Where does the Jaguars RB Travis Etienne rank among AFC South running backs?

• Travis Etienne has logged over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, but is he the best RB in the AFC South?
Carolina Panthers v Jacksonville Jaguars
Carolina Panthers v Jacksonville Jaguars / Courtney Culbreath/GettyImages

The AFC South promises to be as competitive as ever in 2024 and running backs could play a central role in determining who wins this division. The Jacksonville Jaguars, for one, will heavily depend on Travis Etienne, as the Clemson product seeks a third successive 1,000-yard campaign.

In years past, Derrick Henry was far and away the best running back in this division, but since he left Tennessee to join the Baltimore Ravens, it’s anybody’s guess who will be the best at that position next season.

How did Travis Etienne perform vs. the AFC South last season?

Travis Etienne Jr.
Carolina Panthers v Jacksonville Jaguars / Mike Carlson/GettyImages

The Jaguars went 4-2 against AFC South opponents last season even despite the struggles of Travis Etienne. His best day running the ball versus divisional rivals came in a mistake-filled 37-17 loss to the Houston Texans last September, rushing for 88 yards on that day. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry in that encounter, his highest mark in six outings versus the AFC South last year.

Etienne did not crack the century mark in any games against the division last season, while he only found the end zone three times in those six outings.

What are Travis Etienne’s career numbers?

Etienne’s overall numbers are pretty good for a man who’s only played 34 regular-season games.

In the 2022 regular season, the 25-year-old rushed for 1,125 yards, good for ninth in the NFL. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 17 regular season affairs that year. His numbers dropped slightly in 2023, at 3.8 yards per carry and 1,008 yards on the ground overall.

While he declined in some areas, he improved in other departments. Etienne had 11 rushing scores in 2023, six more than in his rookie campaign. He didn’t have a single fumble last season after losing the ball five times the previous year. Meanwhile, he had 476 receiving yards and his first NFL touchdown catch, 100 more yards through the air than in 2022.

Who are the other running backs in the AFC South?

The other three AFC South teams have plenty of new faces at running back, but they all have much more NFL experience than Etienne.

Jonathan Taylor has been a key component of the ‘Colts’ offense since 2020 but has only played one full regular season in his NFL career (2021).

The Houston Texans are hoping Joe Mixon’s experience in Cincinnati will be the missing piece to turn them into Super Bowl contenders.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, the Titans are rolling the dice on Tony Pollard, who failed to impress as the Dallas Cowboys starter last season.

I haven’t forgotten about Dameon Pierce, by the way; I just figure Mixon will be the primary back given his experience and the fact he’s had over 200 carries every year that he’s been healthy, whereas Pierce has only had over 200 once (220 in 2022).

How do the other AFC South running backs compare to Etienne?

The other AFC South running backs have a lot more NFL experience than Etienne.

Mixon is entering his eighth season as an NFL back, Pollard is coming into year six, and Taylor will be playing in his fifth campaign as a pro.

Since Etienne didn’t feature in the regular season until 2022, comparing the others’ overall stats to his would be unfair.

In his final two years in Cincy, Mixon averaged 3.9 and 4.0 yards, respectively, for a combined 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also had a total of 817 yards receiving and five scores.

Pollard has rushed for a combined 2,012 yards in his last two seasons, averaging 5.2 yards-per-carry in 2022 and 4.0 a year ago with a total of 15 rushing touchdowns. He’s got 682 total yards through the air with three touchdowns.

Taylor has only featured in 21 regular-season games over the past two campaigns, averaging 4.4 and 4.5 yards-per-carry in 2022 and 2023. He’s picked up a total of 11 rushing scores over that span and 1,602 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, he’s only caught one touchdown pass, with 296 yards receiving in all. In his first two seasons, he accumulated a total of 2,980 yards on the ground, averaging over five yards per carry with 29 rushing scores.

Where does Etienne rank among the AFC South running backs?

If you base your seedings purely on stats, Etienne would rank near the bottom of the AFC South running back power rankings.

However, if you’re one of those who judges a player based on their value to a team, it’s between him and Jonathan Taylor for number one. When Etienne runs the ball effectively, the Jags’ offense is tough to beat, as evidenced by the fact they’ve only lost one regular season contest when he’s run for over 100 yards.

The others are solid contributors but besides Taylor not the focal points of their offense, like Etienne.

We didn’t see much of Anthony Richardson in Indy last year, but it seems Taylor will be heavily relied upon once again.

Pollard has the most to prove but was unquestionably the weak link, in my opinion, to a dynamic Cowboys offense last season.

Still, Calvin Ridley and Tyler Boyd are some veteran receivers who may play a prominent role for them.

Unlike a year ago, the Jags are no longer the team to beat in the AFC South, but a successful season for Etienne could propel them back to the top of the division.

More Jaguars analysis: