Pieces falling into place for Jaguars RB Travis Etienne to have banner year

• The Jaguars will lean on Travis Etienne but will try to help him stay fresh.
Dec 31, 2023; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1) at EverBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 31, 2023; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1) at EverBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

When you think of the most prominent players on the Jacksonville Jaguars, Trevor Lawrence is probably the first that comes to mind. Maybe outside linebacker Josh Allen. Not mentioned nearly as often but equally important to the Jags' success is running back Travis Etienne, who will be pivotal next season. The team's brass certainly knows he'll play an important role, which is why they're doing what they can to put him in a position to succeed in 2024.

Umpromted, head coach Doug Pederson told the local media in a recent news conference that sophomore Tank Bigsby will have a bigger role on offense. By giving the former Auburn Tiger more playing time, the Jags will ease Etienne's workload. This is a great plan in theory but there's a reason to be skeptical.

Players' readiness is always variable coming out of the draft. Some are ready to contribute right away while others need a bit of time to put it all together. In Bigsby's case, he had growing pains throughout his rookie campaign. Besides averaging less than 3.0 yards per carry, he made mistakes that either stalled drives or led to turnovers.

The hope is that Bigsby will get his confidence back and become the one-cut bruiser he was in college. If he once again struggles, the Jags will need to turn to either D'Ernest Johnson or rookie Keilan Robinson. On paper, neither is as talented as their sophomore counterpart. But for the sake of argument, let's say Bigsby does turn the corner, Etienne will be able to stay fresh and leave the field from time to time to catch his breath. By doing less, his numbers should experience a surge.

Mitch Morse will help the Jaguars establish the run once again

Back in 2022, Travis Etienne averaged over 5.0 yards per carry and totaled 1,441 yards from scrimmage. He once again crossed the 1,400-yard mark last year but he wasn't nearly as effective. For one, offensive coordinator Press Taylor routinely abandoned the run. Then again, the Jags were getting minimal gains when they tried to move the football through the ground because the offensive line couldn't open lanes, so it may not have made sense to keep running if the yards weren't there.

To remedy the issue, the Jaguars signed center Mitch Morse in free agency. A grizzled veteran Morse should be an upgrade over incumbent Luke Fortner and bring stability to the interior offensive line. Moreover, the front office resigned left guard Ezra Cleveland and restructured Brandon Scherff's contract to ensure he stays in 2024.

Cleveland landed in Jacksonville via trade last season but injuries prevented him from hitting his stride. With a full offseason to rest and get acclimated, the former Boise State Bronco should be able to make an impact. For his part, Scherff remains reliable heading into Year 10. His leadership has also been invaluable, so it's easy to understand why the top brass made an effort to keep him around.

Behind a much improved interior offensive line, the Jaguars should be able to pound the ball inside and Etienne's production should resemble that of 2022. But the former Clemson Tiger is also putting in the work to take advantage of his opportunities. After the 2023 season, he's been working on refining his vision and becoming a more patient running back.

Analyts are taking notice of Travis Etienne impact for the Jaguars

Just recently, Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus discussed the three most important players for each NFL team. For the Jaguars, he chose Trevor Lawrence and Josh Allen, to nobody's surprise. The third slot went to Travis Etienne, while deserving, Sikkema could've included linebacker Foyesade Oluokun or maybe safety Andre Cisco but he instead went with the unsung Etienne.

Make no mistake, the praise is most definitely warranted. Etienne has been the only running back besides Christian McCaffrey to tally more than 1,000 rushing yards and over 1,400 yards from scrimmage in each of the past two seasons.

Michael DiRocco of ESPN also talked about the importance of getting Travis Etienne involved next season. In an in-depth piece, he discussed the steps the Jaguars have taken to ensure the fourth-year running back stays fresh. DiRocco believes that helping Etienne will have a positive effect on offense. He isn't wrong.

The bottom line is that Travis Etienne is doing his part to be a more effective runner in 2024. The Jacksonville Jaguars are also making sure he's in a position to succeed. If things work out the way they want, expect ETN to have the best season of his career.

More Jaguars analysis here: