For the past four years, few college football players have been more consistently dynamic than Clemson running back Travis Etienne. Pitted against Najee Harris for the RB1 title in the 2021 NFL Draft, Etienne has an invaluable skill set in the modern NFL. The only question remaining is this — what destination will serve him best? Let’s take a look at Travis Etienne’s draft projection, as well as some of the top potential landing spots for the Clemson Tigers star.
Travis Etienne’s production emphasizes his ability to create
There truly hasn’t been a point over the last four years where Travis Etienne hasn’t been one of the NCAA’s top playmakers. As a true freshman, he found the end zone 13 times. He amassed 1,658 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns as a true sophomore, including 3 total touchdowns in the national championship.
In 2019, he accumulated over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. In his senior season, he emerged as a dangerous receiving threat, picking up 588 yards and 2 scores through the air.
Trevor Lawrence is the best 2021 NFL Draft prospect from Clemson. Nothing is going to change that. However, Etienne is the easy choice for second place. The Clemson running back averaged 7.2 yards per carry over the course of his career. He earned 6,107 total yards and 78 total touchdowns in his career. Statistically, there isn’t a box Etienne doesn’t check, and that security transfers over to the tape.
The tape confirms Travis Etienne’s electric talent
Travis Etienne is a big-play threat all the way. Additionally, over the course of his career, he’s developed to become a more well-rounded threat. His contact balance and explosiveness already provide him with an excellent foundation. However, over the past two seasons, he’s expanded beyond his running utility and has become a threat in the passing game as well.
This quote from Travis Etienne’s NFL Draft profile does a good job of conveying Etienne’s growth and what it means for his overall draft projection.
“Having an elite combination of speed, explosiveness, and contact balance is a foolproof equation for RB1. But on top of that, Etienne has also developed immensely as a receiver since the start of his college career. There was a time when catching the football out of the backfield was a struggle for him. However, he’s since developed a feel for receiving, and his traits naturally contribute to success in that phase. Teams that can get him in space with screens, swings, and wheel routes will be rewarded by his explosiveness in space.”
Teams that can get Etienne into space effectively will reap the rewards. However, even for a talented running back prospect like Etienne, the task of getting into space is somewhat dependent on the cast around him. Having said that, let’s take a look at some of the top landing spots for Travis Etienne in the 2021 NFL Draft. Where might his talents be supported to the greatest degree?
Travis Etienne’s draft projection and top landing spots
The Dolphins are an intriguing potential landing spot for Travis Etienne. Etienne doesn’t quite hit all the requirements for Miami’s new running back. All of Miami’s currently rostered running backs weigh in at 200 pounds or less. Although Etienne comes in as the heaviest at 205, he’s still not quite the bruising back that Najee Harris or Javonte Williams would be.
The Dolphins should also aim to solidify their offensive line. While Etienne’s natural creation capacity should help give blockers flexibility, his talent can be maximized with more space. Beyond those factors, Etienne seems like a solid stylistic fit. He’d be a strong committee member with every-down potential, and his ability to be a safety blanket as a pass catcher for Tua Tagovailoa would be invaluable.
Etienne would also get to work with respected veteran running backs coach and now co-offensive coordinator Eric Studesville. The Dolphins still have many questions to answer offensively, but Etienne would help relieve some pressure, and he could potentially be acquired in the second round.
New York Jets
Of all the potential fits for Travis Etienne, this might be the most exciting. We still have to see how the New York Jets’ offense pans out with Mike LaFleur as its coordinator. Nevertheless, LaFleur comes from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree. Shanahan, in San Francisco, has been known to value and effectively utilize running backs that offer speed, explosiveness, and yards after contact. That’s Travis Etienne’s bread and butter.
Additionally, the Jets are in a great position to select Etienne. They’re situated just outside of the first round with the No. 34 overall pick, and they have two first-round picks already. Thus, they might not have to force the issue in Round 1.
They can pick two players at more valuable positions with their first-round picks, then select Etienne at the top of Round 2. And to make matters even better, they have bulldozing tackle Mekhi Becton to help lead the way. When it comes to both draft capital efficiency and overall schematic fit, the Jets are comfortably the best match for Etienne.
The Steelers’ complete lack of a running game was a big reason for their offensive inefficiency in 2020. Part of the blame rests on the offensive line, which will need a great deal of fine-tuning this offseason.
However, the Steelers could also use a more consistent and dynamic threat at running back. Naturally, Travis Etienne is one of the players that comes to mind. Having said that, while Etienne is a potential option for Pittsburgh, he doesn’t seem like the best fit, both stylistically and from a cost standpoint.
Unless Pittsburgh trades down, they’d likely need to pick Etienne at No. 24 overall because they don’t pick again until the 55th selection. No. 24 feels a little too early for a player like Etienne.
Furthermore, Najee Harris seems like a substantially better stylistic fit for the Steelers. He’s bigger, more physical, and more nuanced. With Etienne’s explosiveness and contact balance, he’s impossible to rule out. However, the Steelers don’t seem like the best landing spot for the Clemson running back.
With four picks in the top 45, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the most flexibility with their draft capital among the teams listed. They also have the first pick in the second round. Thus, in the likely scenario that Travis Etienne’s draft projection sends him out of the first round, Jacksonville can easily swipe him up, and they’ll still have a pick remaining in Round 2.
Taking physical fit into account, the Jaguars are a bit of a mixed bag. They’ll need to re-solidify their offensive line if they lose Cam Robinson in free agency. Additionally, there is the presence of James Robinson, whose physical, workmanlike style might be preferred by Urban Meyer, Darrell Bevell, and Brian Schottenheimer.
Nevertheless, Etienne would provide an excellent change-of-pace complement to Robinson’s bulk. Furthermore, in Jacksonville, Etienne would likely be united with Trevor Lawrence. That familiarity could yield results for Etienne in certain areas.
Much like the Jets, the Falcons are also situated near the top of the second round with the 35th overall pick. It’s ultimately up to the Jets whether or not Etienne falls to the Falcons. However, if he does, he’s an intriguing option. The Falcons need more talent in their running back room, and newly-hired head coach Arthur Smith has shown he can effectively design a running game and achieve success.
On one hand, the question of player preference does come into play here. One has to wonder if Smith, who gave over 80% of his total carries to Derrick Henry in 2019 and 2020, would prefer a more dominant bell-cow back.
However, Smith himself has said that Henry is irreplaceable, and that he won’t try to force that same style in Atlanta. Smith also used a variety of zone concepts in Tennessee, in which Etienne’s explosiveness would thrive. Thus, at the top of Round 2, Etienne to Atlanta feels like a high-upside union.
Running backs are often dependent on their surroundings. At the same time, however, talented backs can change the complexion of an offense. That’s the potential Travis Etienne provides. Etienne’s landing spots aren’t limited to these five teams. Yet, for backs, positioning often factors in just as much as fit. Nevertheless, after his pro day on March 11, teams may flock to Etienne’s elite physical skill set.
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