Travis Etienne

Jaguars Sign Travis Etienne

The Jaguars have agreed to terms with first-round running back Travis Etienne (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). As the No. 25 overall pick, he’ll earn $12.9MM on his four-year deal. Etienne doesn’t have any offset language in his contract, just like No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence

With Etienne, Lawrence, and new head coach Urban Meyer in the fold, things are looking up for the Jaguars after last year’s freefall. Considered a top prospect in the 2020 class, the Clemson product surprised many by returning for his senior season. His yards-per-carry figure dropped from 7.8 to 5.4, which probably helped the Jaguars secure him towards the end of the first round.

Despite the dropoff, he’s got two 1,600-yard seasons and 70 career rushing TDs to his credit. Even though he was outshined by Alabama’s Najee Harris, the Jaguars are still high on his potential. Some scouts say that Etienne even improved in certain parts of the game, like 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. Now, he’ll fight for time in an RB group that also includes rising star James Robinson and veteran Carlos Hyde.

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Poll: Which Rookie Running Back Will Finish With Most Rushing Yards?

Quarterbacks, per usual, dominated this year’s pre-draft coverage. The Falcons made Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history, and four wide receivers then went off the board in the top 20. Running backs, as they have done in a few drafts over the past decade, waited.

While two went in Round 1, the Jaguars’ Travis Etienne pick preceded a 60-pick stretch during which just one running back — the Broncos’ Javonte Williams choice — went off the board. The 2021 draft matches 2016 and 2003 for the fewest backs chosen in the top 80 (three) in the common draft era (1967-present), continuing a grim era for this once-storied position. But several of this year’s draftees have quick paths to key roles.

Linked to Najee Harris ahead of the draft, the Steelers took the Alabama standout at No. 24. Harris will join a Steelers team that ranked last in rushing in 2020. Although the Alabama product scored 30 touchdowns in his senior season and topped 1,200 rushing yards in two straight years, he will now play behind an offensive line that went through considerable turnover this offseason. The Steelers lost 17 Pro Bowls on their offensive line this year. They will replace Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva with far less experienced players, and David DeCastro‘s replacement (Trai Turner) struggled in 2020. Will Harris’ talent be enough to overcome significant O-line concerns in Pittsburgh?

Etienne joins a Jags team that just saw James Robinson set the rookie UDFA record for scrimmage yards (1,414) despite missing two games in 2020. Jacksonville also signed Carlos Hyde, who played for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Etienne spent time at receiver during the Jags’ offseason program but should be expected to contribute heavily in the backfield. Like Harris, Etienne stayed in college for four years. He twice surpassed 1,600 rushing yards and totaled 78 college TDs — most of which coming alongside No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence — but will this unusual setup (for a first-round back, that is) translate to rookie-year production?

The Broncos traded up four spots for Williams in Round 2, Pro Football Focus’ top-rated back in this class, and chose the North Carolina product 36th overall. Williams teamed with Jets draftee Michael Carter to form one of the nation’s top backfield tandems. Williams compiled just one 1,000-yard season with the Tar Heels but led Division I-FBS with 75 broken tackles in 2020. The Broncos have Melvin Gordon signed through 2021, but the John Elway-era addition does not appear to be a lock to hold off Williams for the starting role.

The rest of the rookie field includes third-rounder Trey Sermon (49ers), Carter (fourth round, Jets) and a host of backs ticketed for early-career backup roles. While injuries certainly will hit the running back position, potentially forcing some of the later-round picks into the fray, Sermon and Carter have the best bets of seeing steady action among the mid- and late-round selections.

An Oklahoma and Ohio State product, Sermon also played four years. He averaged more than seven yards per carry in each of his past two, though he never topped 1,000 on the ground. Lead 49ers back Raheem Mostert is coming off an injury-marred season. The Jets added Tevin Coleman, who joined Mostert in missing most of last season, but do not have another back with much experience. This could allow Carter (two 1,000-yard years at North Carolina) early upward mobility, despite his 5-foot-8 frame.

Which rookie back will rush for the most yards in 2021? Who are the later-round candidates or UDFAs who can join these players as early contributors? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

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Latest On Unsigned First-Round Rookies

After the Falcons inked first-round tight end Kyle Pitts to his rookie deal earlier today, there are eight first-round rookies who remain unsigned:

1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB (Clemson)
2) New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB (BYU)
3) San Francisco 49ers (from Texans via Dolphins): Trey Lance, QB (North Dakota State)
13) Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT (Northwestern)
14) New York Jets (from Vikings): Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL (USC)
15) New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB (Alabama)
25) Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams): Travis Etienne, RB (Clemson)
26) Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome II, CB (Northwestern)

This isn’t a huge cause for concern, as first-round contracts are pretty standard and by-the-book. However, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has an explanation for why at least a handful of these players still haven’t put pen to paper. According to the reporter (via Twitter), there are still some “wrinkles to work out” for the notable quarterback deals. This sentiment would presumably apply to each of the top-three picks, and it could even be referring to Patriots first-round quarterback Mac Jones.

There’s a number of minor details that agents could be pushing for, including signing bonus terms or any other contract language that goes beyond the standard, boilerplate options. On the other side, teams could be pushing for some type of offset language, meaning the organization would get some financial flexibility if the player for some reason doesn’t finish their rookie contract with the team.

When it comes to the quarterbacks, most of the agents are probably waiting to see how Lawrence’s deal unfolds in Jacksonville. Alternatively, if Bill Belichick and the Patriots (somehow) give in to any demands from Jones camp, you can bet the top-three QBs would argue for similar benefits. While there are a number of reasons why the other, non-QB players have yet to sign, one could guess that the two offensive lineman may be pushing for similar terms (Vera-Tucker could also simply be waiting for his teammate to sign their contract). Etienne is in a unique position as one of only two first-round running backs (or, like Vera-Tucker, he could be waiting for his teammate), while Newsome recently fired his agent.

The teams and the players will want the contracts settled prior to training camp in late-July, but that still leaves a few weeks for negotiating.

Ten First-Round Picks Remain Unsigned

This year, NFL teams have been quick to tackle their rookie paperwork. Still, there are a decent number of unsigned draft picks remaining, including ten of this year’s first-rounders: 

In a sense, this is a sign that things are back to normal in football following the pandemic. For example, by June 12th of 2019, 22 first-round picks had put pen to paper, with 222 rookies inked on the whole. However, around this time last year, there were just two first-round picks officially in the fold – Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Panthers defensive lineman Derrick Brown.

Offset language and similar minutia could be holding these ten deals up, but there’s no reason to panic. In all likelihood, these rookie contracts will be squared away before the start of training camp this summer.

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Jags Notes: Lawrence, Etienne, Tebow

Let’s round up a few items out of Jacksonville:

  • The expectation remains that Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick of this year’s draft, will be at full strength when training camp opens in a couple of months, as Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network observes (Twitter link). In fact, head coach Urban Meyer said Lawrence should be “pretty close to full go” before the end of mandatory minicamp on June 17 (via John Oesher of the team’s official website). Lawrence was on a 30-40 throw “pitch count” during this weekend’s rookie minicamp, and both he and Meyer believe everything is trending in the right direction. Lawrence underwent surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder in February.
  • Lawrence was obviously the headliner of the 2021 draft, but there is also plenty of excitement about the Jaguars’ second first-round choice, RB Travis Etienne (Lawrence’s teammate at Clemson). Etienne is a threat to break off a big play whenever he touches the ball, and his receiving abilities are just as enticing as his rushing prowess. In an effort to continue honing Etienne’s skills as a dynamic dual-threat talent, Meyer said that Etienne took most of his rookie minicamp reps at wide receiver, as Rapoport tweets. The Jags do have 2020 UDFA James Robinson on the roster, and Robinson turned in a terrific rookie campaign both as a runner and as a receiver. Despite Robinson’s presence, it doesn’t sound as if Etienne will be transitioned to a full-time WR. Meyer said he knows what Etienne can do as a rusher and just wants to see if he can also excel when split out wide (Twitter link via Field Yates of ESPN.com).
  • The Jags are planning to sign Tim Tebow as a tight end, but according to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington (via Tim Daniels of Bleacher Report), not everyone in the building is thrilled with the proposition. The detractors think that the signing does not send the right message to the rest of the team, and that it will not provide the locker room with the “cultural jolt” that Meyer is anticipating. But this is unquestionably Meyer’s club now, and there is an obvious void at TE. Whether Tebow is a legitimate candidate to fill that void remains to be seen.

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.

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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.