2020 NFL Draft Scouting Report

Travis Etienne

July 30, 2019 1:00 AM EST

Travis Etienne Scouting Report picture

School: Clemson

Height: 5'10"

Weight: 215

Eligibility: JR

Uniform: #9

Position: RB

Evaluated by: Austin Smith
July 30, 2019

Prospect Overview

Etienne has undoubtedly put himself in position to be considered a first-round back whenever he chooses to come out. He exploded onto the scene as a freshman, averaging 7.2 yards per run on 107 carries. Etienne scored 13 touchdowns that season and left many thinking a Heisman Trophy might be in his future. As a sophomore, he followed up by reaching paydirt 26 more times to lead the nation in total touchdowns, setting Clemson season records in rushing TDs (24) and rushing yards (1658) . Etienne also increased his rushing average to 8.1 yards per tote. It was an impressive season that at times got overshadowed by Trevor Lawrence and Clemson’s impressive aerial assault.

Travis Etienne Scouting Report image 1

With that being said, Etienne still only has 311 career carries, four more than last season's leading rusher, Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor had in a single season. In fact, Etienne only has two games with 20 or more carries, and considering all the talent Clemson has returning on offense, I don't expect him to turn into the workhorse back that gets run into the ground before he reaches the NFL. Still, with the Tigers being a heavy favorite to win the ACC and return to the National Championship for the fourth time in five years, there will be plenty of praise to go around if they live up to expectations. If that happens, and Etienne repeats his 2018 performance, it will cement him as one of the top draft-eligible backs for the 2020 class.


The one thing I kept noticing on his tape is his leg drive. Something like this isn't usually the first thing a scout looks for as a player's signature source of success, but the truth is Etienne doesn't make a lot of people miss. He does, however, get a lot of yards after contact, and when he gets loose from a tackler, he can accelerate in a hurry. His constant leg drive makes him a tough player to tackle, and his ability to accelerate in a flash gives him the right combination for a dangerous runner. When he does get going, he eats up angles fast. The angle of approach/pursuit means everything to a defender when the ball-carrier is in the open field. Etienne is a player that makes those angles very difficult to judge. That speed is also a bit deceptive because he has long legs and arms. You don't realize how fast he is running until you watch the guys chasing him that aren't gaining ground.

Travis Etienne Scouting Report image 2

Etienne's long arms also make him difficult to tackle up high. It's never wise for defenders to come in high, but it happens, and on a few occasions, I saw him use a strong, stiff arm to keep his separation from the tackler. Etienne also appears to play with very good vision, although I'd like to see a larger sample size. Clemson runs a lot of read-option where there truly isn't much of a decision to be made for the back on what hole he should hit. However, when they do pull blockers or run some zone-concepts, you see him locate holes promptly and turn on the gas to get into them. This one-cut style of running is usually very effective for zone-heavy teams. Etienne also shows good patience in those scenarios, and even the knowledge to set up blocks in the screen game or on runs to the edge. Also, while he doesn't have the kind of lateral quickness to make defenders miss when he sees daylight, he employs a jump cut that is rather effective. Another trait that stands out - Etienne is fearless running through traffic.

Areas for Improvement

Etienne has some limitations that will likely never be a strength for him, but there are some things he can improve on. His slightly-upright running style takes away from his play strength. As I mentioned earlier, he is a tough player to get down, but that has more to do with his tenacity and constant leg-drive than actual power. Etienne could get thicker in his lower half to help him play with more strength, but I don't think he will ever be one of those guys who runs right through tacklers. The fact that he rarely lowers his shoulder on tacklers makes me feel that much more confident that he won't ever be a powerful runner, despite the addition of upper body strength he added last summer. Having said that, he will learn there are times to stay low, and once you see daylight, you can straighten up and get to full speed.

Travis Etienne Scouting Report image 3

Etienne's still developing his skill set on passing downs and needs to continue to do so. He is occasionally motioned out of the backfield, and I must say he sinks his hips well as a route runner. He also extends his hands to the ball comfortably. Still, I've seen Etienne drop passes because he was looking up the field too soon. With his running style being a polarizing factor to his draft stock, being able to have an impact on passing downs will be something that attracts all suitors. He can also be a little quick to bounce the run to the outside. I wouldn't categorize this as a problem, but it won't work as often in the NFL, and he'll have to be more mindful of whether or not the risk of bouncing it outside is worth the two to four yards he's passing on up the middle.

Pass protection is an area where Etienne is raw. He has no problem stepping up and taking on the blitz, but he lunges too often and just delivers an initial blow without extending his hands at all.

Draft Stock

It will be interesting to see how his stock plays out because not every team is going to value his running style. As I've said, Etienne fits best in a zone-blocking scheme where his limitations changing direction laterally won't show up often. In scenarios where he routinely attacks the line of scrimmage, he'll be fine when defenses don't get any penetration, but that's not the reality on most snaps. When a defender gets penetration to the play side, you have to cut laterally and change your path. That’s just not something I see him doing at a high level. Having said that, he's a special player when he starts the play at more of a parallel angle to the line of scrimmage. There are still plenty of teams that primarily run the ball with zone-blocking schemes, and for them, another strong showing as a junior will likely earn him first-round consideration. Etienne is also someone teams are going to want in their locker room. He is a humble, down-to-earth guy that works his tail off. The 15 pounds he put on between his freshman and sophomore year is a testament to his work ethic and dedication to getting better. When a guy puts in that kind of effort to be successful, teams take notice.

Player Comparison

I don't think he is the physical specimen that Darren McFadden was, but there are certainly similarities in their running styles. Etienne is going to be three or so inches shorter than McFadden, but they are both long-limbed, slightly-upright runners that are much more dangerous going north and south than laterally. McFadden used to attack the hole, and although Etienne never lines up behind the quarterback, there are counter-lead plays Clemson runs that allow him to hit the line of scrimmage just as hard. McFadden also had a slender-lower half but still managed to be a powerful runner because of his leg drive, similar to Etienne. Etienne also has a similar jump-cut that made McFadden very dangerous in the open field. Not sure if Etienne will run in the low 4.3's like McFadden, but the big-play speed is there.

Games Evaluated

vs. Texas A&M (9-8-18)
vs. Georgia Tech (9-22-18)
vs. Syracuse (9-29-18)
vs. Wake Forest (10-6-18)
vs. South Carolina (11-24-18)
vs. Pittsburgh (12-1-18)
vs. Notre Dame (12-29-18)
vs. Alabama (1-17-19)

Notes from Film

  • Plays with nice patience. You can tell he knows where his blockers are coming from and will slow his pace in order to set up the defender for his linemen. I'd like to see more instances where he is asked to play with vision or read the blockers ahead of him. Clemson runs a lot of read-option stuff where there isn't much of a decision to be made. Still, when they do run some of their more complex run blocking schemes, he flashes the understanding of how to set up blocks. Also shows some nice vision.
  • Runs a little high for my liking, and because of it, his balance isn't as good as it could be. Still, defenders better wrap him up because he can handle contact.
  • As a blocker, he certainly has no problem with contact, but he needs to learn to use his hands after the initial collision. He usually just throws a shoulder into the defender and that's it. He's got pretty good arm length once he learns how to take advantage of it, pass protection could become a strength for him.
  • He's a north-and-south runner. The lateral quickness isn't quite up to par with his straight-line speed.
  • Straight-line speed appears to be well-above average. When he sticks a foot in the ground, he accelerates very quickly, and he's a load to get down.
  • I'm noticing he always seems to fall forward. Usually, this is attributed to a running back's power, and in this case, it's Etienne's leg drive. He keeps his feet pumping, and it nets those extra yards that can make a difference.
  • Intriguing option lined up at receiver. Looked comfortable, sinking his hips in a route against Georgia Tech. Unfortunately, he got his head around late, and the pass skipped off his hands.
  • While it's always fun to watch teams like Alabama and Clemson play because of the amount of elite talent they have on their rosters, the downside is it limits opportunities for guys like Etienne. While he carried the ball 204 times as a sophomore, four other players on the Clemson roster totted the rock at least 60 times each. On top of that, Kelly Bryant averaged 7.5 carries a game in the first four games of the season, which would have put him on pace to carry the ball over 100 times had he held onto the starting job. I often rave about running back prospects that have had lighter workloads prior to entering the NFL, but the disadvantage is you get a smaller sample size to gage the player's skills. I'd be willing to bet that if he were allowed to get into a rhythm carrying the ball 25 times a game, he'd be mentioned in the same Heisman conversation as his teammate Trevor Lawrence.
  • You better get low when you attempt to tackle him, and you better keep an eye out for his stiff arm. He is only listed at five feet, 10 inches, but he has very long arms. He also added about 15 pounds to his frame following his freshmen year, and as a package, he kind of reminds me of a slightly shorter Darren McFadden. Has a similar jump cut in the open field as well.
  • One thing we don't often see from Etienne is him lower his shoulder on someone. That can be a good and bad thing. Obviously, the less wear and tear on a body, the better, but from a psychological standpoint, I think it could help. When you lower your shoulder on a defender who is stepping up in run support or filling a hole, they remember. You run them over in those situations one time, and suddenly they start hesitating a bit. That's just the human mind. It's a lot more fun being the hammer as opposed to the nail, and very few players at any level are able to overcome that mental block that causes them to hesitate.
  • He ran determined in the Syracuse game after Trevor Lawrence went down.
  • Appears to have very good ball skills but had two ugly drops against Wake Forest and NC State because he took his eyes off the ball.
  • With his slightly upright running style and limited lateral quickness, I'm not sure he will ever be a great short-yardage back. He can continue to add strength, but short-yardage downs are about so much than just strength.
  • He's a bit quick to bounce runs to the outside. To his credit, I haven't seen many times where it hasn't netted him a positive gain, but that won't be the case in the NFL. It's not a huge concern, but it could be a habit he has to kick in the future.

    Scouting Video Courtesy of Highlight Creator

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