Jaguars' Travis Etienne cracks ESPN's top-10 running back ranking

• Travis Etienne cracks the NFL execs' list of top 10 running backs ahead of the 2024 season.
Dec 10, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1) pushes Cleveland Browns safety Grant Delpit (22) at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 10, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1) pushes Cleveland Browns safety Grant Delpit (22) at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports / Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars had trouble getting the running game going last year, but that was mostly because the offensive line couldn't open holes. While running back Travis Etienne had less room to work with, he still managed to cross the 1,000-yard mark. Just recently, NFL execs recognized how important he is for the Jags when they included him on a list of the top-10 running backs in the league.

Jeremy Fowler of ESPN asked NFL executives, scouts, and coaches to rank the top running backs right now. Etienne got enough votes to finish at No. 10. For context, he was an honorable mention last year, so he got a better spot than in 2023.

Execs believe Etienne has done enough to be considered a top-10 running back, having posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons while registering 16 total touchdowns and nearly 100 catches. Fowler says that the top speed he can reach on the field encapsulates his explosion.

"After missing his entire rookie year because of injury, Etienne became a top-10 back with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, 16 total touchdowns and nearly 100 receptions.

One stat from last season perfectly describes Etienne's explosion -- he hit a max of 19.62 miles per hour when crossing the line of scrimmage.

"One of the few three-down backs. Really good zone runner. Makes people miss in space," an NFL coordinator said. "Decent catching the ball and in pass protection. No major flaws -- just not great in short-yardage situations.""

Regarding the exec's observation that Etienne isn't great in short-yardage situations, that was mostly because he frequently had nowhere to go in 2023. As Warren Sharp points out, the Jaguars gain no yards in 25 percent of their runs. That was the worst mark in the league.

To remedy the issue, the Jags beefed up the offensive line in the offseason. They signed veteran Mitch Morse in free agency and re-signed Ezra Cleveland. The former will replace incumbent Luke Fortner at center and the latter is expected to bring stability at left guard.

Running behind an improved offensive line will help Etienne post a similar production to the one he had in 2022. That year, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Last year, it went down to 3.8 yards per carry. On the other hand, the former Clemson Tiger didn't allow the poor blocking he got from playing at a high level. His 31 broken tackles lead the league, so it's fair to say that his subpar yard-per-average was not for a lack of effort.

The other running backs who made ESPN's top-10 list were Christian McCaffrey, Breece Hall, Nick Chubb, Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Taylor, Bijan Robinson, Josh Jacobs, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Derrick Henry.

Jaguars QB Travis Etienne is getting the widespread recognition he deserves

It's great to see Travis Etienne is getting widespread recognition ahead of 2024. Adam Rank of NFL Media called him the Jacksonville Jaguars' most important non-QB player, noting that he's key to their offensive success. Rank is right.

Early in 2023, Jacksonville had no trouble moving the ball and putting points on the scoreboard. However, they struggled once the offense became one-dimensional. Without the threat of a running game, opposing teams had no need to stack up the box and were able to drop more players in coverage. This put additional pressure on Trevor Lawrence's shoulders to win games.

The Jaguars are aware of their struggles to run the ball last year and will have a renewed emphasis in 2024. Etienne, for his part, has been training to be even better. He's focused on being more disciplined and a better receiver out of the backfield.

Moreover, the coaching staff expects sophomore Tank Bigsby to improve next season. If he does, he'll take some of Etienne's workload off his shoulders, which should in turn keep him fresh and improve his efficiency.

The bottom line is that the Jaguars have a playmaker in Travis Etienne, and establishing the run will be key for their offensive success in 2024.

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