Here's what Clemson's Travis Etienne adds to already stacked Jacksonville Jaguars backfield
Jacksonville already had the fifth-leading rusher in the NFL and recently added a quality backup.
Still, they couldn’t pass on getting former Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the No. 25 pick in Thursday night’s first round of the NFL draft.
James Robinson, an undrafted free agent from Illinois State, burst onto the scene last season as a rookie and was arguably the Jaguars’ best player as he ran for 1,070 yards with seven touchdowns, adding 344 yards and three scores on 49 catches. In the offseason, Jacksonville added Carlos Hyde, a seven-year veteran who has run for 4,726 yards and had his second-best per-carry average, 4.4 yards, last season with the Seattle Seahawks.
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But there was Etienne, the ACC’s all-time leading rusher. Some mock draft predictions had the Jaguars taking Etienne with their third pick, No. 33 overall, to begin the second round. But Jacksonville pulled the trigger early and paired Etienne with former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pick.
“James, obviously, had a tremendous year,” Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke told reporters last month, “especially when you factor in how he entered the league as a college free agent: 1,000-plus yards, very consistent performer week in and week out, tough, had a great mindset the type of player we’re looking for. But we have to add some explosiveness to that (running backs) room as well and we have to be able to take some of the carries off of James.
“... You can only ride a horse so long. He’s done a great job. He will continue to do a great job for the organization and we feel he’ll even take a step forward from where he was a year ago. But in adding some competitiveness ... we’re certainly looking to add to that room as well.”
It’s interesting to consider that Etienne, whose only shortcoming two years ago was as a pass-catcher, could be used almost exclusively in that role for the Jaguars. Etienne took heavy criticism from NFL scouts for being a non-factor in the passing game after his sophomore season and then became one of the best. After only 17 catches for 135 yards in his first two college seasons combined, he had 85 catches for 1,020 yards in his last two seasons.
“I see Carlos and James as the 1-2 downhill powerful running backs,” Jaguars coach Urban Meyer said Thursday night. “... Travis is a guy that goes out (for passes). We’re still playing with it, but (Etienne) is certainly a third-down back and he’s a guy that’s a matchup issue for a defense. … He’s as good outside as a receiver as he is as a running back.”
Todd Shanesy is a 30-year veteran of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal now focusing on Clemson athletics for the USA TODAY network.