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Travis Etienne 'Dream Scenario' Is Playing For The Cardinals

But with greater needs, would team spend first-round pick on running back?

Clemson running back Travis Etienne (9), here playing against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, is expected to be one of the first running backs selected in the draft.
Clemson running back Travis Etienne (9), here playing against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, is expected to be one of the first running backs selected in the draft.

The question came at the tail end of a recent interview – with no time left to explain – and Travis Etienne, arguably the best running back in this year's draft, did not hesitate when asked what his perfect draft story would be.

"I'm not even going to lie to you," Etienne said. "My dream scenario is the Cardinals at 16."

After taking part in Clemson's pro day Thursday, running a 4.40 40-yard dash that looked effortless, Etienne wasn't backing off his evaluation.

"I just thought it'd be a great scenario," Etienne said. "They just got J.J. Watt, and adding another piece to the offense seeing Kenyan Drake (in) his contract year. Just kind of putting things into place, I feel like I could go there and be a great asset to the team.

"I put things in perspective. If it happens, it happens. If it don't, it don't."

Etienne is right when it comes to Drake. If the veteran running back, who is a free agent, doesn't return, the Cardinals are going to need someone to pair with Chase Edmonds in the backfield. But as dynamic as the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Etienne has proven to be – he totaled 914 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing in 2020 with another 48 catches for 588 yards and two TDs, and rushed for more than 1,600 yards as a sophomore and as a junior – the team spending the 16th pick in the draft on a running back seems highly unlikely.

If Etienne would happen to last until the Cards pick again, 17th in the second round, then perhaps. But that seems a longshot.

There is no argument that Etienne would fit well in the Cards' backfield, a playmaker with significant speed. He's not a huge back, but NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah noted that Etienne's power is his speed. Certainly, Etienne would fit in the locker room, with former Clemson teammate Isaiah Simmons and another ex-Tiger in DeAndre Hopkins.

But will the Cardinals and General Manager Steve Keim – who was one of the three allowed from the organization who attended Clemson's pro day – grade Etienne highly enough? And would it offset the desire to draft, say, a much-needed cornerback at 16?

Jeremiah is of the group that is OK with taking a running back in the first round. But it comes with caveats.

"I think re-signing them (to a second contract) is a whole different conversation," Jeremiah said. "Run them until the wheels fall off on that first contract and off you go. It makes more sense to me to take one of these guys (in the first round) when you're ready to win. The carries you have, if you say it's going to be a five-year window when we're going to get the most out of this guy and move on, I don't want to waste those carries on a bad football team.

"Taking a running back in the top five doesn't make a lot of sense because by the time you're good, you'll have already wasted all the good mileage on the back. If you've got a team that can be a playoff-caliber team, and you want to drop in a big-time back (in the first round), I don't have any problem with it at all. Arizona, 8-8 and right on the doorstep of being a playoff team, if he's your highest-rated guy and you think he's the best football player, I'd have no problem at all with them taking him."

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said, if Drake leaves, incumbent Chase Edmonds has shown he could be the Cards' lead back. Edmonds will be a part of the equation, but the Cards need someone else to take significant snaps.

Etienne said he's worth a first-round pick because "I feel like I possess a lot of things that are God-given that most guys don't possess."

Some team will get the chance to put that to use. Etienne may love the idea of the Cardinals being that place, but he understands that's not how it often plays out.

"Wherever I get drafted," Etienne said, "I'm going to be grateful and prepared to give it all for my team."