RB Draft Profile: Travis Etienne
Name: Travis Etienne
Weight: 205 lbs
Travis Etienne excels in both of the main footwork components that I regard. Starting off, Etienne has a great technical mastery of running the football. Every step matters whether it’s faking out a defender for a cutback, or simply hitting the hole with no wasted motion. Etienne quickly processes information and understands (literally) what steps to take in order to create success. He knows where to run, and how to get there as efficiently as possible.
The second footwork aspect where Etienne shines is churning through contact. While he is excellent at avoiding defenders, he also does the right things where he gets hit. Churning through contact means that a running back keeps his feet moving even after he is in the arms of an opponent. This helps maintain forward momentum and could potentially lead to extra yards.
Flexibility can mean several things in football. Etienne can be considered flexible in multiple ways. First off, he can play in any scheme whether it’s gap or zone. The offensive line in Clemson occasionally mixed up their blocking schemes and Etienne appeared unaffected. He is a decent interior runner but his strongest area is the outside runs.
To the outside is where we go to continue the discussion about Etienne’s flexibility. When someone runs outside the tackles, they can get caught by a defender with their pads facing the sidelines. If that happens, the runner has less chance of surviving contact. However, Etienne mitigates that risk with his body flexibility. He demonstrates the ability to quickly square his shoulder pads upfield.
One of the few drawbacks in Etienne’s game is that he runs high at times. What I mean by that is that his shoulder pad level is not low enough to get underneath defenders. A lower center of gravity can help create extra yards after contact.
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For someone to make cuts and quick movements as effectively as Etienne, they need to have good balance. The key to a great cut back isn’t just explosion (although that helps). Whenever Etienne makes a cutback or any other form of rapid change of direction, his balance allows him to maintain forward momentum. Without that great balance, he would probably lose a step trying to regain it. At that point, the space created by the cut back would be wasted. Etienne’s balance allows him to take full advantage of his athleticism.
Contact balance is another aspect of this category. Etienne is at his best when avoiding contact, but he’s not useless when taking a hit. As mentioned in the footwork section, he constantly churns his feet while getting tackled. That helps Etienne maintain some forward momentum. However, the next step for the incoming rookie is to get stronger. That will help him in the pros against larger humans. Right now, Etienne’s frame will likely not allowed him to push through contact and get extra yards easily. He struggled with that at the College level and it won’t get any easier in the NFL.
This might be the most important aspect of Etienne’s game. Part of the reason his outside runs are so successful is because of his explosive first step. Etienne can make it to the corner more often than not and the difference is usually made on the first few strides. His burst allows him to get outside the tackles before defenders can properly react. Even at the next level where players are stronger and faster, this aspect of Etienne’s game should translate well enough.
His burst also helps in on interior runs. When the offensive line opens a hole, Etienne hits it hard. Therefore, Etienne is not limited to one type of blocking scheme, even if outside zone appears to be the ideal fit. Regardless of scheme, Etienne is bursting with athletic NFL potential.
For an excellent outside runner like Etienne, it is important to take advantage of being in space. That isn’t only limited to running the football. With today’s NFL, pass-catching is an important role for any running back. Fortunately for Etienne, this is a task he is quite capable of completing. He has great hands and can easily make the quick transition from receiver to runner. Back to his flexibility, even when making difficult receptions, Etienne adjusts his whole body rather well in order to make the most out of the yards after the catch.
Etienne is not only catching dump-off and screens, but he can run downfield routes. This is important not just for his production, but also to open things up for his teammates. With Etienne’s skills and abilities, he will likely constantly draw defenders in all areas of the field.
Etienne also has good pass-protection instincts. He can pick up the blitz successfully and always seems to be in the right spot. When he is beat in pass-protection, it is usually because of a strong defender using a power move or bull rush.
Travis Etienne has the capacity to be an every-down back. The strongest aspects of his game include his technical mastery of proper footwork, his incredible explosive first step and burst, as well as his hands and pass-catching ability. While he demonstrated some capacity of fighting through contact, I would not call Etienne a power back. As noted earlier he can run in any scheme, but his absolute best fit would be with a team using primarily outside zone blocking. Still, Etienne’s fantasy football value will be tied more to the opportunity he receives rather than specific team fit. If he receives early draft capital, and an NFL team appears to anoint him as a lead back, Etienne will certainly be worth drafting in the top half of the 1st-round in any rookie draft.
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