Clemson’s status as the preseason favorite ahead of the 2020 season strengthened on Friday with the news that RB Travis Etienne is coming back.
Etienne, a junior, has been one of the most productive backs in college football over the last two seasons. It wouldn’t have been surprising in the slightest to see him leave for the 2020 NFL draft.
Instead, he’s coming back to team up with QB Trevor Lawrence and WR Justyn Ross and others to go for a second national title in three seasons.
“I have long dreamed of competing at the highest level and getting the chance to compete in the NFL,” Etienne wrote in his statement to Clemson fans. “But I’m not done dreaming here at Clemson either, which is why I’m announcing that I’ll be returning for my senior season. I look forward to earning my degree from this great university and continuing to fight with my brothers on the team to make you proud during the 2020 season.”
Over 4,000 yards in 3 seasons
Etienne has rushed for over 1,600 yards in each of the past two seasons. After rushing 107 times for 766 yards and 13 scores as a freshman in 2017, he exploded with 1,658 yards and 24 TDs on 204 carries in 2018.
He didn’t fall far from that 8.1 yards per carry pace in 2019 either. Etienne carried the ball 207 times for 1,614 times and scored 19 touchdowns this season. He also upped his contributions in the passing game and had 37 catches for 432 yards and four scores. Ohio State can tell you about how dangerous he was catching the football.
Etienne had caught just 17 passes entering 2019.
Other star RBs coming back too
Clemson was No. 1 in our way-too-early top 25 under the assumption that Etienne was heading to the NFL. Now that he’s back, the Tigers could also have the best offense in college football entering the 2020 season.
Etienne’s decision also corresponds with those of Oklahoma State RB Chuba Hubbard and Alabama RB Najee Harris. Both RBs are coming back in 2020 instead of heading to the NFL draft. Hubbard was the leading rusher in college football in 2019 while Harris rushed for over 1,200 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns.
Etienne would have likely been a second- or third-round pick had he declared. That’s how loaded the draft is at running back even without Hubbard and Harris, too. Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and Georgia’s D’Andre Swift could vie to be the first running back off the board this spring, and Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor has also declared for the draft.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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