It’s finally time for the 2021 NFL Draft, which means we’re almost done with discussing mock drafts.
ESPN insider Todd McShay published his final pre-draft projection on Thursday morning, and it has the Buffalo Bills making a big splash in the first round:
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Many teams have Etienne ahead of Najee Harris (Alabama) as the class’ top running back, and only six franchises in the NFL got fewer rushing yards out of their running backs last season than the Bills (1,301). Etienne can hit the home run any time he finds daylight, and an offense featuring Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and Etienne would be scary.
On Monday, McShay made a podcast appearance and shared the latest news he’d heard around the league, which was that the Bills intended to trade up for Etienne, thinking he was the best running back in the draft. He heard they were targeting a move ahead of the 23rd pick, to get a jump on the Jets, Steelers, and Jaguars, and that’s what his mock draft projects.
Todd McShay, on Ryen Russilo’s podcast, says he’s hearing the Bills are trying to move ahead of the Jets (25) and Jaguars (23) to draft Clemson RB Travis Etienne Click for audio sent to me by and h/t to @pordyngus. pic.twitter.com/juWMFUmS4p— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) April 26, 2021
Off the board by the 22nd pick were pass rushers Kwity Paye and Jaelan Phillips. However, the other edge rushers were available (in fact, falling out of the first round entirely). Cornerbacks Greg Newsome II and Caleb Farley were both available when the Bills picked, as was running back Najee Harris.
Dan’s take: As a rule of thumb, you almost never want to be drafting a running back in the first round of the NFL Draft. You can bend the rule if you’re “one player away” (which could apply to this Bills team), or if the player is a certifiable freak athlete. Etienne didn’t have a 42-inch vertical jump, but he does hold several school and conference records.
But let’s stop right there. Because this isn’t just a first round running back. It’s a trade up for a first round running back. And if Buffalo’s moving to 22 overall, that’s going to cost them - at least their third round pick, and possibly one or more fifth round picks. That’s absurd. It would mean that, in the last three years, the Bills spent three third round picks, a first round pick, and a couple late round picks, on one of the least-valued positions in the NFL.
Unless Travis Etienne becomes a four-time Pro Bowl player, such a strategy deserves to be loudly razzed from rooftop to rooftop.
If the Bills are going to trade up, they should do it to take a high-tier player at a more valuable position: Cornerback, or defensive tackle, or edge rusher. Heck, even a falling Devonta Smith would be more enticing.
Barring that, I’d much rather see the Bills stay home at 30 and draft Azeez Ojulari or Jayson Oweh than trade up for Travis Etienne. Here’s hoping all this running back talk is just a smokescreen.