Gene Frenette: Jaguars drafting Travis Etienne was smart move to help anemic offense

Gene Frenette
Florida Times-Union
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While the Jaguars drafting of Clemson running back Travis Etienne might have seemed like a bit of a wild-card pick, it makes complete sense given GM Trent Baalke’s draft philosophy and the obsessive desire by coach Urban Meyer to add a speedy playmaker to the offense.

From a depth standpoint, you could argue the Jaguars had greater needs along the defensive line, safety, tight end and even the O-line. Still, this team can’t sufficiently plug all its holes in one draft, and Baalke was adamant about prioritizing value and taking the best available player.

This isn’t about Etienne, the ACC career-rushing leader (4,952 yards), being a teammate of the Jaguars’ top pick, quarterback Trevor Lawrence. It’s about a moribund offense — the Jaguars scored an NFL-low 851 points the past three seasons — needing an explosive back who became a real pass-catching threat for Clemson the past two years (85 catches, 1,020 yards, 6 TDs).

“Especially with the way the game’s going in the modern day era at the running back position, you’ve got to be a three-down back and those check-down runs really go a long way,” said Etienne.

There’s no doubt the Jaguars could use some reinforcements in the trenches, but Etienne (5-foot-10, 215 pounds) is a weapon the Jaguars could line up at multiple spots to create all kinds of mismatches, not totally unlike what Meyer had in Percy Harvin at Florida.

“I’m not saying he’s a Percy, we’ll find out,” said Meyer. “But he’s a guy that’s a piece of the puzzle that is kind of hard to cover, hard to defend.”

The Jaguars tied the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals with the fewest 20 yards-plus gains (26) last season, so it’s not hard to connect the dots to understand why Etienne is a desired commodity.

“It’s hard to have 14, 15, 16 play drives in the National Football League,” said Baalke. “You have to be able to flip the field. You have to be able to score from every level of the field and the only way you can do that is to add explosive players, and we feel Travis [Etienne] is one of those.”

The Jaguars’ most productive season receiving by a running back was Maurice Jones-Drew, who had 565 yards on 62 catches in 2011 during his NFL-leading season as a rusher (1,606 yards).

One thing this franchise has lacked, among many things, is a true versatile speed demon coming out of the backfield. The Jaguars are counting on Etienne to change that. . . .

With the Jaguars not selecting a tight end in the second or third round, they should absolutely explore a trade for the Atlanta Falcons’ Hayden Hurst. The Bolles School product was acquired last March from the Baltimore Ravens for a second-round pick, then put up decent numbers in 2020 (56 catches, 571 yards, 6 TDs), but now will likely be overshadowed by Atlanta drafting Florida’s Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick.

Hurst, who owns an offseason home in Jacksonville, would no doubt cherish the opportunity to play for his hometown team, especially if the Falcons decline to pick up his fifth-year option by Monday. Of course, all of this is contingent upon the Jaguars wanting Hurst and the accompanying price tag, but it sure would stabilize a tight end position that has been a black hole for too long. . . .

The Jaguars have made no appearances on Sunday Night Football since losing 26-21 at home in 2008 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They also haven’t been in front of the Monday Night Football cameras since a 38-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers in 2011. At least one of those streaks will likely end this season, possibly in a prime-time road meeting against the New York Jets.

Having the top two quarterbacks in the draft, the Jaguars’ Lawrence and the Jets’ Zach Wilson, going against each other deserves better than a Sunday 1 p.m. kickoff. The guess here is when the NFL schedule comes out in two weeks, that’s a MNF matchup in the first half of the season. . . .

NFL draft trivia: Lawrence became the fifth Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback to be selected as the No. 1 overall draft pick. Can you name the four others? Answer at the bottom. . . .

Pre-draft projections for Mac Jones, The Bolles School product, had the Alabama quarterback going anywhere from the third pick to the San Francisco 49ers to the New England Patriots at No. 15, which was his ultimate destination. While Jones ended up in a good situation with Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the contract difference for that 12-spot gap is pretty steep.

The projected contract for quarterback Trey Lance, the 49ers’ third pick, is $34.2 million, while Jones will be in line for a deal guaranteed at $15.6 million. By not going to the 49ers, Jones took a massive pay cut of $18.6 million. Knowing his mindset, Jones will simply put that into his motivation bucket, especially when he has an opportunity to play against San Francisco in 2024 or possibly sooner in a Super Bowl. . . .

NCAA president Mark Emmert receiving a two-year contract extension through 2025 is the equivalent of the Jaguars now signing free agent Blake Bortles to a three-year contract with $10 million in guarantees as a backup quarterback. Even worse, this extension happened right after Emmert’s leadership came under fire for the terrible mishandling of the NIL (name, image and likeness) issue and lack of gender equity awareness due to insufficient amenities for women at the NCAA tournament, compared to the men.

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, Emmert should be terminated, not rewarded. It’s amazing how the NCAA can’t seem to get out of its own way. . . .

Cleveland Indians outfielder Ben Gamel, a Bishop Kenny product, was optioned last week to the team’s alternative training site. He was off to a horrific start with just one hit in 14 at-bats and six strikeouts. It’s a tiny sample size, but the 28-year-old Gamel was given an opportunity to platoon in center field and the Indians decided his struggles at the plate warranted the demotion.

Though it’s still early in the season, Gamel has to prove to Cleveland or somebody else that he deserves a roster spot over a promising minor-leaguer. . . .    

If Florida’s No. 14-ranked baseball team has any realistic chance of winning the SEC East, then coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s Gators must win at least two games this weekend from second-ranked Vanderbilt, which leads the division with a 13-5 mark over Tennessee (12-6), UF (11-7) and South Carolina (11-7). The loaded SEC could again send four teams to the College World Series in Omaha, which has happened three times in the last five CWS. . . .

For my Kentucky Derby forecast, I’ll stick with a Trevor-themed trifecta and go with three horses whose names best sum up the Jaguars’ top draft pick: 1. Dynamic One; 2. Essential Quality; 3. Rock Your World. . . .

Trivia answer: Andrew Luck (2012), Peyton Manning (1998), John Elway (1983) and Angelo Bertelli (1944) were all No. 1 overall draft picks who finished second (Luck did it twice) in Heisman balloting. Bertelli also won the Heisman in 1943, two years after finishing runner-up. (904) 359-4540

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