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Jacksonville running backs

Uncertain 2022 for Robinson, Etienne

The Jaguars had the worst record in the league last year, but they've got a franchise quarterback to build around, and some nice draft picks (and a brand new coaching staff) to get things headed in the right direction. One of the questions is how the backfield will shape up.

James Robinson tore his Achilles in late December. Cam Akers proves that it's possible to return from such an injury within 6 months, but that shouldn't be seen as the rule, and the jury is still out on whether Akers will be the player he was before getting hurt. That also applies to Robinson, who should be viewed as very iffy for the start of training camp, certainly, and perhaps the season as well.

Next in line is the team's first-round pick a year ago, Travis Etienne. Etienne not only missed all of last season with an injury (foot) of his own, but the decision makers that selected him are gone. Recent reports have Etienne doing well in his recovery, running as of January and expected to be healthy for offseason workouts. But he's very much an unknown, with Doug Pederson taking over and installing a new offense. What should be expected from Etienne?

I took a look at all the other running backs drafted in the first two rounds this century who played little (if at all) as rookie. I set the threshold at under 50 rushing attempts. How did those guys fare in Year 2?

The numbers weren't as bad as I expected. Of the 24 players who fit the profile, nearly a third (7) went over 1,000 total yards in their second seasons. Four others put at least 600 total yards. A third (8) scored at least 6 touchdowns. That includes AJ Dillon last year, after playing sparingly in his first season. (Table sorted by total yards in their second seasons.)

UNPRODUCTIVE ROOKIE RBS, ONE YEAR LATER
YearPlayerRun(1)Tot(1)TD(1)Run(2)Tot(2)TD(2)
2001Deuce McAllister, N.O.9125721388174016
2008Rashard Mendenhall, Pitt.58750110813698
2003Willis McGahee, Buff.0001128129713
2020A.J. Dillon, G.B.242263280311167
2010Ben Tate, Hou.00094210404
2018Ronald Jones, T.B.4477172410336
2011Mikel Leshoure, Det.00079810129
2003Larry Johnson, K.C.8587158185911
2008Felix Jones, Dall.26627646858043
2002DeShaun Foster, Car.0004296362
2004Chris Perry, Cin.13402796072
2000Trung Canidate, St.L.61004415956
2001LaMont Jordan, NYJ29233623164763
2011Shane Vereen, N.E.575712514004
2010Montario Hardesty, Clev.0002663880
2018Derrius Guice, Wash.0002453243
2002Maurice Morris, Sea.15317812392711
2011Ryan Williams, Ariz.0001642080
2013Christine Michael, Sea.797901751870
2012Isaiah Pead, St.L.5470021990
2012LaMichael James, S.F.125154059750
2005Eric Shelton, Car.00023290
2007Chris Henry, Tenn.1191722330
2007Kenny Irons, Cin.000000
2021Travis Etienne, Jac.??????

Even if you look only at the players who didn't play at all as rookies -- excluding guys like Deuce McAllister and Felix Jones, who finished under 50 rushing attempts but had regular roles -- the numbers are similar. Of the nine guys who didn't play at all in their first seasons, three of them (Willis McGahee, Mikel Leshoure and Ben Tate) came back and went over 1,000 total yards in Year 2. Deshaun Foster went over 600. So it can happen.

For now, at this early stage, I'm figuring Robinson is the lead back, with Etienne probably in more of a third-down role. But given the significant injury Robinson is coming back from, and the fact that Etienne will be on the field and practicing in the offense sooner, a timeshare seems pretty reasonable. Nobody will be drafting Etienne as a fantasy starter, but he's a guy I'll be considering in middle rounds.

--Andy Richardson

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