Surprise! He’s Back!
When the time came for prospects to make their declarations for the 2020 NFL draft there were many players that seemed to be “on the fence” in regards to opting in or out. Travis Etienne was not widely considered to be one of them, making his decision to return to school one of the most surprising moments of the college football off-season. Etienne said that he “loves his teammates and coaches” and also wants to finish his degree. So, instead of watching his tape before the 2020 draft, his evaluation had to hold off until now. Let’s just say the wait was worth it. Etienne is certainly the “full-package” as a running back, and will be one of the first backs off the board in the 2021 draft.
Photo Credit: Andrew J. Whitaker- Post and Courier
Pronounced E-T-N, the Clemson product checks in at a sturdy 5-10 and 210 pounds. Etienne has amassed 62 touchdowns throughout his career, playing on all three downs and affecting the game in every way possible. On early downs the Clemson product displays elite balance, patience and elusiveness in between the tackles.
Etienne is also an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield. He showcases that ability not just on screens and broken plays, but also on very well run routes. He runs every route as crisp as any back I have scouted, and after the catch he is a YAC monster. Here’s a video of him taking a screen to the house against Ohio State.
Skill as a pass catcher is only one part of being great on third downs, however. The other part of it is being a willing and able pass protector. When watching Etienne’s tape, he constantly pops off the screen for his ability to step up and deliver a great block. He is usually able to find the man he needs to block quickly, and has the toughness to handle most defenders. He had a few miscues, just like any young back, but it when he needed to pick up a blitz it usually looked just like this.
Etienne’s ability as a multi-faceted back will have teams salivating come draft time, but the workload might curb their enthusiasm. Already at a staggering 518 carries, Etienne is expected to be well north of 700 come draft night. On one hand, he has handled the carries admirably. He has never missed a game while averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Never being injured hints at a durable player, but also means there is a lot of “tread on his tires”. Will he be a player who wears down early in his career? Is he due for a major injury after so many carries? Those are the questions Etienne will face all the way up to the day he is drafted.
Etienne wanted to return to school because he wanted his degree, but was it the right decision? Running backs have a short lifespan in the NFL, most not receiving a second contract. Only time will tell if he made the right choice, for now all we have is his incredible tape. His ability as a runner both inside and outside coupled with the pass protection and receiving skills make him a very similar player to Todd Gurley. Etienne would have been one of the first backs drafted in 2020 and 2021 will be no different. He now has to stay healthy for his senior season and prove to scouts that he has plenty left in the tank. The injury factor is the biggest one, or the comparisons to Gurley will be related to injury and not their play.
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