event that he’s used as a decoy, Etienne’s all-around value will skyrocket if he can pull off this transition.
Let’s look at the flip side of all this, though: Was Etienne a sentimental pick so that he could reunite with Lawrence? Or is this perhaps a sign that Meyer thinks his winning schematics at the NCAA level can directly translate to the NFL?
Meyer coached the likes of Percy Harvin, Curtis Samuel, Parris Campbell and others throughout his various stops in college in similar roles to what he’s grooming Etienne for.
It remains to be seen how Meyer’s offense will look in the NFL when he doesn’t have the fastest players on the field the vast majority of the time — and whether this X-factor position can even work in the professional game.
Plus, asking Etienne to earn significant snaps at the receiver position in 2021 when Jacksonville already has a capable trio at the position in D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault Jr. seems like a stretch.
Although the Jags had an awful 2020 campaign, undrafted running back James Robinson was a bright spot. He had 49 catches and ran for more than 1,000 yards, which raised more questions as to why Etienne was drafted so high by Jacksonville in particular.
Don’t put it past Etienne to take this unique opportunity to begin his time with the Jaguars, run with it and be a premier playmaker.
However, there should be concerns that the offense will be too simplistic for opponents not to catch on after having some weeks of film on it. Robinson and veteran Carlos Hyde are also fine ball-carriers who can get done what Jacksonville needs out of the backfield, and there’s the risk that Etienne becomes a gimmicky gadget player.
That’s the beauty of this bold new era of Jaguars football under Meyer’s guidance. It has such a boom-or-bust feel to it all, and that absolutely applies to Etienne’s individual situation as well.