NFL

Etienne's season-ending injury robs Jaguars of true dual-threat at running back

By Sports Desk August 24, 2021

The Jacksonville Jaguars will not have the services of one of their two 2021 first-round picks this season, with running back Travis Etienne placed on injured reserve due to a foot injury.

It was reported on Tuesday that Etienne had suffered a Lisfranc injury that would require surgery during the Jaguars' preseason game with the New Orleans Saints on Monday.

The Jaguars subsequently ended his rookie year before it began by placing Etienne on IR. Only players on the 53-man roster as of next Tuesday are eligible for short-term injured reserve, from which they can be activated if they recover from their injury during the season.

It means the Jaguars will be without a player they selected with the 25th overall pick in this year's first round and one who, alongside Jacksonville's first overall pick Trevor Lawrence, was one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in college football during his time at Clemson.

While the Jaguars, who went 1-15 last year, are considered a long way from contention, the loss of Etienne robs them of a player capable of making a significant impact on the ground and as a receiver.

A true dual threat

Across his four seasons with Clemson from 2017 to 2020, Etienne racked up 6,107 yards from scrimmage – second among all FBS running backs in that span – and 78 touchdowns, which led all FBS players at his position.

He also led FBS running backs with an average of 7.8 scrimmage yards per touch in that timeframe, with 4,952 of his yards (second in FBS since 2017) and 70 touchdowns (first) coming on the ground.

Etienne's 1,115 receiving yards in that four-year span were third in the FBS, and Stats Perform's advanced metrics reflect his efficiency as a runner and a pass-catcher.

An explosive runner whose burst allows him to get to the second level of the defense in a hurry, Etienne averaged 5.26 yards before first contact by a defender per attempt in 2019, putting him fifth among Power 5 backs with at least 100 snaps.

That dipped to 3.16 in 2020, but he still excelled as a receiver. Etienne registered a burn, which is when a pass-catcher wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted regardless of whether the pass is catchable, on 72.4 per cent of his targets.

He averaged 11.88 burn yards per target, second for Power 5 backs with 100 snaps and 25 targets, reflecting his proficiency for evading the coverage of defenders and making big plays in the passing game.

Yet the presence of a rookie standout from 2020 should help mitigate the impact of Etienne's absence.

Robinson ready to carry the burden

James Robinson was the lone bright spot of the Jaguars' dismal 2020 campaign, the undrafted free agent's emergence as a rookie leading some to question the wisdom of selecting Etienne.

Robinson was tied-fifth in the NFL in rushing yards last season with 1,070, while he also found the endzone seven times on the ground.

A different type of runner to Etienne, Robinson's strength is in surviving tackle attempts from defenders.

Indeed, his average of 2.34 yards after first contact per attempt ranked sixth in the NFL last season.

Where he is inferior to Etienne is in the passing game. Robinson registered a burn on only 39 per cent of his targets as a rookie, well below the average of 47.6 per cent for running backs.

Still, what Robinson demonstrated in his first year in the league suggests the Jaguars' running game should still cause defenses problems, though perhaps not as much as it would with Etienne available to complement his team-mate's more bruising style.

For Lawrence, Etienne's injury removes a reliable option who could have made his life significantly easier in the passing game. He and Etienne share an obvious rapport from their time together in college but there is now more of an onus on Lawrence to develop the same kind of connection with his cast of wide receivers.

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