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On to '22: Running backs

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - November 14, 2021 - The Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Indianapolis Colts for Week 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Jaguars lost the game, 17-23.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - November 14, 2021 - The Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Indianapolis Colts for Week 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Jaguars lost the game, 17-23.

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 '22 offseason:

Position: Running back.

Position coach: Bernie Parmalee.

2021 starters: James Robinson (13), Carlos Hyde (2), Dare Ogunbowale (2).

2021 at a glance: Robinson was the Jaguars' clear No. 1 running back for a second consecutive season. But after rushing for 1,040 yards and seven touchdowns as an undrafted rookie in 2020, Robinson dealt with injuries of various levels in 2021 and finished with 767 yards and eight touchdowns on 164 carries. Robinson missed three games with injuries in 2021, playing through a heel injury much of November and into December then missing the final two games of the season with an Achilles injury. Hyde, signed as an unrestricted free agent last offseason, started two games and rushed for 253 yards and a touchdown on 72 carries. Ogunbowale played extensively in the final three games of the season, starting the final two games and finishing the season with 137 yards rushing and a touchdown on 43 carries. The Jaguars finished the season 22nd in the NFL in rushing at 103.2 yards per game.

Offseason storyline: The Jaguars' offseason focus at running back could depend on the health of two players at the position: Robinson and Etienne. Robinson has been the Jaguars' best offensive player the last two seasons and he has been one of the NFL's best young running backs during that time. Etienne, the No. 25 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, has enough breakaway speed and explosiveness to give the Jaguars a game-breaking element they lacked last season. If that duo is healthy, running back is one of the Jaguars' best positions. But Robinson's Achilles injury is not only a serious one for a running back, it occurred late in December – which will make his availability in training camp a storyline. Etienne missed his entire rookie regular season with a Lisfranc injury sustained in preseason – also a potentially serious long-term injury for a running back. Health is a major issue for this group as the player-acquisition portion of the offseason approaches.

Jacksonville, FL (8-8-21) Jacksonville Jaguars host scrimmage inside TIAA Bank Field.

Free agents as of March 16: Ogunbowale (restricted).

Bucky Brooks' top three free-agent quarterbacks: James Conner, Arizona Cardinals; Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks.

Bucky Brooks' top three running back prospects: Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State; Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M; Kyren Williams, Notre Dame.

Oehser analysis: The Jaguars' offseason plans at running back figures to center around the health of Robinson and Etienne. If healthy, that duo not only forms one of the NFL's deepest and potentially better young backfields, it forms a duo that should complement each other in style. The idea of the reliable Robinson playing an every-down role with Etienne available on any down and as a potential game-breaker at multiple positions likely appeals to the Jaguars' new offensive staff. But considering both players sustained serious lower-leg injuries last season, the health of the two players could determine the Jaguars' offseason moves here. If the team determines the pair is healthy and will be ready to contribute when the 2022 regular season begins, this position may not be an offseason priority. If the team is uncertain about the health of either player, moves here in veteran free agency or sometime after Day 2 of the 2022 NFL Draft wouldn't be surprising.

Brooks analysis: Injuries derailed the seasons of the Jaguars' top two running backs. Robinson and Etienne were expected to anchor a dominant rush attack with the dynamic playmakers forming a 1-2 punch that mixes speed and power in the backfield. Although the rookie failed to take the field during the regular season, Robinson looked nothing like the electric runner who took the league by storm as a rookie. A series of lower-body injuries kept the second-year pro from displaying the balance, body control and burst that helped him tally almost 1,300 scrimmage yards in 2020. Without his traditional superpowers, Robinson could not put the Jaguars' offense on his back, but that could change with Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson intent on building an explosive offense that features more balance and diversity.

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