Travis Etienne

Jaguars Select Clemson RB Travis Etienne

First-overall pick Trevor Lawrence will be joining the Jaguars alongside a familiar face. With the No. 25 pick, Jacksonville selected Clemson running back Travis Etienne.

Etienne was considered perhaps last year’s top prospect, but the Clemson back made the rare (for running backs) decision to return for his senior season. His yards-per-carry figure dropped from 7.8 to 5.4 last year, perhaps hurting his draft stock a bit. Still, teams were plenty aware of the prospect’s two 1,600-yard seasons and 70 career rushing TDs. Ultimately, Etienne’s “down” season resulted in him competing with Alabama’s Najee Harris (and potentially North Carolina’s Javonte Williams) for the right to be the first running back off the board. Harris ultimately earned that honor, but Etienne wasn’t very far behind.

Teams were clearly still high on Etienne despite the reduced numbers. According to some scouts, Etienne showed improvements in other parts of the game, including receiving and pass blocking. At 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds, the rookie has the strength, speed, versatility, and elusiveness to become a three-down back.

Will he have that opportunity in Jacksonville? While he’ll have the support of his quarterback, it may be tough for Etienne to become the bona fide starter. 2020 undrafted rookie James Robinson had an incredible season, finishing with more than 1,400 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. Robinson profiles as a more of a bruiser, while Etienne (and his 48 receptions from 2020) could be relegated to a pass-catching role.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dolphins Doing Extensive Work On Draft’s Top RBs

The Dolphins’ running back depth chart may look different after the draft’s early rounds. They are doing considerable homework on this year’s top prospects.

Armed with the No. 18 overall pick and two second-round selections, the Dolphins have spent “significant” time talking to Najee Harris (Alabama), Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald notes. Members of Miami’s coaching staff and front office have also held multiple Zoom meetings with Travis Etienne (Clemson) and Javonte Williams (North Carolina).

In addition to virtual meetings with Harris, Jackson adds the Dolphins spent extensive time with the former Crimson Tide starter at the Senior Bowl. The prep the Dolphins are doing at this position has reached the point where it would surprise if they do not exit the second round with a starter-caliber back, Jackson adds.

The Dolphins hold the Nos. 36 and 50 picks in Round 2. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah does not expect a running back to go in the first round this year, but it would certainly be possible all three are gone by No. 50. Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay’s latest ESPN mock draft has all three gone by No. 36, potentially putting the Dolphins on the trade-up radar.

Miami was connected to running backs last year but elected to fill the position with veterans. Neither the Jordan Howard nor Matt Breida additions moved the needle much, with former seventh-round pick Myles Gaskin operating as the Fins’ top back for most of 2020. Gaskin and longtime Rams backup Malcolm Brown are now Miami’s top two backs. They figure to be joined by a rookie, perhaps a high-end talent, after the draft.

Etienne was considered perhaps last year’s top prospect, but the Clemson back made the rare (for running backs) decision to return for his senior season. His yards-per-carry figure dropped from 7.8 to 5.4 last year. Etienne, however, has two 1,600-yard seasons and 70 career rushing TDs on his resume. Harris dominated in the COVID-19-altered 2020 season, totaling 1,891 scrimmage yards and 30 TDs last season to help the Crimson Tide win another national title. One of two Tar Heels backs who will be drafted, Williams forced 76 missed tackles on just 127 carries. Dolphins backs’ 19 broken tackles ranked 30th in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Focus.

The Dolphins have not used a first- or second-round pick on a running back in 10 years (Daniel Thomas, Round 2), and teams like the Steelers and Bills are on the radar to draft a top back in the first round. GM Chris Grier has not been shy about trading or acquiring picks, so it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins move into better position to acquire one of the top backs next week.

Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons Declares For NFL Draft

Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons has officially declared for the NFL Draft, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. While the move will not come as a shock to anyone familiar with this year’s draft class, the news confirms that Simmons will indeed be available to teams in just a few months.

Simmons is considered a consensus top-ten, potentially top-five, prospect in this year’s draft class. An incredible combination of size, strength, athleticism, and football IQ, Simmons has been one of the most lethal switch-army knives in college football over the past three years.

While his size, 6’4”-230lbs, makes him an obvious fit at linebacker, many have opined that he has the speed and coverage abilities of an NFL safety. Earlier this year, a video of Simmons racing Clemson running back Travis Etienne in a 40-yard dash led many to speculate that Simmons should produce times below 4.45 and maybe even 4.4 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Both would rank among the best performances by a linebacker in the events history.

Simmons completes his collegiate career with 238 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 20 passes defended, 6 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions. While Clemson was unable to win back-to-back National Titles, Simmons had his most productive season this year, recording 104 tackles, 16.5 for loss, 8 sacks, 8 passes defended, and 3 interceptions.

Clemson RB Travis Etienne To Return For Senior Season

After losing top wide receiver Tee Higgins, Clemson can continue to build around its Trevor LawrenceTravis Etienne backfield. A junior running back, Etienne made the unexpected decision to stay in school, announcing the decision Friday (Twitter link).

Running backs typically declare early to avoid another year’s worth of college carries, but Clemson’s starter will take a different route to the NFL. Etienne has stacked multiple 1,600-yard rushing seasons together and could well end up as a 2021 first-round pick like Lawrence.

Etienne finished as a top-10 Heisman vote-getter in each of the past two seasons, which featured a combined 49 touchdowns and 3,782 scrimmage yards. Scouts Inc. slotted Etienne as a second-round talent this year, ranking the production dynamo as this class’ would-be No. 5 running back.

Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Florida State’s Cam Akers and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins rate as other top backs in this class. All had years of eligibility remaining, but each entered the draft early. But Lawrence’s Clemson running mate will instead focus on helping the Tigers to another national championship game, after having started in the past two, and becoming a 2021 first-rounder.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.