Fantasy Prospect Grade* (out of 50): 45.0
* - How well does his skill set carry over to the fantasy
game? For running backs, a player needs to be a three-down option
as well as a realistic threat for 1,000 rushing yards and 500
receiving yards to be a candidate for a perfect grade. Positional
scarcity at the pro level is also a part of the equation.
Etienne is lauded for his big-play ability for good reason (47
runs of 20 or more yards, 16 career touchdowns of 44-plus yards).
He plays to his timed speed (4.41 at his pro day) and possesses
the extra gear that separates great backs from most good backs.
It also doesn't take him very long to hit top speed, even after
absorbing contact. But with all due respect to his speed and explosiveness,
there have been plenty of 205-pound backs (which is what he is believed
to have played at in college) with 4.4 speed throughout draft history
and the history of those backs - at least those invited to the NFL
Combine - is not overwhelmingly good. Why is Etienne different?
He fearlessly runs inside with more power than most would expect
from someone of his size. He has also worked tirelessly to improve
himself as a receiver, as evidenced by his school-record (for a
running back) 48 catches in 2020 and 102 over his four-year career.
Although Clemson rarely asked him to handle 20 carries, he's not
the kind of back who needs a lot of touches to do a lot of damage.
In today's NFL where teams seem to do everything in their power
to either minimize the position or share the wealth at running back,
that's not a bad thing.
Etienne checked in at 215 pounds at his pro day. Is it realistic
to believe he will maintain that weight? If so, he may have the
necessary strength - his upper half isn't quite on par with his
lower half in that regard - to serve as his team's primary back
and not just as the leader of a committee. There has been the occasional
comparison made with Alvin Kamara, which isn't crazy considering
how similarly both were/are used. The problem with the comp is that
the ACC's all-time leading rusher is much more of a straight-line,
get-it-and-go back than the Saints' stud, who absorbs less contact
and is much more patient and elusive. That's not to say Etienne
completely lacks in those areas, but he appears much more interested
in hitting the accelerator as quickly as possible after contact
rather than avoid the next defender. While Etienne made himself
into a very good receiver and proven he is capable of being a hands-catcher
when necessary, he relies on body catching far too often. Ball security
is an issue as well with eight career fumbles, including four in
2020. The latter number is unforgivable given his 168 carries last
year. The combination of those issues and being an average pass-blocker
at the moment are two big reasons why he isn't the No. 1 back in
Most big-play running backs with 4.4-type speed tend to lean toward
being "finesse" players, but such is not the case with
Etienne. He's not a powerhouse by any means, but he is a fearless
runner with a strong base that gets his fair share of yards after
contact. The strides he has made as a receiver over the last two
seasons make him a candidate to become a team's primary back right
away, although his size and running style may make him more suited
to a Kamara-like lead back role. Fit will be critical to Etienne,
as his running style would seem to fit very well in any one-cut
zone-running scheme - like the ones from the Mike Shanahan-Gary
Kubiak coaching tree (new Jets OC Mike LaFleur is a fine example).
In that kind of offense, he could easily emerge as the best running
back from this class. He thrives in space, so his new team would
be wise to make that a regular part of the offense. His receiving
skills should make him a plus-version of Mostert (or even Kenyan
Drake) in short order. IF Etienne can slow his mind down even a
little bit (and not be so anxious to show off his speed) and get
a handle on his fumble issues, he may have a chance to reach the
Barber comp and could easily emerge as the best back in this class. Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured
in USA TODAY's Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He
is also a high-stakes player who often appears as a guest analyst
on a number of national sports radio shows, such as Sirius XM’s
“Fantasy Drive." Doug is also a member of the Fantasy
Sports Writers Association.