A dynamic running back for Clemson, Etienne has been on the radar of football fans for a long time and it looks like we will finally get to see him in the NFL next fall. The ACC all-time leading rusher burst onto the scene as a true freshman, averaging over seven yards per carry. He followed this up with two 1,600-plus rushing yard campaigns, eclipsing the 2,000 scrimmage yards mark in 2019. Afterward, he received a second-round grade from the NFL Draft advisory committee. However, Etienne decided to return to Clemson for yet another season, trying to add another national championship to his already impressive resume. However, the Tigers would lose to Ohio State in the college football playoff. Etienne added to his ridiculous accomplishments regardless, becoming the ACC’s all-time leading points scorer, a stat that usually favors kickers. In fact, he scored 78 touchdowns at Clemson, that’s 22 more than James Conner who is second in the conference’s all-time rankings. It is safe to say that Etienne has had a historic career and should be remembered as one of the greatest running backs college football has seen.
In a straight line, Etienne is a flash. He gets up to speed so quickly and is so fast in the open field making it almost impossible for defenders to take good pursuit angles on him. By accelerating into holes at his speed he puts so much stress on second-level defenders to fill quickly, if they don’t, Etienne rips off big run after big run. On counters, he gets lateral so rapidly, if there is any stiffness in defenders it will be exposed. Out of complete standstill, Etienne needs three, maybe four steps to get up to speed. His strides are long, while still running fairly low to the ground and if he gets to green grass, he is gone. Etienne can cut and change directions at steep angles, while carrying great speeds, making it difficult to get an angle on him. Behind the line, he has the lower body flexibility to avoid defenders at his feet or get lateral to reach a gap that is opening. Outside of his athleticism, Etienne has impressive contact balance, requiring defenders to wrap him up. Arm tackles usually do not get the job done but he can get tackled low and tripped up. As a receiver out of the backfield, he is already extremely dangerous due to his raw speed and creativity in space. His hands are soft and reliable. Etienne should look to improve as a route runner, as he is very raw in this area, merely getting to his spots at this point. At times, he plays too fast for his own good. He does not let his blocks develop and will tend to cut right into defenders. After receiving criticism for having ‘bounceritis’ early in his career, he cuts it back too frequently now when he is so good stressing defenses laterally. During his college career, the Louisiana native was not stifled often but when he was it was usually by a defense with plenty of speed at the second level, giving them the ability to counter his biggest threat. A competitor in pass-protection, Etienne does not possess the technique and anchor required to be trusted as a blocker consistently.
On this play, Etienne is at his best, beating defenders to the corner and picking up a big chunk of yardage:
Clemson runs counter and Etienne is able to get into the open field where he makes a defender miss:
If the defense backs off and allows him to have space underneath, Etienne can pick up lots of extra yardage after the catch:
Etienne shows off his ability to break tackles if he does not get wrapped up properly:
This is not even a good route but Etienne gains separation regardless. Watch out if he can improve as a route runner:
If the team that drafts him finds a way to get him the ball in space consistently, he will be a quality starting running back in the NFL with Pro Bowl potential. Etienne is a weapon stressing the range of linebackers as a runner and receiver. His speed makes him a perfect fit in an outside zone scheme. Teams that like patient backs that let blocks develop will not have him as high on their draft boards.
Scouting Lenz Value: 2nd Round
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