In CBS’ most recent mock draft, they have the Pittsburgh Steelers taking a running back. But unlike most mocks, it isn’t RB Najee Harris. Cody Benjamin’s draft prediction has the team taking Clemson RB Travis Etienne at #24 overall. In explaining the pick, he writes:
“The Steelers feel like an organization more likely to invest at OT here, but they’re also entering a do-or-die year with Big Ben back under center. Etienne would be an instant (and more dynamic) fill-in for James Conner.”
There’s no question the Steelers are looking for an upgrade over Conner, almost certain to hit free agency and sign elsewhere. Pittsburgh’s offseason mandate is to improve their 32nd ranked run game to help out their 39 year old Ben Roethlisberger. And the offense could certainly use a running back with Etienne’s big-play ability.
Since 2018, the Steelers’ run game has just 29 plays gaining 20+ yards which ranks 20th in football. Pittsburgh’s aim has been to have bigger and well-rounded backs like Conner, Benny Snell, and even Le’Veon Bell. None of those guys were home run hitters. Etienne is.
Though on the leaner side at 5’10 205 and looks a little smaller than that, he’s explosive with great contact balance and solid out of the backfield. But our scouting report questioned his ability in an offense that didn’t give him so many runways to get up to top speed. And he struggled in short-yardage situations, another area the Steelers are looking to fix after struggling mightily there for the past two seasons. Etienne had a largely productive career but faded in 2020, seeing his average dip down to 5.4 yards per carry and rushing for 914 yards, his fewest since his freshman season.
In CBS’ mock, Etienne is the first and only running back to go in the first round. It’s a position that’s been devalued in the draft in recent years. Over the past three drafts, the highest a running back has gone is #24 overall. Funny enough, that’s exactly where the Steelers are picking this April.
Check out our full scouting report on Etienne below.