2021 NFL Draft Film Review #1: Travis Etienne

Travis Etienne was one of the best running backs in college football last season, amassing 1,614 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. He is an elite athlete that makes jaw dropping plays in a variety of ways. In this first film review, YoungAriGold, Texans Thoughts, and Texans Draft took a look at a few of Etienne's games and broke down some of his best plays.

The first game we watched was vs Georgia Tech, and this play was definitely the highlight of the film review. Backed up in their own red zone, on 1st and 20, Etienne pulls out a miracle. The play design is what really stood out to us. Look how QB Trevor Lawrence takes a couple steps to the right, and Etienne follows suit. He even turns his head completely to the sideline, really selling a run to the right. But then at the last second, they turn the run to the left instead. Etienne does an amazing job manipulating the block in front of him. He has tons of space to the sideline, but he follows his blocker inside. Once the OL pancakes the safety, Etienne turns on the jets and easily accelerates past 4 defenders. This short area acceleration is elite and I still don't know how no one tackled him. Once he gets into open field, its over. 90... Yard... TOUCHDOWN.

Etienne is a master of acceleration and vision, which is on full display here. The initial run is to the left but the H-Back gets blown back a little, causing some penetration. Etienne notices it quickly and bounces it to the right, finding a nice hole. He turns on the jets and accelerates through the hole nicely, avoiding two defenders. And then at the end of the play, it may look like he fumbled, but it was the ground that knocked the ball out.

Another great run here, really showcasing Etienne's cutting ability. As he gets to the line of scrimmage, there's a defender in his way. No worry though, as he quickly side steps him, even though there's minimal space to work with. He runs through two arm tackles, showing great strength for a slightly smaller back. We just really loved that first cut he made, changing the run from a one yard gain, to an eleven yard gain.

This was hands down one of his best runs, as he showed great vision, patience and acceleration. He follows his pulling offensive linemen, and patiently waits for them to make contact, and create a hole. Then he makes a subtle cut inside to get through the gap. With a defender incoming he gives him the most subtle move to the inside, to mess with his angle. The defender looks like he doesn't even know what hit him, and Etienne is just gone. The acceleration he showed from getting through the gap, to getting past that defender was elite. He didn't even have great top speed at the end, but it's the acceleration that got him this TD.

The next game we broke down was vs Florida State, and boy was it a fun one. On one of the first plays of the game, it looks like a normal toss to Etienne, but then he starts to slow down. What is he doing? Is he taking "patience" to a whole new level? Nope, he's PASSING the ball?! Etienne plants his feet, and throws it up to WR Justyn Ross (#8). Look at the mechanics, and the arm strength out of Etienne. Who knew he had this in his arsenal?

This next play was really great from Etienne, and it showed one of my favorite qualities from a RB, contact balance. What is contact balance? It's essentially the ability to keep your balance after you get hit, and keep picking up yards. That's exactly what Etienne does here, refusing to be brought down. He makes a nice subtle side step at the line of scrimmage, to hit the gap accordingly. He gets skinny and somehow makes it through all the traffic, and to the 2nd level. He runs through at least three tackles here, and it takes a defender literally jumping on his back to bring him down. Etienne may be smaller in stature, but he runs TOUGH. I love it.

Etienne is one of the most complete RBs, bringing speed, acceleration, vision, patience, elusiveness, contact balance, and even pass protection. If you can't block, you're not going to get a lot of snaps as a RB, but luckily, it's a strength of Etienne's. This play is picture perfect protection. His responsibility is initially to the left, but he scans the field and finds the unblocked blitzing defender to the right. He steps up in the pocket, meets the defender and takes him square on. Etienne doesn't just get in the way of the blitzer and get run over. He fully embraces the contact and doesn't give up any ground. Just look at how low to the ground he gets, winning the leverage battle, and keeping Lawrence clean. If he didn't pick this up, Lawrence might've lost his dang head.

One thing we all noticed was Etienne’s ability to follow his blocks and wait for the blocking scheme to develop so he can pick his holes to run through, and you can see that on this play. The play call is a run to the left and you even see Etienne’s hand on his lead blocker so that he knows exactly when the block is complete indicating that he can now run through the hole created by his lead blocker. You can see here his patience in letting the block develop as he immediately accelerates once his lead blocker is engaged. Etienne’s ability to recognize blocks and follow them is uncanny and it shows up all over his film, this is just an example.

We all had mixed feelings about this next play from Etienne. This runs starts off great, he runs through a big hole and is showing great contact balance with the way he is bouncing off tackles to pick up the first down and more. However, we all noticed that he gassed quite a bit at the end of this run and left some yards on the field. It was a pretty common theme throughout his tape, he does not have great conditioning and it is super clear on this play. It is something I hope to see improve from Etienne.

This next play will highlight one of Travis Etienne’s main limitations. He is never going to be a power back that you run between the tackles at the goal line for a quick score. This play comes after they gave the ball to Etienne at the goal line three times and he could not punch it in on the fourth time either. We noticed that he does his best work at the goal line when he bounces the ball outside, and that is not always an option against a defense that can set the edge properly. This is not something that I would consider to be a major knock on him, just something to keep in mind for NFL teams. You should not expect Etienne to come in and be a back you use in short yardage situations, because unless he improves that part of his game, you will be sorely disappointed.

In this sequence you will see one of the major things we all noticed about Etienne’s game. He almost never allows himself to lose yardage on a play. He has a seemingly natural ability to make tacklers miss just enough to at least get back to the line of scrimmage no matter how many people are swarming him. This is something that occurred many times in the three games that we watched, and something that is certainly a theme in the rest of his tape. You can see in this sequence that there is almost nowhere to go, but Etienne’s shiftiness allows him to avoid a loss. There is a lot of value in this skill at the next level. Much of the time when a big loss is taken on a run, it kills the momentum of a drive and to have someone that can prevent that from happening is huge.

Something we all really want to see Etienne improve on this upcoming season is his involvement in the passing game, specifically his route running ability. Etienne did not catch very many passes in the games that we watched, and when he did, the results were slightly disappointing. Taking this play for example, Etienne leaves some yards on the field simply by running his route too close to the defender. If he stops slightly past the line of scrimmage to make his cut to the outside, you can see that he has a far better angle to take on the man covering him. With Etienne’s ability in space, I would put money on him making that man miss if he was afforded that better angle. I would really like to see him improve in this area this upcoming season and utilized more in the passing game because his aforementioned ability in space would be super valuable there.

This next play was one of our favorites because it showcased Etienne’s best trait as a back perfectly and that is his acceleration. It’s a simple toss to the right and Etienne gets a lot more out of this play than most backs would simply because of his speed. It almost looks fast forwarded the way he just glides past defenders that are in front of him and even have the angle on him slightly. This is what sets him apart from all other running backs in the country and why he will most likely be my RB1 come the 2021 NFL Draft. It is insane how quickly he reaches his top end speed and the burst he hits holes with, simply amazing.

This last sequence exhibits one of the nastiest double moves I have ever seen put on a defense. It was so good Texans Thoughts thought he stumbled at first. Etienne put on a stop and go that shifted the whole defense the complete opposite way of where he was going, which is why it was a walk in touchdown. You can see the linebacker that is supposed to be setting the edge at the bottom of the screen takes a full step in the wrong direction and by the time he recovers, Etienne is already in the endzone. This is a perfect play to cap off this film review because it really encapsulates what Etienne is as a running back. In this play you see his quick feet, acceleration, and block recognition all in one, and when he gets going, it is beautiful to watch.