Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

PFF identifies Clemson RB Travis Etienne as a forward-thinking draft fit for 49ers

Mar 31, 2021 at 7:00 AM--

Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus went through all 32 NFL teams and tried to look one or two years in the future to project areas of need for each. Maybe a certain position group is considered among the team's strengths now, but will that be the case down the road? He then tried to find a good draft prospect—at a good value—to fill that potential need.

"The respective prospect pairings for those teams all stand out as good value for where they would be selected," wrote Linsey, "and their selection would serve as a preventative measure to maintain strength at that position for years to come."

For the San Francisco 49ers, it was the running back position. The team doesn't have a running back signed beyond this season. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson will be unrestricted free agents next year, while JaMycal Hasty and Austin Walter are scheduled to become exclusive-rights free agents.

It might be time for the 49ers to think about the position's future, so Linsey sees former Clemson running back Travis Etienne as a good fit.

"The 49ers' outside-zone rushing attack prioritizes speed and explosiveness at the running back position," wrote Linsey. "... Perhaps the 49ers look to their next starting running back a year early with the selection of Etienne, should he be on the board where San Francisco is set to select in Round 2."

Etienne (5-10, 205) recorded 914 yards and 14 touchdowns on 168 carries (5.4 yards per carry) through 12 games as a senior last season. He showed off his versatility by adding 48 receptions for 588 yards with two scores.

The Tigers running back recorded over 1,600 rushing yards in each of his previous two seasons while averaging nearly eight yards per carry.

"Etienne recorded a 4.41-second 40-yard dash and a 128-inch broad jump at Clemson's pro day," Linsey added. "He has the kind of speed and explosiveness that the 49ers have looked for at the position. He also brings with him four years of production in Clemson's offense, earning 82.0 overall grades in each of the past four seasons on at least 250 offensive snaps. Etienne even flashed legitimate improvement as a receiver this past season with a 90.9 receiving grade.

"As the PFF Draft Guide puts it, Etienne is not a plug-and-play NFL running back, but he's the most dynamic threat at the position in the class. He's the top running back and 42nd-ranked player overall on PFF's Big Board."

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