- Clemson’s Travis Etienne is the heavy favorite to be the first running back selected in this year’s NFL Draft
- The draft is scheduled to be held from April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, Ohio
- Analysis of the odds on which RB will be picked first can be found below
Travis Etienne returned to Clemson for his senior season in 2020 with hopes of improving his NFL Draft stock and helping the Tigers win a national championship.
Clemson was knocked out in the College Football Playoff semifinals by Ohio State. However, Etienne has opened as a heavy favorite to be the first running back selected in this year’s NFL Draft.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Etienne’s college teammate, remains the overwhelming favorite to be the first-overall pick in the draft, which will be held April 29-May 1 in Cleveland.
First RB Selected in 2021 NFL Draft Odds
|Travis Etienne (Clemson)||-200|
|Najee Harris (Alabama)||+125|
|Javonte Williams (North Carolina)||+700|
|Michael Carter (North Carolina)||+3300|
|Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis)||+4000|
|Trey Sermon (Ohio State)||+4000|
|Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State)||+5000|
Odds as of Feb. 22 at DraftKings.
Disappointing Final Season
Etienne had a so-so senior season – by his lofty standards – as he rushed for 914 yards and 14 touchdowns on 168 carries in 12 games.
By comparison, Etienne had 1,658 yards and 24 TDs as a sophomore in 2019 and 1,614 and 19 TDs in his junior season. He was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year both years, playing 15 games in each.
Travis Etienne and Trevor Lawrence could have been the most influential duo of college football teammates ever.
But that school in Tuscaloosa exists, and LSU had the greatest CFB team I've ever seen in 2019. pic.twitter.com/UQWYTUbiWc
— Dalton Miller (@DaltonBMiller) February 17, 2021
Furthermore, Etienne surpassed 100 yards in just three games. One of them, though, came against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game when he amassed 124 yards on 10 attempts.
However, Etienne managed just 32 yards on 10 carries against Ohio State.
Etienne did post career-best numbers as a receiver. He caught 48 passes for 588 yards and two touchdowns.
Harris’ Stats Better
Alabama’s Najee Harris was the top finisher among running backs in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2020, coming in fifth. He also had a better season from a statistical standpoint than Etienne.
In 13 games, Harris rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns on 251 attempts. He also had 43 receptions for 425 yards and four TDs while helping lift Alabama to the national championship.
Najee Harris 2021 Draft Prospect Film Breakdown
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) February 17, 2021
Harris had six 100-yard games. Though he was limited to 79 yards in 22 carries by Ohio State in the national championship game, Harris’ numbers against the Buckeyes were certainly better than Etienne’s.
As far as career rushing statistics go, Harris averaged 75.4 yards a game and 6.0 yards a carry. Etienne’s averages were 90.0 and 7.2
Etienne also averaged 11.3 yards on 102 career receptions while Harris had a 9.8 average on 80 catches.
Different Kinds of Backs
Etienne and Harris have divergent running styles.
Etienne relies on speed and quickness to slash through defenses as he stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 212 pounds.
Travis Etienne is so damn slippery. Only a few players could turn this into a TD. Contact balance shows up >>> pic.twitter.com/6WiM1MEQPs
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) February 21, 2021
However, Etienne does not always just run past defenders. He also has deceptive strength to occasionally run over people, but his outstanding start-and-stop quickness is usually what makes tacklers miss.
At 6-2, 230, Harris is the classic power runner. Alabama often handed Harris the ball and had him stay between the tackles and behind its large and talented line.
— BlitzburghVideos ✨ (@BlitzVideos) February 16, 2021
The one knock against Harris is that he lacks the breakaway speed for long touchdown runs. However, that may be shortchanging Harris because he has quick feet and good instincts.
Who Needs a Runner?
NFL teams have devalued the running back position in this era of non-stop passing.
The only RB selected in the first round of last year’s draft was LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He was chosen by the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of the round.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 11, 2020
Two teams who really need a running back that could make an immediate impact in 2021 are the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Todd Gurley was a huge disappointment in his first – and perhaps only – season with the Falcons as he had 678 rushing yards. The Steelers’ top rusher was James Conner with 721 yards, and he is eligible for free agency.
The Falcons have the fourth-overall pick but are highly unlikely to take a running back that soon. The Steelers could possibly take an RB at No. 24, but also have an acute need on the offensive line.
If the Steelers indeed go for a running back, Harris fits their mold as a bruising back with the ability to catch passes. Throw in the recency bias of Harris coming off the better 2020 season and he would seem to be a bit more attractive to most NFL teams than Etienne.
Thus, the former Crimson Tide standout looks like a good value play at +125.
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