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Wisconsin RB Corey Clement makes right decision to return for senior year

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin running back Corey Clement spent the past few weeks taking a long, measured look at his NFL draft status this spring. He met with several offensive coaches and spoke with position coach John Settle on multiple occasions. He ultimately decided to put his dream of reaching the pros on hold and informed Settle recently he would return to Wisconsin for his senior season.

"He said he's coming back," Settle told ESPN.com Tuesday night. "He wants to be able to have some success here, I think prove to himself and others that he can carry the load for a season and that he can be the guy. I think he also knows that we're going to be better up front next year. It's good to know that he's coming back."

The decision puts to rest months of speculation about Clement's future and seems like the right move on the surface. Clement was supposed to be one of the top running backs in the country this season and was determined to leave Wisconsin for the NFL after three seasons. That didn't happen, as he suffered a sports hernia injury in Wisconsin's season opener against Alabama and appeared in only three of 12 regular season games, carrying 29 times for 155 yards with four touchdowns.

Clement planned to submit his name to the NFL's draft advisory board, which assigns players into three categories: First round, second round or neither -- the board's way of suggesting a player return to school. Given his injury, it did not seem likely Clement would be picked in the first two rounds, which he had said was his threshold for leaving. ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. listed him as the No. 10 tailback in the 2016 draft four weeks ago, making him a potential mid-round selection at best.

"I think being away from it, he realized he probably hasn't done enough and put enough on tape to warrant a high draft grade," Settle said. "So he's coming back and getting after it and trying to prove it."

Clement also was involved in a regrettable legal issue that took place last month, which certainly did not help his draft stock. 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.

Clement has not been made available to the media since the citation was announced Nov. 25. Settle said he didn't know how much the legal issue factored into Clement's decision.

"But I can assure you that he was a little embarrassed by the whole thing," Settle said. "And I'm sure that some people around him, close to him, made mention that NFL executives are going to look at that. Don't put it out there. Come back, give yourself an opportunity to do some things to take their minds off of it. I think it's something he learned from. He's embarrassed by what happened, what he said, what he did, and now we're moving forward."

In moving forward, Clement and Wisconsin can focus on one more year together. Settle said his initial goal is for Clement to be healthy enough to play in Wisconsin's Holiday Bowl game against USC on Dec. 30. Clement went through an individual workout Tuesday night in the Badgers' indoor practice facility, running five-yard shuttle drills with the team's strength coach.

With a healthy Clement in the fold next season, Wisconsin's offense will receive a significant boost because of his big-play ability, which the team severely lacked in 2015. Wisconsin ranks 96th nationally in rushing yards per game (148.1) after ranking in the top 15 in each of the past seven seasons. The Badgers will likely finish this season without a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2004.

The offensive line also should be far better with more experience. Wisconsin started four freshmen on the line during the regular-season finale against Minnesota, and there have been growing pains up front all season.

Settle said Clement mentioned to him a desire to be in the Heisman Trophy race as part of his decision to return. Badgers tailback Melvin Gordon came back for his junior year in 2014 and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting while winning the Doak Walker Award for nation's best running back.

Settle indicated both goals were attainable for Clement if he worked hard enough and stayed healthy.

"He can be a lot better," Settle said. "He can be special. He can be an early draft pick. He can be a guy that plays on Sunday and has a lasting career. He's going to have to prove himself. And that's where I come in. I can help him with that and help him understand that at that level, the NFL, when people say Not For Long, that's what it stands for. If he's not prepared and he goes out there, he can face some problems."

Clement's motivation is clear now. He can focus on being fully healthy, showing he can be an every-down tailback and eventually become a high draft pick. By making the wise choice to return, he'll at least have that chance.