James Robinson
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

James Robinson Is A Calculated Risk For 2021 Fantasy Football

James Robinson was a diamond in the rough for fantasy owners last season. The undrafted rookie from Illinois State was thrown into the fire Week One, and by Week Two Robinson was the feature back for the Jaguars. I have a special appreciation for Robinson as I scooped him up on wavier wire last season after Christian McCaffrey went down with an injury. Robinson earned his right to be a starting running back and was a viable RB1 for fantasy last season, so how does rookie Travis Etienne fit in the equation?

Urban Meyer might be a little overwhelmed by the NFL, as he has made a couple of head-scratching decisions since taking over the Jags. Meyer hired Chris Doyle eight months after Doyle was fired from Iowa for racist remarks and bullying, brought back his buddy and former player Tim Tebow to play tight end, and drafted running back Travis Etienne in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. I understood the Etienne pick because having a single workhorse running back in the NFL does not pan out well unless his name is Derrick Henry, but Meyer told the media Etienne would be taking all of his minicamp snaps at wide receiver, saying that worst-case scenario, the team had a running back with elite receiving ability. Meyer’s decision is a head-scratcher, as I would assume teams draft a running back in the first round to play running back, but the question remains: how will Etienne’s presence affect Robinson’s fantasy production?

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Robinson entered the fantasy year on very few rosters and finished the season as the seventh-ranked fantasy running back and second among rookies, behind only Jonathan Taylor. Robinson exploded for 1070 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and was also a factor in the passing game with 49 receptions, 344 yards, and three receiving touchdowns. Despite missing two games, Robinson was tied with David Montgomery for the fifth-most rushing yards in the league. He was top-14 in terms of receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns for a running back, and in Robinson’s 14 games, he averaged 14.4 points a game, eclipsing double-digit points in ten of them.

In his four years at Clemson, Etienne ran for 4952 yards, 70 touchdowns, and had 102 receptions, 1155 yards, and eight touchdowns through the air. He is a very productive running back and should get plenty of snaps in this offense. I liked Etienne coming out of Clemson, but I doubt I would have taken him in the first round, especially after Robinson’s breakout season last year.

Robinson will be the feature back for the Jaguars but, to state the obvious, his fantasy numbers will decline with Etienne there as well. I think Meyer is going to use Robinson as the power back while Etienne will be used in passing packages and maybe some RPO, but he could also roll out some formation with both Robinson and Etienne on the field. Robinson is still a worthwhile fantasy pick, but do not expect 2020 levels of production from him. Another factor to remember about this Jaguars team is that they drafted Trevor Lawrence, and since the Jaguars will likely trail in several games due to their porous defense, the team will likely need Lawrence to air the ball out, eliminating rushing opportunities for both Robinson and Etienne. Pairing Robinson with another productive back should bring you success in your fantasy league, but relying on Robinson to carry your fantasy RB load is ill-advised.

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