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Why RB Corey Clement should ignore lure of NFL, return to Wisconsin

Corey Clement has played in only three of the Badgers' 12 regular-season games after suffering a sports-hernia injury in the opener. Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

MADISON, Wis. -- At some point in the next several days, Wisconsin running back Corey Clement will meet with his position coach and listen to advice he'd probably prefer not to hear. John Settle intends to tell Clement he is simply not ready to leave school for the NFL, that his dream must be put on hold one more year because there is still so much he hasn't achieved.

Clement possesses all the talent of the country's best college running backs. He also has barely played in 2015 because of injuries and, most recently, a regrettable legal issue. And though it would be tempting to bolt for the temporary comfort of money, the truth of the matter is this: Clement has no guarantees of being selected high enough that a team would invest much time in developing him. And until he plays well enough to secure that guarantee, Clement would be wise to heed Settle's words.

"He hasn't been able to put together a complete season," Settle said. "I don't think he's been able to really play the way he's capable of playing. And I do believe he needs to have a great season under his belt to say to the NFL executives, 'Hey, I'm ready to take the next step.' "

Settle has been vocal about the need for Clement to return for his senior season. And at this stage, it's difficult to argue with Settle's assessment. Clement played in only three of the Badgers' 12 regular-season games this season and rushed for 155 yards with four touchdowns. He suffered a sports-hernia injury in the season opener that continues to linger, and he hasn't been himself since.

Clement's lengthy healing process surely will be a concern to NFL teams. But so will the fact that, just last week, he was cited for two counts of disorderly conduct after police said he threw the first punch during a Nov. 8 dispute at his off-campus apartment. He initially misled school officials about his role in the fight, insisting he was the victim -- a mistake that convinced head coach Paul Chryst to prohibit Clement from traveling for the team's regular-season finale against Minnesota.

Off-the-field issues lead to questions about character, and with Clement already drawing questions about his ability to stay healthy, it isn't likely to help his draft stock.

Clement will submit his name to the NFL's draft advisory board, which will then assign him one of three categories: first round, second round or neither -- the board's way of suggesting a player return to school. If Clement is a first- or second-round projection, he said he would declare for the draft, and Settle noted he would not stop him from doing so. Mid-rounders, Settle said, often have to find niches such as special teams -- areas with which Clement has limited experience -- and they do not necessarily have guaranteed contracts.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. listed Clement as the No. 10 tailback in the 2016 draft when he released his rankings on Nov. 19. In the past 10 drafts, the average position of the 10th running back selected has been No. 132 in the fourth round. Only once has the 10th tailback been taken as high as the third round.

This certainly has been a bizarre season for Clement that nobody saw coming. A year ago, he rushed for 949 yards with nine touchdowns in a backup role to Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon and seemed ready to become the next great Wisconsin tailback. If he had produced as he anticipated, Clement said "it wouldn't be a discussion" about whether he entered the draft after this season. Plus, the 2017 class of NFL running backs is expected to be loaded.

"In my mind, there was nothing wrong with just having a three-and-out mentality," he said.

But Settle, who worked stints as running backs coach for the Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns, noted Clement still needs to boost his football IQ. He said running backs in today's NFL must be "a football junkie" willing to learn the game as if they were the team's quarterback. That includes knowing protections, defensive fronts and blitz pick-ups with far more complex game plan installations than in college.

Of course, there is an inherent risk in returning to college because players are always one play from sustaining a career-changing injury. Clement is aware that running backs, in particular, have only so many carries in them as they absorb a pounding.

"That's why you want to get there as fast as possible," Clement said. "A lot of scouts and even my peers, people that I know in the NFL, [say it] doesn't last for long. So get your body in and out."

When Gordon opted to return to college in 2014, he did so, in part, because he wanted to leave a legacy at Wisconsin and improve his draft stock. He wanted to leave nothing to chance and wound up as a first-round selection of the San Diego Chargers. Clement has a chance to follow a similar path, and given that it doesn't appear he'll be projected as a top pick, his decision by the NFL-imposed Jan. 18 underclassmen deadline should be obvious.

"You want to be first round just like Melvin," Clement said. "I look up to him. He just said whatever decision you make, make sure it's 100 percent what you want to do. Because once you enter, you can't go back."