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Way Too Early Fantasy Analysis: Travis Etienne

It is far, far too early for fantasy football analysis.  We just found out who teams are playing against but with little to no injuries about injuries and contract holdouts or the like, it is hard to come up with cogent arguments.  

This series will review the value of specific rookies and as we are far out I will focus on rookies who are the most likely to have a starting role, who will have one from the get go and how I believe that will project outward. At the end, I will indicate where I think the given player SHOULD be drafted.  This way, if you miss out on the player because someone pulled the trigger too prematurely, you can smirk and pick someone more valuable when the pick comes around to you. Likewise, if the player no one believes in falls to you, it’s time for a mental fist-pump.

***before we get started each week I will remind everyone that the analysis in this series is based on regular, season-long point per reception scoring. It also assumes you play in a 12 team league***

I was a huge fan of Travis Etienne in college. His explosiveness and top end speed gave me some severe Forrest Gump vibes.  I was surprised to see him fall all the way to the 25th pick in the draft. I know that the position has been devalued in recent years.  Additionally, I understand that Najee Harris’ frame is something that is generally more coveted by the NFL. However, the game is changing.

Firstly, I want to point out that Travis Etienne is not a small back. While he is under 6 feet tall he also is 215 pounds.  This gives him about the same mesaurables as Alvin Kamara. I saw him as a Kamara comp at Clemson because of his speed, his ability to catch the ball, his tree trunk quads and his understated power. 

Throughout minicamp, the Jags practiced Etienne as a wide receiver.  Is this a slide of hand? Is this Etienne’s NFL destiny? I don’t think either is the case. I think he’s coming into a position where he will have defined packages as a receiver and others where he will be lined up as a receiver. This creates a lot of opportunities to draw up bubble screens, bring him in motion and create mismatches against linebackers. 

This still isn’t a slam dunk. Undrafted free agent James Robinson proved last season that he is really, really good.  I also have doubts with Urban Meyer as a play caller.  However, the ceiling is great.

There is also the narrative argument that is typically overblown.  That said, I think, in this case there is some merit. He and Trevor Lawrence played together in college. Lawrence loved playing with him and it’s clear that this pick was made because Etienne is tremendously talented.  However, I also think that part of the decision was to keep the new BMIJ (Big man in Jax) happy.  There will be some idiosyncrasies that I think Lawrence will rely on. This will be especially true on plays where Etienne is the checkdown and also in plays where Lawrence is making a hot read or audible (more prevalent in the second half of the season).

We’ve also seen this exact narrative fall apart fairly consistently in the NFL. The Colts drafted, wait for it, Coby Fleener as a tight end to compliment his former college QB Andrew Luck.  However, it was clear almost immediately that Fleener, despite being an early second round pick, was a fringe NFL talent. 

So what can we legitimately expect from Travis Etienne.  Well, if Urban Meyer is as good as advertised, despite my misgivings, we can see a defined role from week 1.  With a creative playbook it won’t matter that he’s the spellback. Firstly, I think that Etienne will be in the back field on third downs (provided his blitz pickup is up to par). This alone could get him 7-10 touches a game. If you add 3-5 targets/carries on designed passes or motion plays this is a fairly consistent workload. Additionally, if anything were to happen to Robinson, Etienne would likely be the starter and his dynamism makes him a threat on upside alone.

If you don’t draft him and his workload is lesser to start the season or he isn;’t efficient to begin his rookie campaign he should definitely be a trade target. If you could work a trade where you keep about the same RB2 value an add the home run threat in Etienne pull that trigger!

Summary

Where should you draft Travis Etienne: This is tricky. Etienne will probably fall into the RB3 category. Ideally, if he’s not a starter in the preseason he may fall below that. If you can pick him up at RB 30 you may have a league winner that you picked up in rounds 5-7.  I also wouldn’t be opposed to drafting him at RB 25 (or thereabouts) if the alternatives are the less exciting Cam Akers, David Montgommery or Myles Gaskin (all solid but likely are more easily replaceable than a guy who can provide devastating value.

Quick Analysis: Etienne has great pass catching and RB skills. The playbook should include some scripted work for him.  If you didn’t draft him and he becomes available, pick him up as a late season boost to your team.

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