Why Travis Etienne Will Be A Top-15 RB (2021 Fantasy Football)
Throughout the offseason, Kyle Yates will be highlighting several marquee fantasy players as he walks through his projection process. These projections are subject to change based on injuries, signings above/below them on the depth chart, new information regarding scheme or player usage, etc. They’ll serve as a way to give a “peek behind the curtain” into Kyle’s projections thought process and whether or not a player will be a fantasy value in 2021.
In this article, we look at how Travis Etienne is well-positioned to finish as a top-15 RB in 2021.
It’s jarring to think it was just a couple of years ago where Etienne was quoted saying, “I don’t know, I feel nervous I guess. Cause the ball is coming, and I always feel like the defender is right there, so I run before I catch the ball and get spooked by my surroundings.” Since then, we’ve seen Etienne grow into an extremely well-rounded RB that has soaked up targets from Trevor Lawrence during their time together at Clemson.
In just 12 games last year, Etienne hauled in a crazy 48 receptions and he seems poised to carry over that type of role into the NFL. After Etienne was selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jaguars were vocal about their optimism and expectations of him as a receiver out of the backfield. While it won’t be a true copy-and-paste situation, it wouldn’t shock me at all to see Jacksonville deploy Etienne in a very similar fashion to how the Saints deploy Alvin Kamara.
Etienne’s unlikely to be given 15+ carries on the ground a game, but he could see a large target share just like Kamara does each game in New Orleans. With James Robinson operating as the Latavius Murray of this backfield, Etienne should still see plenty enough work to smash value on where he’s being drafted this year.
How does this type of role carry over though into a top-15 ranking? Let’s break it down here.
With a first-time NFL head coach in Urban Meyer, it’s impossible for us to look back on anything to base tendencies off of for projections. The Jaguars have preached about wanting a balanced offense, but their defense isn’t exactly in the best spot to allow that to happen.
I’m projecting that Urban Meyer is going to lean pass-happy and the state of the team should favor that hypothesis as well. With that in mind, I’ve landed on 35 pass attempts per game and 24 rush attempts per game for the Jaguars. For context, last year they had 39 pass attempts per game and 21 rush attempts.
With the 35 pass attempts per game, this results in 595 over the course of a 17-game season. With Etienne’s projected role in this offense, I’ve assigned him a modest 16% target share. This results in 5.6 targets/game and 95.2 over 17 games.
Etienne was a fantastic and reliable receiver in college, so a high catch rate is expected. We can comfortably project a 75% catch percentage, which results in 71 receptions. Additionally, with his breakaway speed and yards after the catch ability, we can project a higher YPR. I’ve slotted in 8.5 YPR, which equals 607 receiving yards on his 71 receptions.
The RB receiving TD rate last year was 204.5. If we use that as our guide, Etienne should be expected to have three receiving touchdowns at the end of the year. However, due to the projected state of the offense, I’ve been a bit conservative and allotted him with two touchdowns.
This means that Etienne’s receiving workload is projected to be 95-71-607-2.
As far as a runner, Etienne is going to be competing with James Robinson and Carlos Hyde for carries out of the backfield. It’s highly unlikely that we see Etienne dominate the carry share, but I do expect him to see the majority of the work. With the 24 rush attempts per game – as mentioned above – I’ve given Etienne just a 40% carry share. This equals out to 9.6 carries per game and 163 over the course of 17 games.
With his absurdly high YPC in college – often due to his breakaway runs – I felt confident giving him a higher mark on this “smaller” opportunity on the ground. It’s not anywhere near the type of workload that some of the other top-tier players are going to see, but he can make the most out of it. I gave Etienne a 4.8 YPC on 163 attempts, which equals 783 rushing yards.
Based on the RB TD rate last season, Etienne is expected to score six rushing touchdowns with this opportunity. While he might forfeit some work to Robinson in the red zone, he can easily score on some big runs throughout the season, so I’m comfortable projecting him with that benchmark.
This puts Etienne’s production on the ground at 163-783-6 to go with 95-71-607-2 through the air. This equals out to 222 fantasy points over the 17-game season and that’s enough to put him in the low-end top-15 conversation.
These projections for Etienne are based off of him assuming a very specific role in this offense. If it comes out that he’s not going to fill as heavy of a receiving role as I’m projecting here, he’ll most likely move down my rankings. However, the Jaguars were set to draft Kadarius Toney in the first round to fill this type of role for their offense and instead they pivoted to Etienne.
Additionally, if he does assume a larger workload on the ground, Etienne could end up finishing even higher than RB15. He has the talent and all he needs is the opportunity. He’s currently – at the time of writing – being drafted as the RB27 in ADP. This is absurdly low for a player of his caliber and he’s a steal in drafts right now.
If you can get Etienne on your roster as a RB3, you’re simply cheating.