NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Virginia vs Clemson
Jim Dedmon / USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars were consistently linked to running backs during the pre-draft process, and they lived up to expectations, taking Clemson back Travis Etienne with the No. 25 pick. Sorry, James Robinson, but things just got a lot more crowded in that backfield.

Can Etienne be a Fantasy superstar from Year 1? After recording 8,864 total yards and 115 total touchdowns for Jennings High School in Southwestern Louisiana, Travis Etienne was tabbed as a four-star recruit by 247 Sports and went to Clemson. Etienne truly broke out during his sophomore season at age 19 when he ran for 24 touchdowns and 1,658 yards. He improved on his receiving skills during his junior and senior seasons (85 catches, 1,020 yards, six scores through the air in 2019-20) while amassing massive rushing numbers (over 2,500 yards).

Etienne left Clemson as a two-time ACC Player of the Year (2018-19), the ACC's all-time leading rusher (4,952 yards) and as the NCAA's all-time leader in games with a touchdown (46).

More Fantasy breakdowns

Travis Etienne
JAC • RB •
Height5-10
Weight215
Age22 (1/26/99)
40-yard dash 4.45 *Pro Day
Vertical jump33.5
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We're breaking down everything you need to know about Etienne from a Fantasy manager perspective, including best fits, Dynasty outlook, measurables, scouting report, key stats and an NFL comparison.

2021 Fantasy Impact

Etienne is a special kind of playmaker. There are plenty of running backs you can comp him to, but one immediately jumps out to me: C.J. Spiller, another first-rounder out of Clemson. Spiller played a very limited role in his rookie season behind Fred Jackson, and you could argue Etienne may be in a similar situation behind 2020 breakout star James Robinson. But I'm not buying it.

This is a team that went 1-15 last season, so they've got plenty of needs. That they went out and got a running back in the first round despite having Robinson around suggests to me they want to involve Etienne early and often, even if it costs Robinson opportunities. And it almost certainly will.

In my first run of projections for the Jaguars after this pick, I slotted Etienne in for 48% of the team's carries compared to 25% for Robinson. So, he's not going to dominate rushing work. I did give Etienne a 15% target share, which is a pretty big number for a running back, but not a Christian McCaffrey number. It would be the fourth-highest number on the team. Add it up, and Etienne ended up as my ... RB12. 

Wait, really? Yep, I checked the numbers. Just ahead of Antonio Gibson and Chris Carson, and 12 full spots ahead of Najee Harris, the other rookie RB taken the pick before Etienne. That certainly feels too aggressive, and ultimately I knocked him down a bit, mostly in the passing game -- he was intiially projected to be fifth among running backs in total receptions. 

In my next run, I bumped Etienne down to a 12% target share and it knocked him down to RB20, which feels a bit more reasonable. And, of course, even that may be too optimistic; Robinson is the incumbent starter, and the Jaguars very well may view him as the better option to lead the running game, at least at the start of the season. It's actually possible this could make Robinson a nice value in drafts, because he could still be a top-30 option if he's the team's lead back.

But, Etienne's upside is obvious. His pass-catching and playmaking ability mean he doesn't need to have a ton of rushing attempts or touchdowns to be a must-start running back. I talked myself down from having Etienne as one of the best running backs in Fantasy, but that outcome is totally on the table. 

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Dynasty outlook

Fast and lean running backs like Etienne don't always pan out. Sometimes they take on too many injuries and fade (Cadillac Williams, David Wilson), sometimes they become studs for a few seasons (Jamaal Charles, C.J. Spiller), and sometimes they turn into superstars (Alvin Kamara). Etienne's ability to stay healthy through four years at Clemson is a good sign, but it's possible the Jaguars will limit his exposure to try to keep him healthy. Robinson gives them that luxury. However, if and when Etienne emerges as the Jaguars lead back, he should be a must-start Fantasy back. He's worth considering as early as the No. 2 pick in rookie drafts, and even in Superflex, I would take him over every QB except for Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence.

Scouting report

Strengths

  • Thick thighs as part of a strong lower body.
  • Familiar with all types of rushing schemes with excellent ability in power blocking schemes.
  • Lined up primarily in offset pistol but would also play outside, slot and in-motion pre-snap.
  • Usually did a great job diagnosing and following his blockers. Combination of good vision and very good patience helped him let plays develop.  
  • Very good speed and agility. Etienne's acceleration and burst are nearly instantaneous, making him tough for defenders to catch. Big-play potential on every touch.
  • A cinch to get to the edge on outside runs and turn the corner for positive yardage.
  • Very good ability to pick up his speed after stopping or shuffling his feet. He's terrific at planting his foot, making his cut and exploding.
  • Light-on-his-feet cuts that put defenders on skates and bought him space over and over.
  • Created yards with spin moves, hesitations and head-fakes that froze defenders. Here's a look at Etienne following a block, using a hesitation move and then speeding down the sideline:
  • Did a good job breaking away from tackles at his legs, creating yards after contact.
  • Despite small stature, Etienne would consistently gather momentum thanks to his strong legs and speed to help him fight, push or fall forward for as many as 5 extra yards to end a play.
  • And because of his small stature, Etienne was able to squirt and squeeze into and through tight spaces. Sometimes he'd slide into a thin rushing lane and come out the other end into open space, and sometimes he'd burrow between the hog mollies to convert a down of 1 or 2 yards. This trait could help him win at the goal line.
  • Very good pass-catching skills. Natural hands used to reel in receptions and smooth, fluid body movement to quickly adjust from receiver to runner after the catch. Only two drops in 2020.
  • Experienced running screens, flares, go routes, shovels, digs and more.
  • Regularly made very good adjustments to off-target throws.
  • Didn't struggle handling punishment as a runner or a receiver. Took a bunch of hard hits over the course of his career and would occasionally leave the field for a short period of time but frequently would just pop back up after the hit and move on to the next play. 
  • Etienne didn't miss a game or suffer a significant injury from 2018 through 2020.

Concerns

  • While his lower body is strong, his upper body was wiry. Weighed around 205 pounds as a senior. (Etienne has added weight since his last college game, weighing at 215 pounds on his pro day in March 2021, and still ran two 4.4 times in the 40-yard dash.)
  • Frequently was stopped in his tracks once a defender got a body on him above the waist.
  • Took a lot of ferocious-looking hits in college. Despite proof of durability at the college level, there is concern about his durability in the pros.
  • Below-average pass protector, both in terms of ability and experience. He ran a lot of routes in passing situations, but when he did stay in to block he would misdiagnose rushers and/or not do much to stand them up. He needs work there.
  • Eight fumbles through four seasons isn't that worrisome (one every 98.5 touches), but four fumbles in 2020 (one every 54 touches) hints at a possible problem.

Stats breakdown


GAttRuYdsAvgTDRecReYdsAvgTD
2020121689145.4144858812.32
2020 v top 254553336.15232069.00
2019 v top 254552815.131319515.02
Career5568649527.270102115511.38

Advanced stats to know

(all from 2020)

  • 3.84 yards after contact per attempt, 45th best
  • 822 yards after contact, fifth-best
  • 43 missed tackles forced, 12th best
  • 2.26 yards per route run, ninth best
  • 0.57 yards per target, 30th best
  • Converted a third down on 72.2% of his third-down rushes

NFL comparison

When Etienne weaved his way through defenders and broke through lower-body tackles, he looked like Kamara. If he's used out in space as well as placed behind a good offensive line, he can be just as productive as Kamara. One thing Etienne (and Kamara) have done a good job with is avoid big injuries. The sky's the ceiling for the Clemson Tiger if he can keep that up in the pros, but the countless running backs who enter the league under 220 pounds and suffer injuries from wear-and-tear (or otherwise) are the cautionary tale.