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Key to Jaguars draft plans may hinge on running back

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The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock. Man, does it feel good to say that!

The Jaguars have spent plenty of reason to feel secure at its running back position, at least near the top with rookie sensation James Robinson entering his second season. With that said, the team could still use help, especially considering one of Robinson’s weaknesses is something head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke has harped on repeatedly during his media availabilities: speed.

“We have to add some explosiveness to that room as well and we have to be able to take some of the carries off of James,” Baalke said in March.

In exactly two weeks, the Jaguars will begin its process of acquiring more talent at the position. With four selections within the top 45 picks in this month’s draft, they’ll have the capital, too.

While the team did sign its former player in running back Carlos Hyde, the Jaguars still have plenty of investing to do in its offense in general. Jacksonville was also reportedly showing interest in signing former Bengals RB Giovani Benard before he signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In this month’s draft, there are several prospects to consider at running back. That includes Clemson’s Travis Etienne, the former teammate to the presumptive No. 1 overall pick, and future Jacksonville signal-caller Trevor Lawrence.

With the Tigers, Etienne showcased plenty of size and speed at the position, becoming one of the nation’s most prolific runners. In four seasons, the 5-foot-10, 215-pound running back carried the football 686 times for 4,952 yards and a staggering 70 touchdowns. While his production was slightly lower during his senior season, he still achieved 5.4 yards-per-carry with a career average of 7.2 yards per carry.

The Jaguars will be looking for more than just an explosive running back, however. They need one that will be able to catch passes out of the backfield, something that Tampa’s Bernard is prolific at. Etienne also has shown a great ability to do just that and was the only player to have 39 career games with a rushing or receiving touchdown.

In his career, Etienne caught 102 passes for 1,155 yards and eight touchdowns. He tallied 48 catches for 588 yards and two receiving touchdowns in 2020 alone.

During his pro day in March, Etienne ran an unofficial 4.40 40-yard-dash, demonstrating the straight-line speed he was thought to have while in college.

Etienne isn’t the only running back who can provide the Jaguars with what they need, however. Another player to keep an eye out on is former Memphis running back Kenny Gainwell. While he will likely not be selected as high as Etienne will, he still possesses plenty of ability and speed at the position to compete at a high level in the NFL.

Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, however, in his only full season at Memphis, he would go on to rush for 1,459 yards on 231 attempts (6.3 yards-per-carry) and 13 rushing touchdowns. He also notched 51 receptions for 610 yards and three receiving touchdowns on the year. There are other running backs the team could consider too, including Alabama’s Najee Harris, who is expected to be the first running back off the board this month. North Carolina’s Javonte Williams also presents an intriguing option.

While running back may not be a priority for the Jaguars entering this month’s draft, it will certainly be on the board, and it could come sooner rather than later.