Travis Etienne Jr. & James Robinson Injury Analysis (2022 Fantasy Football)
Travis Etienne vs. James Robinson. A year of growing under Trevor Lawrence‘s belt plus a full off-season without Urban Meyer’s distractions means one of these Jaguars running backs is going to have value in 2022. Reports from camp are high on both, so how should you feel? Let’s break it down.
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Etienne missed all of last season with a Lisfranc injury to his foot. It’s a tough injury for NFL players to come back from, usually requiring 10-11 months. At this point, Etienne is already at month 12 and recovery has progressed smoothly, so there’s no reason to anticipate this being a timeline issue for Week 1.
Robinson, on the other hand, tore his Achilles in December. Historically, that injury has taken NFL RBs 12-14 months to return, but Cam Akers turned that expectation on its head last year with his 6-month timeline. So, can Robinson do the same? Very likely yes. He’s not on the PUP and his tendon has healed to the point where it would be safe for him to play.
In the NFL, everything comes down to production, and that’s where we look to SportsMedAnalytics (SMA), the industry’s #1 algorithm to predict injury-related outcomes in the NFL. We know that RBs see a decline in their stats coming off of Lisfranc tears. However, when we factor in Etienne’s young age, 80th percentile pre-injury athletic metrics, and pass-catching ability, SMA projects him as 95% of full strength by Week 1.
Unfortunately, the outlook is far less favorable for Robinson. Even if he does return for Week 1, he projects to be only 80% of his pre-injury baseline. What does that look like? For reference, SMA predicted Cam Akers to return last year as 75% of himself, and he went from averaging 4.3 yards per carry all the way down to 2.6 on his return. The reason for the decline has to do with muscle and tendon biology, and it explains why NFL and NBA players have historically seen major drop-offs lasting multiple years into their post-injury careers.
As time goes on, Robinson will start to look more and more like his old self. His 90% threshold should come around the halfway point of the season, but we have to bet that the Jags are not going to force the ball to Robinson before that if he’s not yet able to be fully explosive. Add in the positive health status of his backfield counterpart, and the table seems to be set for an Etienne-heavy offense in Jacksonville.
Current ADP has Etienne going at pick 39 in the 4th round. That’s not crazy, but it’s below guys like Ezekiel Elliott, David Montgomery, Antonio Gibson and Breece Hall at the same position. There’s no way I’m letting Etienne fall that far if he’s available in the late 3rd. I’m scooping him up without question above any of those other backs.
Robinson is all the way down at ADP 110. He’s a pretty reasonable option to take a chance on at that price, although the odds that he significantly helps your team in the first half of the season are pretty slim. I am only willing to stash Robinson in deeper leagues where I can afford to sacrifice a bench spot for the first ~50% of the season. Otherwise, I’d rather be taking Allen Lazard, Alexander Mattison or Tyler Boyd around that time in my draft. With that being said, by the very end of the season, Robinson does project to be a solid contributor in a backfield committee (though still behind Etienne).
Different owners have different preferences and thresholds for roster construction techniques, so use your judgment here and base it partly on the roster rules of your league. My interpretation of the SportsMedAnalytics has me all in on Etienne and not taking James Robinson all that often.