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On to 2024: Reviewing Running Backs

022224 on to 24 RB's

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and Jaguars/NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks examine the Jaguars' running back position in this position-by-position look at the '24 offseason

Position: Running backs.

  • Position coach: To be determined.
  • 2023 starters: Travis Etienne Jr. (17).
  • Others: Tank Bigsby, D'Ernest Johnson, Snoop Conner.

2023 At A Glance

This was a strong position for the Jaguars in 2023 largely because Travis Etienne his third NFL season continued maturing and developing as a multidimensional player. Etienne, the No. 25 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, was the unquestioned starter from the start of 2023 Training Camp and handled that role well by staying healthy and being reliable throughout his second full season playing in the NFL. Etienne, who missed his rookie season in 2021 with a Lisfranc injury, rushed for more than 1,000 yards for a second consecutive season in 2023 and finished with 1,008 yards and 11 touchdowns on 267 carries behind an offensive line that struggled in run-blocking at times – particularly along the interior. Etienne also caught 58 passes for 476 yards and a touchdown. He was sixth in the AFC in rushing with the second-most receiving yards by an AFC running back, also becoming the fourth player in franchise history to run for 11 or more touchdowns in a single season (Maurice Jones-Drew; 2006, 2008 and 2009), Fred Taylor (1998, 2009) and James Stewart (1999). His 1,484 yards from scrimmage ranked fifth among NFL running backs in 2023 and he rushed for two touchdowns four times. Bigsby rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns on 52 carries and Johnson rushed for 108 yards on 41 carries.

Offseason Storyline

This may not be a major offseason focus for the Jaguars, with Etienne having a season left on his rookie contract and with the team having the option of a fifth year to be activated this offseason. Tank Bigsby will be entering his second season next season after being selected in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft. With Johnson scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, the Jaguars could re-sign him or look to add depth in the middle rounds of the draft or somewhere in non-first-tier free agency.

Free agents as of March 14: Johnson.

Bucky Brooks' Top Free-Agent Running Backs:

  1. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
  2. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
  3. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Bucky Brooks' Top Three Collegiate Running Backs Prospects:

  1. Jonathan Brooks, Texas
  2. Trey Benson, Florida State
  3. Jaylen Wright, Tennessee

Oehser Analysis: This is a tricky position to analyze this offseason, with Etienne turning in a strong season but the Jaguars' running game overall struggling throughout the 2023 season. The Jaguars finished 24th in the NFL in rushing – and after rushing for more than 100 yards in seven of the first 10 games, they reached that mark just once in the last seven games. They also struggled for consistency, with 120 runs for one or fewer yards and 26.5 percent of their rushes for no gain or lost yardage. Etienne's yards per carry dropped from 5.1 in 2022 to 3.8 in 2023, with injuries along the offensive line – and inconsistency on the interior – often making it difficult for all Jaguars running backs. Etienne shortly after the season discussed his goals for 2024 being "the ultimate teammate, day in and day out. Whether that's leading by example or voicing my opinion or getting on somebody whenever I see something going wrong or just, just being an inspiration to somebody. I'm ready to make that next leap and just try to be that total package, that total player, that a great human for people around me to just and just sense the aura of positivity and growth. There's always room for growth. The moment you stop learning, the moment you stop growing, you might as well say you're finished."

Brooks' Analysis: The Jaguars are in good shape here, with Etienne entrenched as the team's RB1. The former first-rounder posted his second straight 1,000-yard season in 2023, totaling 1,484 scrimmage yards and 12 combined touchdowns. The third-year pro showcased blue-chip caliber as a runner-receiver when featured as a primary offensive weapon in the Jaguars' pass-centric offense. Bigsby and Johnson were disappointments as fill-in players, averaging fewer than three yards per carry (2.6) and combining for just two touchdowns as part of a unit that was expected to overwhelm opponents with a collection of versatile playmakers. Without a reliable RB2 or RB3 to alleviate the load on Etienne's shoulders, the Jaguars' offensive backfield could not elevate a sagging offense that never hit its stride in 2023.

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