Matt Waldman’s RSP Film Room: Why Another Year at Clemson Proved Wise for RB Travis Etienne

Matt Waldman’s RSP Film Room examines Travis Etienne’s senior campaign at Clemson and shows why another year of college football was a wise decision for the 2021 NFL Draft prospect that many believed should have left the year before.

Travis Etienne made the right call to forgo the 2020 NFL Draft. At this time last year, the consensus opinion was that Etienne was wasting a year of pro eligibility and placing himself at risk for an injury that could damage his NFL value.

The injury risks are always a legitimate concern, but Etienne wasn’t ready to fulfill the expectations of fans and media after what he put on tape in 2018-19. Etienne lacked the patience and maturity required for executing zone schemes at the highest levels of football.

Most NFL teams run zone as their base blocking scheme. Even the organizations that run a high volume of gap plays use enough zone that Etienne had to develop greater consistency with recognizing the down-and-distance and field position scenarios that should influence a runner to take what the defense gives him.

Prior to the 2020 season, Etienne leaned far too much on his athletic skills. Although he may have made the necessary adjustments during his rookie year in the NFL, another year at Clemson guaranteed Etienne the reps and the confidence to mature without the pressure of letting down a professional organization and fanbase.

This deep dive into Etienne’s 2020 season reveals that Etienne has expanded his game beyond that of a quick-hitting game-breaker. While an NFL offense may cast Etienne in this limited role, Etienne has proven that he is a capable small-crease runner who will take what the defense gives him.

As is the case with many young NFL backs, Etienne may revert to immature tendencies as a rookie. Many backs who demonstrate an improved maturity in college go through weeks, if not months, of trying to do too much to generate a big play. Jonathan Taylor is the most recent example, and he finished the year strong.

Still, Etienne’s 2020 season at Clemson provides a film portfolio of greater decision-making maturity and the vision to trust small creases as well as anticipating creases that don’t appear immediately. His two greatest areas of remaining concerns are ball security and pass protection.

Etienne doubled his career fumble total, but two of his four fumbles in 2020 were the result of questionable exchanges. Still, his security at the elbow can be tighter and he must curtail his swinging of the ball away from his chest as he runs.

Etienne has the promise to become a good pass protector, but he’s presently a liability by NFL standards. He has to stop dropping his head into collisions, correct the angle he uses to cut block opponents, and improve his diagnostic skills for cross blitzes and multiple defenders blitzing from one size. Developing a better understanding of offensive line protection schemes and adjustments will be essential.

Overall, Etienne has NFL starter potential. That may have been the consensus opinion in 2019, but as someone who questioned that consensus view of many buzz-laden players over the past 16 years, including Andre Williams, Bishop Sankey, and Darren McFadden, it’s good to see Etienne learned enough during his 2020 collegiate season to be worthy of the praise.

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