We all know the NFL is a copycat league, and that’s not a bad thing. Why not copy something that works? In 2021, what worked was the rise of the “wide back”. The term was coined by Deebo Samuel of the 49ers, a wide receiver who doubled as running back. But it can also be applied to a standout running back in the passing game. Last season, that role was played by Cordarrelle Patterson. In 2022, an intriguing candidate for the multipurpose defense could be the Jaguars’ Travis Etienne.
First, a look back at the past year. In his third season in the NFL, Samuel became a fantasy stud: He finished third in fantasy points among wide receivers. In addition to his 1,405 receiving yards, he added 365 rushing yards and scored a total of 14 touchdowns. His eight rushing touchdowns broke Hall of Famer Lenny Moore’s record for most rushing touchdowns in a season by a receiver.
In his ninth season, Patterson became a standout fantasy player, taking the league by storm in 2021 with 1,166 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns for the Falcons. Undrafted in most fantasy leagues, Patterson ended up as an RB12.
Could Travis Etienne be the fantasy breakout star of 2022 in this broad-shouldered role? Let’s take a closer look.
Etienne was a first-round talent coming out of Clemson last year, but it was a surprise when the Jaguars drafted him with the 25th pick. They had taken quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first pick, and with veteran running back James Robinson already on the list, there were more pressing needs. Either way, Etienne suffered a Listfranc injury to his left foot and missed his entire rookie season.
“Boy, if there was any year to lose, I missed a great one,” Etienne joked this offseason, following the firing of head coach Urban Meyer, whose one season in Jacksonville was a disaster even by the standards of this troubled franchise.
Etienne, who is reportedly 85-90% recovered from Listfranc’s injury and should be ready for training camp, will benefit from the presence of new head coach Doug Pederson, an offensive guru with a Super Bowl win. on your resume.
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Pederson inherits an offense that is still developing. Lawrence will only get better after a lackluster rookie campaign. The Jaguars gave him new weapons with the free agent signings of wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones.
But there is a need for explosive plays and Etienne can fill that role.
The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Etienne had 55 runs of more than 20 yards during his four years at Clemson, the most in the NCAA during that span. On top of that, he caught 102 passes, improving those numbers every year. He caught 48 passes for 588 yards and two touchdowns his senior year.
Robinson suffered an Achilles tendon injury in December. He probably won’t be 100% at the start of the season. Regardless, the starting job could be Etienne’s to lose.
In the first SI Fantasy Expert Mock Draft of 2022, Etienne came off the board with the second pick in the fifth round, 50th overall. He was selected by Shawn Childs, who had taken wide receivers with each of his first four picks. “He will be a popular choice in zero RB strategies,” SI Fantasy’s Michael Fabiano wrote of Etienne there. Overall, Etienne was the 23rd running back drafted in the drill.
In the first high-stakes Fantasy Football National Championship drafts, Etienne’s average draft position has been 57. In 68 drafts, he’s gotten to 40 and 73.
Playing in what should be a more creative offense with Pederson and having an established relationship with Lawrence are two factors that will help Etienne thrive in 2022. Whether it’s on the ground or through the air, putting Etienne in space will lead to big plays, making him a potential fantasy breakout star in 2022.
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