Jaguars running back unit gets overlooked in recent rankings

RB James Robinson #30, RB Travis Etienne Jr. #1 and RB Carlos Hyde #24 of the Jacksonville Jaguars (Imagn Images photo pool)
RB James Robinson #30, RB Travis Etienne Jr. #1 and RB Carlos Hyde #24 of the Jacksonville Jaguars (Imagn Images photo pool) /

The Jacksonville Jaguars found a gem in undrafted running back James Robinson last offseason. The Illinois State product quickly made his presence felt and totaled 1,414 scrimmage yards in 2020, the most by an undrafted rookie in NFL History. The team’s brass felt it wasn’t enough though and drafted Travis Etienne 25th overall in this year’s selection meeting. You would think the Jags now have a top 10 running back unit with Robinson and Etienne but a recent ranking doesn’t think that’s the case.

Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus recently ranked all 32 NFL running back units and the Jaguars showed up at number 15. Linsday notes that Robinson posted an overall grade of 72.9 and a rushing grade of 78.5 in 2020. On the other hand, he believes Etienne “brings more explosiveness to the unit”, as the coaching staff plans to use him as a wide receiver.

Lindsey doesn’t talk much about veteran Carlos Hyde, who was signed this offseason. However, he is a reliable player with starting experience. He concludes by saying that “Robinson, Etienne, and Hyde give Jacksonville a relatively deep group who all bring different skill sets to the offense”.

Was the Jacksonville Jaguars running back unit ranked too low?

You have to look at the Jaguars’ running back group objectively. There’s no doubt Cleveland Browns have the best rushing attack in the NFL, so their place at the top of the ranking is right. The Minnesota Vikings also have a pretty good unit with Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison leading the way. Nevertheless, placing the Indianapolis Colts and number three and the Dallas Cowboys at five is puzzling.

You could make the case that Colts running back Johnathan Taylor had a better rookie campaign than Robinson in 2020 but the Jaguars have a more complete unit. Regarding the Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliot isn’t the player he was early in his career. Running behind a patched-up offensive line doesn’t help matters, but he should also shoulder some of the blame for his decline in the last couple of seasons.

The Jacksonville Jaguars running back room is pretty diverse.

If you put the Jaguars, Colts, and Cowboys running back units side by side, you will see that Jacksonville’s running back unit is pretty formidable. Robinson already showed he can be the lead back. Last season, he had 86 percent of the Jaguars’ total carries and was highly productive. He will still be the team’s featured back Jacksonville won’t have to rely on him as much as they did last year.

Although Etienne hasn’t played a snap in the NFL, he has a high ceiling. There’s a chance his workload will be higher than Robinson’s by the end of the season. Hyde is far from elite but he can come in and start a few games and there wouldn’t be a significant drop in production.

Based on production and potential, the Jaguars have one of the best running back rooms. Certainly not better than the Browns’ or the Vikings’ but it should definitely be a top ten. You may be wondering why not top 5 but there are other units that are more talented. The Carolina Panthers, the Tennessee Titans, and the Las Vegas Raiders had top rushing attacks in the last two years and that won’t likely change in 2021.

Fifteen isn’t a bad spot at all but the Jaguars have a running game that will play a key role in the team’s turnaround this upcoming season.

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