He wasn’t the first running back to come off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft, but when the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Clemson running back Travis Etienne at pick No. 25 many people were convinced he would be the running back that made the biggest fantasy football impact in his rookie season, alongside college teammate Trevor Lawrence.
But his rookie season ended before it could get started when Etienne suffered a Lisfranc injury to his left foot that required surgery.
Although he is still limited in the amount of work he has been able to do in Jacksonville’s offseason program and he will likely start training camp with some restrictions, he is expected to be fully ready to go. Etienne is stepping into an advantageous spot, considering what happened while he was rehabbing his injury.
There was some confusion about the type of role Etienne would have in what turned out to be a disastrous 11-month debacle with Urban Meyer as head coach. Few teams use a first-round draft pick on running backs, and those that do tend to immediately make them the featured backs in their offenses. The plan was to use Etienne in a Percy Harvin/Deebo Samuel type of role as both a runner and receiver who could be lined up anywhere on the field. However, that situation has changed dramatically.
When Etienne arrived in Jacksonville, there were questions as to how he would fit with a running game that was led by James Robinson, who had been pressed into unexpected feature back status with the surprise release of Leonard Fournette in the days leading up to the 2020 season opener. Robinson carved out of his own role and posted a 1,000-yard rushing season in 2020 before Etienne’s arrival. However, a 2021 Week 16 injury changed the two-headed backfield plans.
Robinson suffered a torn Achilles in mid-December. The standard timetable (Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers excluded) for a full return from a torn Achilles is nine to 12 months, which could take Robinson well into the regular season to return.
Fantasy football outlook
From the Etienne fantasy perspective, it couldn’t be a better scenario. His rehab has been going extremely well, and he was running full speed at the team’s summer minicamp. While he is still not cleared for full contact, everything coming out from the Jaguars coaches and medical staff is that Etienne will be a full participant when training camp begins, and there aren’t concerns of a recurrence. Many players have suffered Lisfranc injuries that requires screws to be surgically implanted in their injured foot and they come back strong, and most leave the screws in the foot because there is little to no associated pain.
Factoring Robinson likely missing in action early, Etienne’s chances to be a fantasy impact player increase considerably and make him a player to target.
Etienne’s 2021 injury should not be a major concern heading into 2022, and his fantasy draft ranking as a mid- to low-end RB2 is warranted. He offers more value in point-pet-reception scoring.