The Minnesota Vikings made one of the steals of the 2017 NFL Draft when they selected Florida State running back Dalvin Cook with the 41st pick of the second round. Cook made some serious noise as a rookie before missing the remainder of 2017 and parts of 2018 due to injury. However, he returned with a vengeance in 2019 and showed why he should have been a much higher pick on draft day.
Cook fell in 2017 due to concerns over his overall athleticism and speed, which he has proved incorrect since he arrived in Minnesota. One player who favors Cook in comparison but does not share those same concerns is Clemson tailback, Travis Etienne. Etienne has home-run speed and most consider him a first-rounder. Some even believe he is the top player available at his position for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Etienne does share similar characteristics to Cook as a runner and could have a similar impact in the NFL. Below, I will discuss three reasons why Etienne will prove to be the same explosive, three-down playmaker as Cook at the next level.
Three reasons why Travis Etienne’s best comparison is Dalvin Cook
Underrated receiving weapon out of the backfield
Neither Cook nor Etienne has topped 37 receptions at the college level, but both players show very soft hands and are reliable targets when sneaking out of the backfield. They each have an underrated ability to slip undetected into the second level and provide a safety blanket for their quarterbacks. Watch below as Etienne shows off some of that sneaky ability as a receiver.
When Travis Etienne is in the open field, he runs like he's between the tackles. It's truly a sight.
Clemson has had this pop out slip screen that has been used to great effect the pass 2 seasons with Etienne on the receiving end of it: pic.twitter.com/ETmQyxvWVp
— Seth Galina (@pff_seth) May 1, 2020
Etienne was non-existent as a pass-catcher heading into the 2019 season, but he improved by leaps and bounds in that area as a junior. Etienne’s 37 catches topped his previous career-high of 12, and he could be counted on to play a much more significant role in the passing game in 2020 following the loss of receiver Justyn Ross.
Since Cook entered the league in 2017, he has been a regular as a passing game option and recorded a career-best 53 catches in 2019. You can see his Cook’s comparison to Etienne here with the ability to slip undetected out of the backfield for the score.
🔥😂🏈 Dalvin Cook on the TD + the Vikings limbo #Skol
(via @nfl) pic.twitter.com/xodKzeYUUf
— Fanatics View (@fanaticsview) November 26, 2018
The Vikings may also lean more heavily on Cook this season with the defection of Stefon Diggs to Buffalo. Both Cook and Etienne have outstanding quickness and use that ability to turn short catches into game-breaking plays frequently for their teams.
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Vision and acceleration
When it comes to top-end home run threats at the college level, both Etienne and Cook have been scoring long touchdowns and making big plays consistently since their true freshman collegiate seasons. Both players started right away and instantly showed why they were such highly regarded high school recruits.
Cook rushed for over 1,000 yards and almost six yards per carry as a true freshman at Florida State, while Etienne scored 13 rushing touchdowns while averaging over seven yards with the Tigers in 2017. I’ve touched on Cook’s tremendous quickness, but he also has top-flight acceleration, and that allows him to tap into his elite playing speed almost instantly. Aside from that top speed and acceleration, maybe the most prominent strength between these two elite talents is their vision.
Cook always showed the ability to make something out of a lost cause during his time with the Seminoles. He sees the field very well and has carried that over to the Vikings. Even though the Tigers have an all-star player under center with Trevor Lawrence, Etienne is a great compliment, as he uses that outstanding vision and burst to explode out of the backfield, and also provide a successful yards-after-catch target for his quarterback.
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Consistent ability to score touchdowns
When it comes to scoring touchdowns, these two stars at running back have done a lot of that during their college careers. And that ability as a frequent touchdown producer has carried into the NFL for Cook. The Vikings’ do-it-all tailback can score from anywhere on the field via the pass or run. Cook and Etienne are insanely reliable, durable, and always seem to come through when the team needs them most.
Just as he did in 2019, Etienne should improve on his catch totals and even touchdown numbers during the 2020 season. Etienne is extremely explosive and decisive as a runner, which also makes Dalvin a favorable comparison as a prospect heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. These two ACC counterparts can recognize openings quickly and make their move. This decisiveness allows them to gain the upper hand on opponents early on in play development and prepare for their next move in the open field.
Etienne was recently mocked to the Miami Dolphins in Andrew DiCecco’s first two-round mock draft. I discussed that possibility and his fit in the Miami offense last week. If Etienne can use that big-play ability and explosion to improve on his 23 touchdowns from 2019, he will be an early first-rounder and potential top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the 2021 NFL Draft. You can follow him @sgormanPFN on Twitter.