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Early overrated rookies in NFL

Jaguars RB Travis Etienne is overrated in the NFL

By: Ladarius Brown

Since the 2021 NFL Draft is far in the rearview window, 259 players were drafted, and many are trying to make an NFL team to fulfill their dreams. Rookies like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Patrick Surtain II, and Kyle Pitts are the real and deserve the hype that surrounds them. However, four rookies are slightly overrated in my estimation because of either draft position or a failure to see the hype. That being said, here are the three rookies that are overrated early on. 

  • Trey Lance, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers 

This one has been on my mind for quite some time. I could not care less that Lance went to North Dakota State University (NDSU) because Carson Wentz proved that quarterbacks excel at NDSU. My main concern is that NDSU played only one game last season versus Central Arkansas. He has not played a game since Oct of last year. Lance is 20 years old but has only started 17 games under center. Lance led the Bison to a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) national championship in 2019 as a redshirt freshman for the Bison. He passed for 2,786 yards, 66.9 completion percentage, and threw28 touchdowns. Lance did not have an interception intercepted that year. In 12 of 16 games in 2019, Lance threw for less than 200 passing yards. 

I had Justin Fields above Lance on my quarterback rankings going into the draft because I felt that Fields was the more experienced and proven quarterback. The hype surrounding Lance is based on his youth, which is fine and all but, Fields is the better version of Lance. The gap between the two players is wider. Both are dual-threat quarterbacks but I would have gone with Fields.  

Fields went 20-2 at Ohio State, and as a Buckeye, he became the first quarterback in the history of the Big Ten with 40 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in the same season in 2019. His 41-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2019 was tops in the nation. Will Trey Lance be a starter in the league? Absolutely. The fact that Lance went undefeated as a starter (17-0) is great, but with all due respect, 17 games are not enough for me to say he is a franchise quarterback plus in 12 of 16 games in 2019, Lance threw for less than 200 passing yards. 

  •  Travis Etienne, Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars 

Let me preface by saying that Etienne and his speed is good and he displayed a great deal while at Clemson. Yet, besides that speed, can anyone tell me what does Etienne brings to a franchise to make him a steady three-down runner? His run game is more vertical but has his issues in open space when sought to work from side to side and does not demonstrate the identical explosiveness we see in a straight line when changing directions. Etienne has terrific contact balance, and that by itself permits him to recoil off tacklers and be productive in more short-yardage scenarios. However, he is not as potent or evasive in smaller spaces as most people think. 

There has been talk regarding Etienne as a pass-catcher. Sure, it is evident he has gotten better as a receiver and taken steps here, but that does not make him a finished player. Etienne puts in the time and the work needed to become acquiescent catching the football. Even though that is encouraging, it makes him more average as a pass-catcher as opposed to the great or upper echelon. He runs very rudimentary routes and has satisfactory hands. Early on in rookie camp, he played a little wide receiver, trying to improve his hands.  

While at Clemson, head coach Dabo Swinney targeted more so on getting Etienne the football over the last two seasons but this was because he could make big plays in space. Etienne truly lacks the receiver profile of an upper-level receiving back and does not possess the route tree that carries over into a productive role here, at least not in this phase of his career. 

Overall, Etienne does not have good vision and this is where his pro projection gets a little tougher. He sees the field with skill in open space or at the next level but, in reality, has difficulty pressing the line of scrimmage and with his sense for when or where holes are going to open up. Etienne also has issues creating for himself if nothing is there for him, which may cause some worries in the league. Jacksonville reached for Etienne because they had more pressing needs at literally every other position, especially defensively.  

  • Gregory Rousseau, Defensive End, Buffalo Bills  

Shifting from quarterbacks, there was a noticeable rift between evaluators about Gregory Rousseau’s draft stock. One side observed his physical tools and production as sufficient to justify a top-10 selection in the draft. Others, like myself, saw how unseasoned and underdeveloped he was last season for the Miami Hurricanes and had a tough time seeing him as no more than a late first-round project. 

He lost experience and developmental time by opting-out in 2020. There were players capable and ready right now like the two edge players taken after him: Odafe Oweh and Joe Tryon. Rousseau is nowhere near refined as a rusher. Rosseau and his handwork are not atrocious but he does not rely on a wide range of pass-rushing moves at this point of his career. It is not horrible nor a great concern. Rousseau has one season as an edge rusher at the college level, half of which was spent as a part-time player.  

His height aids him in nearly all scenarios due to the fashion that fires his hands early in his rush, but it could harm Rousseau versus NFL blockers who go low to get the strong lead and can get into his chest plate. For as great as his power is despite his elevated center of gravity, Rousseau could get stronger. As a run stopper, he has trouble separating blockers and can get thrown around from time to time. Adding some weight would significantly help him in the latter aspect of playing on the defensive line.

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