2021 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Travis Etienne (Fantasy Football)

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Travis Etienne shocked NFL Draft scouts and the dynasty community last offseason when he decided to return to Clemson for his senior season. Many thought the talented running back would declare for the 2020 NFL Draft, putting him in the conversation with the likes of Jonathan Taylor, D’Andre Swift, and J.K. Dobbins from the 2020 class. Is Etienne still an elite running back prospect, and where should dynasty managers be targeting him in rookie drafts? Let’s dive into the Clemson RB’s background, college production profile and then take a look at what’s on tape and discuss how his game might translate to the NFL from a fantasy football perspective.

College Production Profile
Games Rush Att Rush Yards Yards/Att Rush TD Receptions Receiving Yards Rec TD
2017 13 107 766 7.2 13 5 57 0
2018 15 204 1,658 8.1 24 12 78 2
2019 15 207 1,614 7.8 19 37 432 4
2020 12 166 923 5.6 14 48 588 2

From the moment Travis Etienne stepped on campus at Clemson, he was a producer for this football team and that trend certainly continued throughout his illustrious four-year college career, especially when he took over as the starter in 2018. Etienne’s record-breaking production profile certainly checks all the boxes you’re looking for when scouting a running back from an analytics perspective. His 4,952 career rushing yards made him the ACC’s all-time leading rusher, ahead of the likes of Dalvin Cook, A.J. Dillon, and Warrick Dunn. His 7.2 yards per attempt career mark is also good for the best ever in ACC college football history. This sort of insane efficiency also shows up on tape with his ability to hit the home run ball – more on that soon. How about his ability to find the end zone week after week after week? Yes, he checks that box too. Etienne’s 70 (!!) rushing touchdowns is by far the most in ACC history, 18 more than the next guy on the list, James Conner.

So, he’s got the rushing profile we look for in a prospect, but how about the receiving game? Absolutely. Etienne’s receiving production grew each season while playing for Clemson with the pinnacle being reached just this past season in 2020. His 588 receiving yards were the most by any back in college football last year. While his receiving production really took a big step forward in 2020, one thing that is evident is that, relatively speaking, Etienne’s rushing production and efficiency both took a hit. One major reason for that is that Clemson lost four of five starting offensive linemen from their 2019 roster to the NFL. Even so, his production profile is one of the best in the class.

Measureables
Height Weight 40-yard dash (high school) 247 Sports
5’10” 210 lbs. 4.43 4-star recruit

With the NFL Combine being canceled this year given the Covid-19 pandemic, the scouting process from an athletic testing perspective will need to change just a bit. This table will be updated once we have Etienne’s numbers from Clemson’s pro day, but his high school speed testing is encouraging, and it showed up on tape. As a 199 lb. high school senior, Etienne was a 4-star recruit out of high school according to 247 Sports. Many thought he would play close to home at LSU but ultimately decided to attend Clemson, thanks in part to his insane testing at the New Orleans Nike Opening Camp in 2016. According to PFF, Etienne’s only offer prior to attending the Nike Camp as a high school athlete was South Alabama. After posting the second-best combined score behind only Clyde Edwards-Helaire and running a 4.43 40-yard dash (fastest among the RBs at the event), Etienne starting getting many offers from the top schools in the country, including Clemson. Etienne’s speed is his top attribute, and it certainly pops on tape.

What’s On Tape

Games viewed: Ohio State (2019), North Carolina (2019), Florida State (2019), Texas A&M (2019), Wake Forest (2020), Miami (2020), Virginia (2020), Ohio State (2020)

1. Etienne is arguably the best home run hitter in this class, thanks to his burst, acceleration, and long speed.

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If there’s one adjective or trait to describe Etienne’s game, it’s explosiveness. Etienne not only has the long speed to outrun a safety or a corner in the second level, but he also has the burst and quickness to get through the hole at the line of scrimmage quickly and gain steam as he looks to beat defenders in space. Watching Etienne’s college tape, it’s obvious that this is the best part of his game. In 2018 and 2019, Etienne averaged 7.9 and 8.1 yards per attempt, respectively. That simply doesn’t happen if you’re not able to pick up chunk yardage over and over again, and that’s exactly what Etienne brings to the table. As soon as he sees open space, goodbye!

2. Etienne’s excellent contact balance helps him to bounce off defenders and fend off arm tackles without losing speed.

The Clemson RB showed on tape time and time again that he’s one of the best running backs in this class with contact balance. When defenders try to arm tackle Etienne, especially in the second level, it doesn’t work. He has the ability to maintain balance and speed in the open field, allowing him to rip off 20+ yard runs with ease and pick up chunk yardage. It’s this combination of balance and speed that allows Etienne to be so special in the open field.

3. Etienne’s ability to be a dual-threat in the passing game helps to make him a complete back and should help him get on the field early in the NFL.

Typically you don’t hear an NFL prospect openly talk about their weakness, but Etienne publicly admitted a couple of years ago that he gets “nervous” when catching the football. I expect this quote to be overblown this offseason when discussing Etienne as a prospect, and I’m essentially throwing it out the window when evaluating Etienne in the passing game. Every year at Clemson, Etienne’s receiving production improved, culminating with him leading the NCAA in receiving yards at the RB position. On tape, Etienne shows the ability to be a natural hands pass catcher and even lined up out wide at times for the Tigers, making him a true weapon in the passing game.

What’s Not On Tape

Now that we’ve identified the strongest parts of Etienne’s game, what isn’t in his game film? It’s easy to fall in love with a prospect when you watch them excel in certain areas, but if we fail to identify a prospect’s weaknesses, we’re only telling half the story.

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1. Etienne often tries to bounce his runs to the outside to try to get the edge. 

While Etienne’s speed does allow this strategy to be effective at the college level on occasion, it likely isn’t going to fly at the NFL level where linebackers, edge defenders, and safeties are faster and more explosive. One of his biggest strengths, his explosiveness, may work against him in the NFL if he isn’t able to correctly identify the correct hole at the line of scrimmage and tries to bounce it outside. Travis Etienne’s lateral agility simply isn’t good enough for him to stick his foot in the ground and get upfield at the perimeter. He needs to get north and south in a hurry in order to use his speed effectively.

2. Travis Etienne stops his feet when he braces for contact, limiting his ability to pick up the “tough” extra yards when he doesn’t already have a full head of steam.

There were countless times on tape where Etienne is running with a head of steam, picks his eyes up, and sees a linebacker or safety barreling down. Rather than keeping his feet in motion to gain extra yards, he stops his feet to try to make the defender miss. Simply put, he lacks the top end lateral agility that’s needed for that type of decision, and it often leads to Etienne going down upon first contact as he braces for the hit. NFL coaches love backs who can grind out a 3-4 yard gain to keep the chains moving, and as a result, Etienne will need to improve upon this trait if he wants to be considered a true 3-down back in the NFL.

2021 Fantasy Outlook

Travis Etienne is arguably the 2021 class’s most explosive running back. This, combined with his pass-catching ability gives him a chance to be a PPR stud for fantasy football, assuming he finds himself in a system that utilizes a pass-catching back out of the backfield. Etienne projects to go in the second round of the NFL Draft this April, giving him enough draft capital to contribute right away for his NFL franchise.

In redraft leagues, Etienne’s short term value in fantasy depends largely on the landing spot and the depth chart in front of him, as he likely profiles as a back who can take control of the backfield as the season progresses, similar to the 2020 season of a J.K. Dobbins or Jonathan Taylor, both of which really caught steam down the stretch of the regular season. In dynasty formats, Etienne deserves to go in the top half of round one in rookie drafts. Given his combination of elite burst and acceleration combined with his ability to run routes out of the backfield make him a high upside multi-dimensional asset that we love to have on our rosters.

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