First-round running backs are becoming somewhat of an endangered species but if there's a candidate to change that in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft it's Travis Etienne. His body of work speaks for itself, as Etienne is the ACC's all-time leader in rushing, rushing touchdowns, and total touchdowns. Beyond the numbers, however, the former Clemson star has the game-breaking speed and big-play ability that NFL teams covet. He may not be a complete back yet, but the potential is clearly there and that could be enough for some team to make him a first-round pick.
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Travis Etienne Draft Profile
Simply put, Etienne plays at a different speed. And it’s more than just straight-line speed; his ability to accelerate from a full stop and hit top speed in a flash allows him to obliterate pursuit angles. With would-be tacklers often unprepared for just how fast he is, and with his outstanding body control and contact balance, he consistently steps out of tackles and picks up chunks of extra yards. He explodes through holes when running between the tackles and has the hips to get outside, turn the corner and get upfield.
Despite increased production as a receiver, he remains a question mark in the passing game. Etienne too often fights the ball as a pass catcher, with a handful of troubling drops during his time at Clemson. It not only leaves opportunities on the field, but also limits the ability to move him around the formation. His speed allowed him to dominate at the collegiate level, but he’ll have to add a little more nuance to his running style once he’s facing NFL-caliber athletes. Once he gets the ball, he tends to slam into the hole as quickly as possible — he sometimes needs to allow his blocks to develop.
He’s still a bit rough around the edges, and you wish he was more trustworthy as a pass catcher. But in a league where offenses are looking to pile up big plays, Etienne is the rare back who can hit the home run in the ground game, in the mold of a young Chris Johnson. He fits best in a scheme heavy on outside-zone, but he’ll work in any system. He can be a difference-maker even as an early-down back only, but improvement in the passing game would make him a superstar.
Final Grade: 1st round