Travis Etienne and RB room among the Jaguars' biggest strengths in 2024

• The Jaguars' RB has both talent and depth ahead of the 2024 season.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Tank Bigsby (4) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Tank Bigsby (4) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024. / Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA

The Jacksonville Jaguars have vowed to decrease Travis Etienne's workload in 2024. For that to happen, they'll need sophomore Tank Bigsby to make a leap. If he does, the Jags will have one of the best complete running back rooms in the NFL. Tyler Sullivan of CBS Sports is certainly high on the unit's potential.

Sullivan recently ranked every team's depth and talent at running back. He put Jacksonville in his second tier, noting that Etienne is a playmaker while Bigsby and D'Ernest Johnson can step in at any time.

"Travis Etienne rushed for over 1,000 yards for the second season in a row for the Jaguars and notched a career-high 11 rushing touchdowns in his sophomore season. While he headlines the group, Tank Bigsby and D'Ernest Johnson are capable backups.  "

Other teams who landed in the same tier as the Jaguars were the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Miami Dolphins, the New Orleans Saints, and the Detroit Lions. Tier 1 included the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Philadelphia Eagles.

On top of registering over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, Etienne is the only running besides Christian McCaffrey to tally over 1,400 yards from scrimmage each of the past two years. Clearly, he's among the top running backs in the league. The trouble is that running behind a porous offensive line decreased his efficiency in 2023.

After averaging more than 5.0 yards per carry in 2022, he had less than 4.0 every time he toted the rock last year. Bigsby wasn't much better, though, averaging a measly 2.6 yards per carry. The expectation is that the offensive line will do a much better job of opening running lanes next season.

The Jaguars O-Line and Tank Bigsby must step up in 2024

Head coach Doug Pederson said earlier in the offseason that he wants to get Tank Bigsby more involved on offense to decrease Travis Etienne's workload. That makes sense in theory. By staying fresh, Etienne can remain productive throughout the game. However, there are a couple roadblocks that could prevent it from happening.

First, the offensive line must do a better job opening running lanes. Jacksonville was one of the worst teams running the ball last year. Their 25 percent of runs for no gain was the highest by any team the past five seasons. Furthermore, 40 percent of their runs from Week 5 onward gained one yard or less.

You will have a hard time establishing the run with that kind of production. On the bright side, the Jaguars made a few moves in the offseason that should pay dividends in the offseason. First, they signed Mitch Morse to compete with incumbent Luke Fortner for the starting job at center. While Morse has never made the Pro Bowl, he should be an upgrade over Fortner and bring much-needed stability to the position.

Also, the front office re-signed left guard Ezra Cleveland to a reasonable three-year, $24 million contract. The Jags had a revolving door at left guard most of the regular season. They traded for Cleveland at the deadline to bring stability but it turned out to be too little, too late by then. Cleveland was dealing with a foot injury and never really hit his stride. The expectation is that a full offseason will give him time to heal and get acclimated in Jacksonville.

If the moves the Jaguars made in the offensive trenches pay off, Tank Bigsby will have no excuses. Last year, he made several costly mistakes, some of them resulted in turnovers. Fortunately, the team's brass confidence in him hasn't wavered. He's still the same talented running back he was coming out of Auburn, and the coaching staff will give him the chance to prove it.

On the off chance Bigsby doesn't improve, the Jaguars have the dependable D'Ernest Johnson in the fold. Like Bigsby, Johnson averaged 2.6 yards per carry but that was mostly byproduct of running behind a subpar offensive line. During his four-year stint with the Cleveland Browns, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. If the offensive line plays better than they did in 2023, he should have ample room to run.

The bottom line is that the Jaguars cannot put to waste their running back room. Simply, they have too much talent not to make use of it.

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