Rookies are often the most hit-or-miss prospects in fantasy football. Drafting one can be a risky endeavor.
If you’re high on a specific NFL newcomer, do you reach for him a round or two early? Do you wait for him to fall closer to where his projected value lies? With no evidence that a rookie can perform at the professional level, or if he’s even going to get the playing time and chance to show it, missing badly on an unproven player can have ramifications for the rest of your roster.
But if you hit on the right rookie, and he performs at a high level, it could mean the difference between a middle-of-the-league finish or a deep playoff run. One of those difference makers in 2021 is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Travis Etienne.
Travis Etienne has the college pedigree of an RB1
Etienne was a prolific running back in college at Clemson. He ran for almost 5,000 yards and scored 78 total touchdowns during his four-year career. He also caught 102 passes for 1,155 yards and eight touchdowns. The former Tiger scored 49 touchdowns his sophomore and junior seasons alone, leading the NCAA with 26 as a sophomore.
In total, he amassed more than 6,000 yards from scrimmage and averaged 7.8 yards per touch.
Drafted No. 25 overall by the Jaguars, the franchise clearly saw his collegiate production but also Etienne’s speed, explosiveness, and versatility. He averaged 7.2 yards per carry and 11.3 yards per reception at Clemson.
Etienne comes into an ideal situation with Jacksonville
The Jaguars drafted Etienne straight into the heart of a rebuild, but one that ideally suits his traits. He will be playing with his college quarterback and No. 1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, so he has familiarity with the franchise QB.
Etienne was also drafted by head coach Urban Meyer, who has always used his team’s best athlete in a unique role across his career. Meyer’s “H-back” position was filled by players like Percy Harvin and Braxton Miller in college. The idea is to simply get the ball into the hands of the team’s most explosive playmaker, find him room, and let him run. Etienne should fill this role in Jacksonville.
Harvin’s best season at Florida under Meyer was his junior campaign. Listed as a wide receiver, Harvin caught 40 passes for 644 yards and seven touchdowns, an average of 16.1 yards per catch. But he also carried the ball 70 times, rushing for 660 yards and 10 more scores on the ground. Etienne won’t put up that level of production his rookie season, but he will fill the same role in the former Florida coach’s offense.
His receiving ability and potential targets in the passing game should make him even more valuable in points per reception (PPR) leagues.
Etienne is undervalued and poised to vault up the fantasy rankings during his rookie season
According to FantasyPros, Etienne’s average draft position (ADP) is 25th among running backs and 62nd overall in standard leagues. He will likely share carries in the Jacksonville backfield with James Robinson and Carlos Hyde, which will limit his value in non-PPR formats. But his explosiveness and speed give him the ability to break off huge plays anytime he touches the ball, whether it’s out of the backfield or as a receiver.
Concerns about workload, fit, learning a new offense, and the Jaguars’ rebuild in general seem to be pushing Etienne down draft boards. But by season’s end, his physical traits and role in Meyer’s offense could push him to the front of the queue and bring him solidly into RB1 territory in traditional leagues and even higher in PPR formats.
All statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.