Falcons: Travis Etienne could provide better value than Najee Harris

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As of right now, the Falcons don’t have a single proven running back on the roster — Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, and Tony Brooks James don’t have 1,000 yards combined over their careers. I have always said that I don’t believe in drafting a running back high (first two rounds) or giving them a second contract. In that same breath, Najee Harris could very well be selected in the first round — at the very least high second-round. With all this talk about the Alabama workhorse, the general public has seemingly forgotten about Travis Etienne, which sounds insane to say.

Chase has already explored the possibility of taking Najee in a trade back scenario, but I have to say that Travis Etienne offers as much (if not more) as Najee and would likely require a later draft pick than his counterpart.

Strengths

Travis Etienne is one of the most notable college football running backs in NCAA history, finishing as the ACC’s all-time leading rusher. He racked up nearly 5,000 yards over four seasons with the Tigers and was responsible for 70 touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder had 207 rushes for 1,614 yards (7.8 average) and 19 touchdowns as a junior in 2019. He is a completely different back than Najee.

Etienne is closer to Alvin Kamara. After returning for his fourth season with the Tigers, he has become a bonafide weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. Him and Harris are neck and neck; there really shouldn’t be a consensus #1 running back in this class.

Etienne’s ability to seamlessly hit another gear and break away makes him a homerun threat every time he gets the ball in his hands — rumored to run a 4.3 forty-yard dash. His breakaway speed in the open field is breathtaking, and so is his acceleration. Etienne’s ability to defy pursuing defenders’ angles is impressive and allows for these breakaways. This doesn’t take away from his toughness, as he runs with great tenacity — just like Najee Harris.

Another incredible attribute of Etienne is his contact balance. This is where Alvin Kamara comes into play. The two play an eerily similar style of football. They look like they’re going in slow motion, as it seems they never get knocked off their center of gravities. Look at the contact balance on this touchdown against Virginia.

https://twitter.com/thecheckdown/status/1312554874316365824?s=20

Weaknesses

There are a few concerning issues with Etienne, though. Ball security has been a problem at times. In 2020, the Clemson running back notched four fumbles, including one that a Boston College defender returned for a 97-yard touchdown. This is a fixable problem, but it is still concerning. Etienne possesses elite straight-line speed but lacks the lateral quickness that Najee Harris — who’s 25 lbs heavier — actually has.

Team Fit

Najee Harris is closer to Derrick Henry than Travis Etienne, but Arthur Smith has made it known he will adapt his scheme to the roster’s personnel. Though more slender than Najee, Etienne is very capable of carrying the load of a three-down back. He has the ability to play any scheme, which is fascinating but would excel in attacking the edges and threatening as a receiver.

In a wide-zone scheme, Etienne would thrive — which Arthur Smith ran heavily in Tennessee. In a league where running backs are essentially receivers, taking Etienne in the second round wouldn’t make me too mad. He has the ability to threaten as a runner and receiver, which warrants a second-round pick — still never a first-rounder, though.

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