NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2020. This is the seventh in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
I always enjoy the First Look series. Watching the current crop of top prospects while still having the previous draft class fresh in my mind is very helpful in this exercise as I evaluate these players. I mentioned in my recent report on LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase that I believe he's better than any wideout in the 2020 NFL Draft class. Well, after studying Travis Etienne, I believe the Clemson star is better than any running back from the 2020 draft class. He surprised a lot of folks by deciding to return for his senior season instead of moving on to the next level after earning back-to-back ACC Player of the Year awards. This is shaping up to be a loaded 2021 crop of talent! Here's my report on the Tigers' special runner:
Height, weight: 5-foot-10, 210 pounds (school measurements).
2019 statistics: 207 carries for 1,614 yards (7.8 average), 19 touchdowns; 37 catches for 432 yards (11.7 average), four TDs; five kickoff returns for 128 yards (25.6 average).
Game tape watched: Florida State (Oct. 12, 2019), South Carolina (Nov. 30, 2019), Virginia (Dec. 7, 2019).
What I liked: Etienne can be best described with these three words: explosive, tough, instinctive. He has a dynamic burst whether he's running inside or outside. He has good vision and shows the power to step through tackles consistently. His contact balance is exceptional. Defenders bounce off his legs.
He's primarily used on screens in the passing game, but he flashes route-running savvy on a few option routes. He's outstanding in the open field. Etienne has excellent pull-away speed and can also make defenders miss. He's very aware and willing in pass protection.
Where he needs to improve: While he's a willing pass protector, I also believe that's the area of his game where he has the most room to grow. He's quick to identify threats, but he needs to improve his technique. He squats and gets bullied on occasion. He also lunges at times. These issues can be addressed and he should improve with more work. I also noticed he has natural hands as a pass catcher when facing the quarterback, but he had some issues tracking the ball over his shoulder.
Biggest takeaway: NFL offensive play-callers are starving for explosive plays. It's hard to maintain long drives without getting off schedule as the result of a penalty, individual breakdown or poor play call. Players like Etienne have tremendous value because he's capable of scoring from anywhere on the field at any time. He's a dynamic playmaker and still has room to improve.
He reminds me of: I see a lot of Alvin Kamara after studying these three games. Both guys have rare quickness and burst. Kamara is more advanced as a route runner, but Etienne has the tools to achieve that level of performance. They also share a natural feel for the position. Kamara doesn't need to touch the ball 25 times to have a major impact on a game. The same can be said for Etienne. Kamara is one of the top weapons in the NFL, and I believe Etienne could develop into the same type of player.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.