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The Spy (NFL Draft Vol. I): The 5 W’s of Travis Etienne



Bills Mafia! Welcome to the off-season. The Spy column is transitioning to new content, and we are excited to provide it. The Spy has seen fit to recruit reinforcement from BF’s own Zach Vaughn, considering the importance of this current and near-future time for the team and her fans. We will be evaluating offensive prospects, exclusively, for the upcoming draft. We aim to provide simplistic yet detailed information on as many prospects as possible (within the bounds of realism and likelihood). We will do so with the classic “5 W’s” approach. Without further ado, enter TRAVIS ETIENNE, AKA “Heat Lightning.”

SPY 1: WHO is Travis Etienne (ETN)?

Travis Etienne Jr. grew up in Jennings, Louisiana, a small city about an hour and a half west of Baton Rouge. He played two seasons of varsity football at Jennings High School, recording 310 carries, 3,192 yards, and 46 touchdowns on the ground in 19 games. As a four-star recruit, Etienne received offers from several Division I schools, including Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Louisiana State (LSU), before ultimately committing to Clemson.

SPY 2: WHAT Are ETN’s Attributes?

Like Alvin Kamara, Etienne is lethal when working in space. He uses his blend of quick cuts and natural speed to turn even one or two yards of space into big chunk plays. In addition, he is adept at identifying and exploiting holes created by his blockers. This is the type of player that will shred a defense that loses contain on him, misses a tackle, or fails to account for him. Were talking about a player that can be deployed into the full gambit of offensive roles, whether he works from the backfield, the slot, or even splits out wide with the WR’s. 

One area of the Bills run game fans have consistently been displeased with is contact balance and the ability to run after contact. We are introducing a new statistic known as PFRC, or Pursuit-Failure-Rate-Caused. From verified sources and game scripts, Etienne assisted Clemson in leading the NCAA in tackles broken by force at 238, according to 24/7 Sports’ Matt Howe. What helps us to make this statistic more concrete is correlating it to yards gained after contact. ETN recorded totals always 5+ yards, in this metric. He is not an easy player to get on the ground while in a run or pass role. (Do note that more coverage on the PFRC metric will be coming in due time)

He does, however, possess some flaws in his game, but the most prominent is pass blocking. Usually, he either misreads it and ends up out of position or whiffs on it. (Some of the “whiffing” could be attributed to scheme, where he does a check-and-release block before going on a route.)

SPY 3: WHEN Should ETN Be Drafted? 

Etienne, one of the most notable running back prospects in the draft, will likely go in the mid or late first round. That said, it should be noted that in recent years, a trend has emerged where in some cases, incredibly skilled RBs can slip a bit on draft boards (sometimes even multiple spots or perhaps even a round).

SPY 4: WHERE Did ETN Come From?

Etienne thrived at Clemson, racking up 4,952 rushing yards and 70 touchdowns as well as 1,155 receiving yards and eight scores in 55 career games. He also recorded 750 yards on 33 kick/punt returns. According to Clemson Athletics, Etienne won consecutive ACC Player of the Year Awards in 2018 and 2019 and became the fifth player in program history to earn All-American First-Team honors three times. He is one of only 12 players to record 4,000+ rushing yards and 1,000+ receiving yards in FBS history and one of six to score 70+ rushing touchdowns. Etienne also set ACC conference records in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and points scored. (His 468 career points scored are tied-seventh most in FBS history.) Clemson is not an easy place to play football. Expectations are consistently ultra-high and so too is pressure on players to perform. This is a football program that is vying for a National Championship annually and demands the most from players. Head Coach, Dabo Swinney, is renowned for the culture he has constructed and propagated, and this type of nurturing mentality jives rather nicely with the culture of the Buffalo Bills.

SPY 5: WHY Is ETN Ideal for The Buffalo Bills?

Etienne excelled in Clemson’s spread offense, which relies on zone run concepts (i.e. inside zone runs, quarterback runs, read options, and run-pass options/RPOs) in conjunction with quick screens, out, hitch, and slant routes in the pass game to get players in open space. This is the type of offense the Bills implemented last year. In 2020, Sports Illustrated columnist, Brad Senkiw, penned an article discussing Clemson’s team leaders assisting in helping the team adjust to the many challenges faced in fighting back against the COVID-19 Pandemic. He said of the Clemson RB: “Etienne is the leading rusher in Clemson history, and despite the senior’s humble personality, he’s clearly grown into a leader in a young running back room.” This humble personality lends itself to being a process player and being compatible with the refined and powerful bond Bills players share. We have seen this type of mentality work to great benefit and effect from Superstar WR Stefon Diggs. 

DARKHORSE BONUS POINT: HOW Does BF Predict ETN Would do If Drafted by The Buffalo Bills?


ETN, if drafted by the Buffalo Bills, will be an IMMEDIATE plug-and-play threat. Few players can lay claim to such highly earmarked projections. It is believed (by BF) that the NFL comp. for ETN is Alvin Kamara. ETN is the key to unlocking the potential for the Bills offense to be both more balanced and effective overall that was missing this past season. Please do note: we are not saying that the Bills need to run the ball more. Rather, they need to do so with more efficiency and lethality. The capacity to make plays must be higher, and that is what ETN provides. Even in a situation where run blocking is not up to par, ETN can overcome that and take the rock to the house. He has the speed, he has the skill, he has dynamic agility, a powerful football IQ and most importantly; the ability to make snap judgements in the middle of an active play, in a north to south orientation. 

ETN is not a dancer with the football, but rather, a fighter jet that will fly in the Bills offense under OC Brian Daboll’s system and with Josh Allen at his side in the backfield. One aspect of evaluating anything is the question of Capabilities vs. Limitations. Ideally, we want to add to the former and maximize it. ETN gives the Bills a method by which to do so in a powerful and aggressive manner. Imagine and visualize for a moment ETN in a bunch formation with Isaiah McKenzie and Gabriel Davis… How are defenses containing that while also doing so against the Bills’ other plethora of weapons. 

In Closing, please follow The Buffalo Fanatics on all platforms, trust the process and GO BILLS.

Let us know your thoughts in comments sections.  

Cover the Buffalo Bills for the Buffalo Fanatics media group. Follow on Twitter @BF_Spy