Travis Etienne is an elite NFL prospect in my opinion. This article was written in part because I couldn’t believe Jonathan Taylor lasted until the second round last year, and Etienne might be a similar steal in 2021 if he goes late in Round 1 or in Round 2 this week. Check out the scouting report for Etienne here.
Etienne popped out from the first time I saw him play. It was Clemson’s second game of the 2017 season (a ranked primetime game against Louisville), and Etienne was a true freshman. It looked like he was shot out of a cannon when he put his foot in the ground and zoomed down the sideline for Clemson’s longest run in a decade (C.J. Spiller, 2007). The first thing that stood out and stands out for Etienne is his big-play ability.
Fast forward to his senior year, and he still shows that track speed and ability to erase pursuit angles while getting stronger and more powerful over his four years in school.
Just a slight hesitation allows Etienne to use his top-notch acceleration to speed down the sideline for one of many long touchdown runs.
However, while Etienne’s calling card might be his home-run plays, he has every tool you want from a running back. A little like Saints All-Pro running back Alvin Kamara (but probably faster and not quite as skilled as a high-volume underneath receiver), Etienne runs with exceptional power and contact balance.
Here, he first shows patience setting up his blockers before accelerating to the second level and to the end zone:
In the ACC Championship Game against Notre Dame last season (after the Fighting Irish shut down Etienne in the first matchup, giving him no room to room), a couple of runs stood out. First, he gets outside and shrugs off a defender that tried to tackle him high. Later in the same drive at the end of the half, he brushes off an arm tackle and barely loses speed while racing for six:
On this run, Etienne first shows the toughness to run inside before showcasing his vision and short-area quickness with an exceptional spin move:
Etienne can do it all. He’s also a very good receiver out of the backfield, and four years of prime playing experience for one of the top schools and offenses in the country should help as he transitions to the NFL as a potential three-down player.
The versatile back smoothly helps set up a successful screen pass here and makes the first guy miss before breaking through for a chunk gain:
On this touchdown reception, Etienne’s natural hands are obvious. He’s comfortable as a receiver.
In addition to the natural hands and comfortability, you can see that Etienne saw the blitzer coming off the edge and knew he was the hot read, quickly flipping his head around while recognizing he’d have a walk-in touchdown if the ball gets to him.
Etienne got more usage as a receiver each year throughout his college career, and he caught 48 passes for 588 yards (12.3 yards per reception) and two touchdowns as a senior. And in those two games from the clips above, Etienne posted receiving lines of 5/114/1 and 7/140/1, giving a glimpse of what he can do with heavy usage as a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game at the next level.
Etienne worked to become a great receiver out of the backfield after he was not as confident early in his career, and it says a lot about him that he’d work hard on a relative weakness when he was already immensely talented and would have been considered a stud even as just a premier runner.
And finally, at the goal line, Etienne knows how to get it done. He’s a touchdown scorer (78 total touchdowns in college and at least 13 each season, including 26 as a sophomore and 23 as a junior), and that should translate to his professional career.
Travis Etienne has the skillset, production, and attitude to become a superstar in the NFL. He’s the all-time leader rusher in ACC history, averaged 7.2 yards per carry and 11.3 yards per reception at Clemson, and—like draftmate Najee Harris—stayed in school for his senior year when he could’ve easily turned pro last year, putting out a tremendous statement announcing his decision.
— Travis Etienne Jr⁶𓅓 (@swaggy_t1) January 17, 2020
Etienne is not the type of person to bet against. Regardless of any devaluation of the running back position, he’s worthy of a very high pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.