“It is likely his role will expand as the season progresses.” Those words you want to hear from a head coach about his rookie RB. In this case, they come from Doug Pederson talking about young stud RB Tank Bigsby on Monday. He also referred to Tank as a “sponge” and, earlier in the offseason, made note of the fact that Tank is a better-than-expected pass catcher who could absolutely be a three-down back in this league.
So what, though, right? Head coaches gas up their players all day, every day, and it has proven not to mean much. This feels different. The pre-draft season in fantasy football is about playing a game of Clue. You gather as much info as possible to reach a logical conclusion, and all of the logic points to Tank Bigsby, in the Jaguars backfield, with the wrench! Okay, maybe not the wrench, but definitely in the backfield with the ability to come off your fantasy bench and win some weeks for you.
There are three reasons why I’m all in on Bigsby this year as a stand-alone player and not just a handcuff for Travis Etienne owners: Ability, opportunity, and price.
Bigsby comes from Auburn, which is a respectable school in the competitive SEC, facing the top defenses in the country on a weekly basis. He averaged over 5 yards per carry the past two years and found the end zone 20 times in 25 games.
As noted, Doug Pederson already praised his ability to catch the ball and his ability to be a three-down back. Additionally, he finished the preseason with 159 yards on 28 carries, while flashing tackle-breaking power and strong vision to read his blocks. Basically, the kid looks like he can run the ball effectively at the NFL level if given the chance.
If you don’t trust my eyeball test, how about the Jaguars’ coaching staff? Bernie Parmalee, the team’s RB coach, noted the following about Bigsby’s tape while pre-draft scouting:
“I’m sitting there with the clicker and I’m like, ‘Let me run that back,’” Parmalee remembered. “’Ooh, this is cool.’
“… This is the type of back we wanted to bring to the table, and he fit everything that we were looking for and he popped off the screen.”
There are admittedly a lot of players in the running back room in Jacksonville. However, guys like JaMychal Hasty and Snoop Conner don’t have enough talent to hold back a guy like Tank. The one thing holding Tank back is Travis Etienne, as he is the obvious starter in this backfield, and Tank is the RB2.
Still, this is where I view this situation differently from the herd. Most people treat Tank as a “handcuff” to Etienne and think about his value strictly in terms of if Etienne gets hurt. Certainly, a major injury to Etienne (a guy who missed all of his rookie season two years ago with a foot injury) would potentially make Bigsby a weekly RB2 for however long Etienne was down. But that’s not the opportunity I’m banking on here.
I’m looking at the fact that Pederson said he will ramp up Tank’s usage as the season moves along. I’m looking at the fact that Pederson went on record before this year’s draft as saying that he doesn’t like to give one guy the whole load and likes to have at least two or three guys in the mix. I’m looking at the fact that Pederson was not the coach when Etienne was drafted but was the coach when the Jaguars traded up to get Bigsby. And, I’m looking at the fact that Pederson has a history of using multiple backs extensively from his time coaching in Philadelphia– no RB averaged more than 13.7 attempts per game during Pederson’s tenure there.
Even looking at last year, it was clear that Pederson wanted to feature a two-back, fairly even split between James Robinson and Travis Etienne, which he did over the first month and a half of the season until it became clear that Robinson just wasn’t the same back after the Achilles injury (to be fair no RB ever is, maybe except for D’Onta Foreman, maybe Cam Akers).
Simply put, Doug Pederson likes to use more than one guy, and it looks like Tank Bigsby is the other guy with Etienne. The running backs got somewhere between 25-30 carries on average last year per week for the Jaguars (25.7 per game). As I noted, it was a fairly even split with Robinson and Etienne over the start of the year until Pederson was forced to use Etienne more than he probably wanted to because there was such a big talent gap between Etienne and the other guys in the running back room. It’s not a wild thought to think that in a typical week, by mid-season, Etienne could be getting 12-15 carries, and Tank could be getting 10-12. In mid-June, the Florida Times-Union wrote, “Bigsby could even out-touch Etienne in some games depending on who has the hot hand.”
Plus, the 5’11”, 215 lbs, aptly named “Tank” could carve out the invaluable goalline and short-yardage role immediately. Etienne impressed last year, but he did struggle inside the 10. On 23 carries from this down-and-distance, Etienne only converted 4 TDs – the lowest number of scores for anyone with 20+ touches here in 2022. Perhaps the bruising Bigsby could inherit this role from the start. If Tank adds a catch or two, it provides a solid floor with potential for some big weeks. This brings me to the final piece: price…
Looking at average ADP from Yahoo! and ESPN, Tank is currently being drafted around RB44 and pick 130, which I think is a steal for him if he does get somewhere around 10 carries a game.
My best case-scenario-comp for Tank is a guy like AJ Dillon, who is being drafted as RB32 and going at pick 84, which is roughly a 4-round gap in 12-team leagues. Dillon has had just over 170 carries each of the past two seasons (which is an average of 10 carries per game for my math-averse homies) while playing with Aaron Rodgers, who loved to pepper his RB with targets. Now Dillon has Jordan Love, who may or may not do the same things as his predecessor, but either way, we should expect Green Bay to be a bit less explosive of an offense as opposed to Jacksonville, which looks to be an ascending offense and plays in a cupcake division.
This is not really about AJ Dillon (and I actually don’t dislike him or the Packers offense). I’m just trying to suggest that we could be looking at similar players here, with Tank providing a big discount. Other guys being taken multiple rounds before Tank, like Zach Charbonnet (RB 36) and Rashaad Penny (RB 38), don’t really offer any more upside but seem to have as much, if not more, downside than Tank.
Okay, bottom line – Tank Bigsby won’t be a “league winner” unless something catastrophic happens to Travis Etienne, and Tank ends up getting 15+ touches per game. Still, I think he’s more than a handcuff– a “handcuff-with-benefits”– and has a reasonable outlook to provide flex value for at least the second half of the season and should be treated similarly to other split backfield RBs. Getting a top-35 RB at a three or four-round discount is the kind of incremental advantage we should all be pouncing on when trying to build a league-winning roster.
Right now, Etienne checks in at RB14 (-1 vs ECR), while Tank lands at RB39 (+9 vs ECR) on The Wolf’s 2023 Fantasy Rankings.