With the surprise re-signing of Pro Bowler Aaron Jones and the promise of A.J. Dillon, the Green Bay Packers are set atop the running back depth chart. However, given the violence of the position, a quality third option is practically a necessity.
Clemson’s Travis Etienne is our No. 2-ranked running back.
Talk about saving the best for last.
Etienne was a four-star recruit out of Jennings, La., but hadn’t committed with National Signing Day 2017 just a week away.
"It was crazy. So we had this situation with the young man that was committed, that kind of fell apart in late November, December,” Clemson offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott told SI.cm’s All Clemson. “We thought we were going to get a young man out of Florida, and so we were heading in that direction and he calls while we're at the national championship site and says, ‘Look, I'm going somewhere else.’ So, I'm scrambling. So, I'm looking at who's the top uncommitted running backs out there? And his name was there. So I talked to his coach. First and foremost, tell me what kind of kid is he? Would he have interest in Clemson? He says, ‘Oh, yeah, great kid. You need to get here as fast as you can.’
“So, then I reached out to Travis, and literally I'm sitting in a movie theater. This would be the equivalent of a Friday night before a Saturday game. I'm in the movie theater, I'm not even paying attention to the movie. I'm just DMing him on his Twitter. And he said, ‘Coach, I've always loved Clemson, but our paths never crossed.’”
A couple days after Clemson beat Alabama for the national championship, Elliott made the trip to Jennings and landed one of the most prolific running backs in college football history with Clemson’s last available scholarship. A big-play runner and quality receiver, Etienne finished his four seasons with 6,107 yards from scrimmage and 78 total touchdowns.
“He’s an every-down back. And he didn't come here that way and that's not because he couldn't, he just hadn't been asked to do things and you know it was an option type of offense that he grew up in," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “But he's an every-down player. He can pound it between the tackles, he breaks tackles, he runs through the smoke, he can run away from people, he brings explosiveness. And every time he touches the ball you hold your breath. He's one of those guys.”
He was big-time in Jennings, too. He fumbled on his first varsity career but finished with almost 9,000 yards and 115 touchdowns during his prolific career. Once, according to the Advocate, an opposing player pulled a phone from his pants during postgame handshakes, stopped the line and asked Etienne for a picture.
“She was like, ‘Keep being you. You’re really being a positive role model to this community and just bringing light to everyone,’” Etienne said of his mom. “I was just being myself, so that never really crossed my mind.”
Following back-to-back seasons of 1,600-plus rushing yards, Etienne considered entering the draft last year. Instead, he came back for his senior season. While he rushed for only 914 yards and a 5.4-yard average – he averaged 8.0 yards in 2018 and 2019 – he set career highs with 48 receptions for 588 yards. According to PFF, he ranked fifth in the nation with 822 yards after contact.
“Trevor Lawrence is a generational guy. He’s going to be a great player for a long, long time,” Swinney said. “And so is Travis Etienne.”
Measureables: 5-foot-10, 215 pounds. 4.45 40. 9 3/8-inch hands.
Stats and accolades: Etienne is the FBS record-holder for most career games scoring a touchdown (46 of his 55 career games), breaking the mark held by San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey. He set ACC records with 4,952 rushing yards, 78 total touchdowns, 70 rushing touchdowns and 468 points. The ACC rushing record had stood since 1978. He’s one of only 12 players in FBS history with 4,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 career receiving yards. Etienne won ACC Player of the Year honors in 2018 and 2019, when he topped 1,600 rushing yards, and became the fifth three-time All-American in school history.
NFL Draft Bible says: Etienne is a tackle-breaking machine, as he uses his natural instincts and elusiveness to make defenders miss in the open field. He combines this with some deceptive power, as he sheds tackles with ease. Etienne is extremely efficient as he boasts a career 7.2 career yards per carry mark, and his excellent vision allows him to understand cutback lanes and anticipate where holes are going to open.
About This Series
Packer Central is introducing you to the top prospects, both on and off the field, in this year’s NFL Draft. The series is starting with the top five at each position, then will add additional players as the draft approaches, with a focus on positions of need.