Coming off yet another unmitigated disaster of a season, the Jacksonville Jaguars at least head into 2022 with the appearance of stability after Urban Meyer’s embarrassing tenure. To replace Meyer, the Jags tabbed Doug Pederson as their head coach; Pederson compiled a 42-37-1 record in five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and led the team to a Super Bowl title in 2017.
While this is a breakdown of the Jaguars running back situation, it’s important to note the presence of Pederson because of what his Eagles tenure tells us about how he likes to use his backs. During those five years in Philly, Pederson never had an running back top 180 carries or 900 yards in a single season. As such, we should expect a committee approach in Jacksonville. Now the questions become who will lead that committee? And what type of fantasy value should we anticipate?
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While he was the second back drafted last year (behind Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris), some felt Etienne was the most talented in that class. We never had a chance to see it, however, as he suffered a Lisfranc injury during the preseason and missed his entire rookie campaign. With a full year to recover, the Clemson product should be ready to roll for Week 1, which could put him in the driver’s seat to lock down that 1a role while James Robinson works his way back from an Achilles tear.
Heading into last year’s draft, teams liked Etienne’s burst and explosiveness in the open field, and he could provide the Jags with a home run threat that the offense sorely lacks. He has good hands as well and should contribute as both a runner and receiver.
As noted, Robinson is coming off an Achilles injury he suffered in Week 16 last season. Given how late the injury incurred, it’s entirely possible that the Jaguars will elect to keep the third-year back on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to open 2022 — in that scenario, Robinson would miss the first six games of the year. The new IR rules allow for a three-game absence to begin the season, so the Jags have some flexibility here. If they think he’ll be ready sooner, they could carry him on the 53-man roster and ease him back into game action. Either way, expect limited returns from Robinson early on.
After a strong rookie year, Robinson languished under Meyer with a decreased workload. Despite less mileage, he still found himself sidelined by injury by season’s end. As such, there are some medical and usage concerns surrounding Robinson.
Snoop Conner and Ryquell Armstead
If everything goes according to plan, Conner figures to be little more than a third wheel. Of course, given that both players ahead of him on the depth chart are coming off season-ending injuries it’s safe to say plans change. Conner is a physical runner with limited speed or big-play ability. He’s a decent receiver out of the backfield as well, and he could fill a complementary role if needed.
Armstead was a fifth-round pick of Jacksonville in 2019. He totaled 252 yards and a pair of TDs as a rookie but spent most of 2020 battling COVID-related illness. Armstead spent time with the New York Giants, New Orleans Saints, and Green Bay Packers last year, though never on an active roster, before re-signing with the Jags last December. He’s a fallback option.
Fantasy football outlook
While Pederson’s history suggests there won’t be a true featured back in Jacksonville, all signs point to Etienne getting the largest share of the touches. He’s a dual threat, has first-round talent, and should be fully recovered from his foot injury after deeming himself “85-90 percent” healthy as of mid-April. Consider him a strong RB3 with upside.
As for Robinson, he’s fallen from a viable No. 2 fantasy back to more of an RB4 who might outperform that slot. Consider targeting him in the later rounds and remain patient as his early-season offers figure to be limited.
While Armstead can be ignored, Conner is an intriguing late-round flier. This regime has no connection to Robinson, and if his recovery doesn’t go as planned, why wouldn’t the Jags turn to the rookie?