Dynasty Dilemma: Tank Bigsby
One recurring pattern we’ve seen in the modern NFL landscape is this…Doug Pederson definitely knows how to change the trajectory of a bad football team. He led the Eagles to their first ever Super Bowl victory in just his second season as a head coach, and now has the Jacksonville Jaguars offense firing on all cylinders after just one year at the helm. In addition to all the skill position talent the Jags already boast on offense, Pederson found himself a new weapon to utilize in this year’s draft in the form of Auburn running back Tank Bigsby. Bigsby seems to be a very interesting player heading into the season, as there are reasonable arguments to be made, both for and against him. Let’s dive in and figure out what to do with him in 2023 and beyond.
REASONS TO SELL
Much like fellow rookie Zach Charbonnet, Bigsby steps into a situation in Jacksonville with his ceiling already capped by various factors. First and foremost among those factors is the presence of Jags’ starting running back Travis Etienne. Etienne was one of the better running backs in the NFL last year metrically, ranking above league average in positive run rate, breakaway run rate, broken tackle rate, and average yards after contact. He managed all of this while running behind an offensive line that was just slightly below average in run blocking win rate in 2022. To add salt to the situational wound, the Jaguars under Pederson last year threw the ball at a 59.4% clip which was good for 12th highest in the league. They also averaged 35 pass attempts per game, good for 11th most in the league. This focus on the passing game led to Etienne only getting 220 carries in 17 games last year, good for just under 13 carries a game. The point here is there aren’t a lot of backfield touches to go around. Now, this focus on airing it out might seem like a good thing for a running back who is projected to take over the pass-catching role in the Jags’ backfield. But when you look a little deeper, it doesn’t really move the needle much. With the target share pecking order shaping to look something like Ridley, Kirk, then Engram or Zay Jones, Bigsby would be the 4th option in the passing game at best. And with big money being spent on both Ridley and Engram this upcoming season, the Jags should be highly incentivized to use them. With Etienne only 24 years old and sitting firmly at the top of the depth chart, and Doug Pederson seeming like he’ll be the team’s head coach for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to envision these factors that work against Bigsby’s ceiling-changing any time soon.
Analytics and Measurables
Despite being Auburn’s backfield leader for 3 straight seasons, Bigsby doesn’t profile as an elite running back at the NFL level. His athleticism measurables are outside of the top 15 at the position for the 2023 draft class, and below average all time at the position (ranked 382 out of 698), according to playerprofiler.com. His 4.50 40 yard dash time leaves a lot to be desired where breakaway speed is concerned, and his burst score of 114.8, which ranks in the 31st percentile, is quite poor. His stats at Auburn took a bit of a dip during his final season as well, which is never something you want to see when talking about a potential NFL prospect. His rush attempts dropped by 44 from his 2021 numbers, and he saw over 100 less yards on the ground because of it. Ultimately, the lack of elite-level athleticism and less than ideal college production in his final season seem to indicate that Bigsby is unlikely to ever be an upper-echelon, must-have running back at the NFL level.
REASONS TO BUY
Potential For Opportunity
Travis Etienne is a very good running back, no question about it. But he isn’t a do-it-all, elite back similar to Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffery. Where Etienne is lacking is exactly where Bigsby has a chance to excel in the Jags’ offense. Two notable areas where Etienne has failed to succeed are as a pass catcher and as a goal-line hammer. As a pass catcher, Etienne ranks quite poorly in targets per route run, team target share, air yards, and yards per route run. This is a place where we could see Bigsby carve out a nice role for himself. Despite the downtick in rushing stats, during his final year at Auburn, he led the entire team in target share. Doug Pederson seems to think he can fill this role nicely as well, describing him as a “a really good pass catcher in the backfield”, as reported by John Shipley.
Now, how about touchdown potential? Well, as I mentioned earlier, goal-line rushing is another place where Etienne needs to improve. In 2022, he had 9 carries inside the 5-yard line and only managed to convert 2 of them for touchdowns. Bigsby on the other hand posted 10 touchdowns in 12 games last year for Auburn and has had a reputation for being a tough, bruising runner throughout his college career. Notably, Pederson’s praise for Bigsby throughout training camp and preseason extends past just his receiving abilities. Pederson made mention of how impressed he is by the rookie’s football IQ and ability to be coached up. The IQ to find and hit the hole on those short yardage runs for the necessary gains, coupled with his bruising rushing ability makes him a much better candidate for goal-line work than his counterpart in Etienne. All signs point to the potential for this Jags’ backfield to have an Ingram/Kamara type of ceiling long-term if Bigsby develops nicely during this upcoming year.
On top of whatever stand-alone value Bigsby might have, the real value comes in the form of an elite handcuff to Etienne. Anyone who has been paying attention is aware of how good the Jaguars’ offense should be this year. It is always a good idea to have some stock in a high-powered offense, and an even better idea when that stock is next up on the depth chart at the most volatile position in fantasy football. Before we even consider the possibility of Bigsby inheriting a huge role through injury, the trade value that a player in his position holds is worth a roster spot in itself. Now, while injuries are totally unpredictable and no one should ever want to see a player go down, it isn’t unreasonable to consider whether or not Etienne might miss some time. He is just 1 year removed from a season-ending Lisfranc injury and has a history of hamstring and concussion problems during his time at Clemson. He also has a durability rating of 1.06 out of 5, according to DraftSharks.com, making him more likely to miss time than some other backs around the league. It is easy to point to the way the Jags rotated backs during the course of last year, with Hasty and Snoop Conner both garnering touches down the stretch, as a reason why Bigsby isn’t the surefire handcuff on this team. But last year’s breakdown of touches can be partially attributed to an attempt to keep Etienne healthy for his first full season in the NFL, and partially attributed to there simply being no better options. Well, this year there is. Bigsby, a 3rd round pick, is a better player with higher draft capital than either of last year’s relief options (Hasty, an undrafted free agent and career backup, and Conner, a 5th round pick who got less touches than NFL practice squad player Jerrion Ealy in his final year at Ole Miss). If Etienne were to miss any time, Bigsby would become an instant start on that high-powered Jag’s offense.
Without an injury to Etienne, it is hard to see Bigsby developing into a player you will feel comfortable having in your starting lineup consistently this year. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be excited about stashing him, however. The long-term outlook of this Jags’ backfield is a bit murky when all the factors are considered. There are a lot of potential outcomes here, from an Ingram/Kamara type split to Etienne or Bigsby taking a step forward to becoming a true 3 down back, and everything in between. With all the uncertainty, and the price tag of Bigsby being players like Khalil Herbert, Mike Williams, or David Montgomery, it can be kind of tricky to figure out what to do with him. My recommendation is to go for the value. If you are currently rostering Bigsby, you probably want to hold and see how things shake out unless a league-mate approaches you with an offer to overpay. If you are looking to acquire, I would steer clear of a “go get your guy” mentality since you could be left holding the bag in the event of an unfavorable outcome if you pay a little too much. If you can’t buy low or sell high here, then the best play is going to be sitting tight and waiting to see what windows of opportunity open up during the season.
As a long time NFL and NCAAF fan, dynasty fantasy football just seemed like the fantasy format for me. Every conversation about fantasy football from start/sit decisions to trade debates to the upcoming rookie class got me more and more hooked, and eventually writing about dynasty has become a passion of mine. When I’m not writing articles to help your fantasy team or deep in trade negotiations of my own, you can find me with the headphones on working on audiobooks, hanging with my family and my dog, or at the felt deep in a game of poker.