By Charlie Campbell
Summary: Clemson has become a powerhouse in college football behind some superstar quarterbacks and tons of NFL talent on both sides of the ball recruited by Dabo Swinney. Etienne will continue the Tigers’ streak of sending running backs to the pros, as he was a sensation since joining the program. As a freshman, he averaged 7.2 yards per carry for 766 yards with 13 touchdowns. In 2018, Etienne averaged 8.1 yards per carry for 1,658 yards with 24 touchdowns. He also caught 12 passes for 78 yards and two scores while helping the Tigers to win the National Championship.
Etienne played well for the most part in 2019. He averaged 8.2 yards per carry for 1,500 yards with 17 touchdowns, plus took 29 receptions for 298 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn’t all been good for Etienne, who demonstrated some ball-security issues against Georgia Tech and North Carolina. The game against the Tar Heels was a rough tape as a blocker and runner for Etienne.
Etienne totaled 168 carries for 914 yards – 5.4 average – and 14 touchdowns with 48 receptions for 588 yards and two scores in 2020. As a senior, Etienne showed real improvement in the passing game and turned into a solid weapon as an outlet receiver. He has also suffered from ball-security issues again as well, fumbling against Boston College, Syracuse and Georgia Tech.
The first trait that stand out about Etienne is his extraordinary speed. He has a sprinter’s agility that makes him a threat to take any touch of the ball the length of the field for a touchdown. With his first-step quickness and a burst to the hole, Etienne gets to the second level in a hurry and can explode down the field. Etienne is so fast that he can take away angles from defenders while running away from the defense. Once Etienne breaks into the open field, he is simply too fast to get caught from behind.
On top of being very fast, Etienne demonstrates very good running fundamentals, like the patience to let holes develop, the vision to see lanes about to come open, and good body lean to run behind his pads. While Etienne is not a big back, he flashes some nice contact balance to maintain his feet after contact, and he has a nose for the end zone. There were some plays in college where he picked up yards after contact and ran through some tackles, but those won’t happen in the NFL given the bigger and stronger defenders. He cannot be expected to be a back who runs over tacklers and picks up a lot of yards after contact. The senior displayed more toughness, physicality, and an ability to pick up yards after contact in 2020, but running over tacklers in the NFL won’t be his calling card.
Etienne looked really improved in terms of receiving as a senior. His hands and route-running were much better. He now catches the ball with his hands and is able to run some good routes. Etienne has the potential for the NFL to be a good receiving back who is a dangerous weapon to rip off yards in chunks on check downs to the flat. Etienne can turn a routine pass into a big play, and he could be a good contributor to a pro passing attack.
Like all college backs, Etienne will need work in blitz pickup for the NFL. He might be best as pro in a tandem with a big back who can help protect him from getting worn down plus handle the short-yardage and goal-line situations. Etienne also needs to improve his ball security, as fumbles were a problem for him at Clemson.
In the 2021 NFL Draft, Etienne looks like a potential pick late in the first round or early in the second round.
Player Comparison: Giovani Bernard. Etienne reminds me of Bernard at North Carolina. Both are smaller, fast backs who are dangerous receivers and natural runners. Neither one has great size for the NFL, and both better being paired with big back. Bernard was a second-round pick, and Etienne could go in the same range during the 2021 NFL Draft and has a shot at being a pick in the back half of the first round.
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