Travis Etienne was in the headlines this weekend after Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer told the media following Saturday’s rookie minicamp workout that Etienne, a running back, would be taking reps almost exclusively at wide receiver during the three-day practice session for the rookies. Etienne, who was a bit of a surprising pick for the Jaguars at No. 25 overall in the first round, is expected to be a dual-threat or slash player for Jacksonville, and will get reps in both the rushing game and passing game.
To help paint a clearer picture of the talent and skill set Etienne brings with him to Jacksonville, we once again spoke to Ryan Kantor, a writer for both Shakin the Southland (SB Nation’s website for all things Clemson Tigers) and TigerNet.com, another detailed website focused on Clemson athletics.
Editor’s Note: The questions were asked and answers were received prior to the Jaguars beginning rookie minicamp on May 14.
1. Travis Etienne is obviously an explosive player who is a threat to score any time the ball is in his hands. With that said, the value of taking a running back in the first round is usually not there, although Etienne also factors into the passing game. Was taking Etienne at No. 25 overall worth it for the Jaguars? Why or why not?
Ryan K: Etienne is the real deal. He came into Clemson as a speedster who couldn’t pass protect or catch. Now he is an extremely well-rounded back. This is more of a draft philosophy question than a question about Travis Etienne, though.
My biggest pet peeve about the NFL Draft is how bad teams that realistically have a long way to go before they’re Super Bowl contenders focus on immediate team needs instead of stockpiling talent. Perhaps no team does this worse than the Atlanta Falcons, who in 2018 went 7-9. They had issues on the offensive line so they used the No. 14 overall pick on a O-lineman and then traded up and used another first rounder on an O-lineman. The next season they proceeded to go 7-9 again.
I know Jacksonville has depth at running back at the moment. I know you wanted to fill a need at tight end, but your record in 2021 doesn’t really matter. Hopefully the team makes progress, but it is about the long-term. Carlos Hyde is 30-years-old. Etienne, despite being a four-year player at Clemson, doesn’t have that much mileage on his legs and has stayed remarkably healthy. He can be part of the franchise for quite a while. For now, collecting all the right pieces is wise, even if there are still holes in the short-term. I like the pick!
2. Etienne enters a backfield with James Robinson, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last year as an undrafted free agent, and Carlos Hyde, a veteran tailback. Urban Meyer mentioned using Etienne as a “third-down back,” but if you draft a player that high, there should be a larger role for him. Do you expect Etienne to immediately carve out a spot in the running back rotation, and how is he best utilized in the offense?
Ryan K: As indicated by my last answer, I don’t think having a big role in 2021 is critical. Helping the Jags make the playoffs in the years that follow and hopefully win a Super Bowl in the next three to six years is what it is all about.
That being said, Travis Etienne can make an immediate impact, too. His college stats last season were skewed toward pass catching, but it isn’t because he is a scat back. Clemson’s offensive line struggled in run blocking. Clemson’s offensive coordinator knew he still needed to get the ball in his best playmaker’s hands, so he utilized Etienne heavily in the passing game. It sounds like Etienne could find himself in some interesting two-running back sets in Jacksonville. I imagine we’ll see him split out as a receiver and as a traditional running back throughout games. Coach Meyer sounds willing to be creative to ensure they get some immediate dividends from the pick.
3. Urban Meyer wants to add as much speed to the roster as possible. Etienne provides that with 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed, but outside of speed, what does Etienne do well?
Ryan K: His speed is very good, but it is really more about his acceleration. This run from his freshman year is still my favorite and it really demonstrates that burst:
We talked about how he has become solid in pass protection and turned himself into the best pass-catching running back in college football. Here’s how he can do damage in the passing game:
What we haven’t talked about is the fact that he’s added a ton of muscle since his freshman year and is really tough to bring down. This tough run is from his junior year. Look how many Buckeye defenders try to bring him down and fail:
4. Do you expect the chemistry between Clemson teammates Etienne and Trevor Lawrence to carry over into the NFL, and how important is that for Etienne as he transitions into the NFL?
Ryan K: Both players are pretty high-character guys. I don’t think it can hurt, but as long as Coach Meyer is building a healthy locker room I don’t think it is a key factor. It’s fun, though!
5. Despite his smaller stature and speed to out-run everybody, Etienne doesn’t appear to shy away from contact. Do you expect that trend to continue in the NFL, and how will his toughness help him adjust to the NFL game?
Ryan K: Etienne isn’t a sledgehammer type running back, but he can certainly run in-between the tackles and I expect his ability to do that will translate very well in the NFL.
6. What else should we know about Etienne, if there is anything else?
Ryan K: Etienne is incredibly fun to watch and easy to root for. I know a lot of fans don’t like to see their team take a running back in the first round, but Etienne is the best running back in the history of the ACC and it wasn’t a situation where elite talent around him just made him shine. He is truly a special talent and one that we’ll miss in Clemson. I expect him to thrive in Jacksonville.
A huge thank you to Ryan for his great insights into how and why Etienne can help make impact in Jacksonville. You can follow him on Twitter, and be sure to follow Shakin the Southland and TigerNet.com for in-depth Clemson Tigers coverage.
Visit TigetNet.com to check out my responses to Ryan’s questions regarding Etienne’s potential role and fit with the Jaguars, which was published last week.
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