Running back Travis Etienne bolstered Clemson's status as the team to beat in 2020 by announcing Friday that he will return to school for his senior season rather than enter the NFL draft:
Coming into 2019, Etienne's stock couldn't have been much higher. He ran for 1,658 yards and 24 touchdowns as the Tigers won a national championship in 2018. While not one of the favorites, he also was on the radar in the Heisman Trophy race.
In May, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Etienne as the No. 11 player overall and the No. 1 running back.
Etienne's production was just as good during his junior year. He finished with 1,614 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground while playing a larger role in the passing game than he ever had. He caught 37 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns, which were all career highs.
However, he has gotten leapfrogged by some of the RB competition. In his most recent big board, Miller had Georgia's D'Andre Swift and Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins ahead of him at running back.
Given the competition he would've faced, Etienne might like his odds of being the No. 1 running back selected in 2021 compared to 2020. Swift, Dobbins and Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor have all declared for the 2020 draft, so the road is basically clear for Etienne to lay claim as the best back in the country next season.
Sony Michel and Nick Chubb showed the benefit one more year of college can have for a running back's draft projection. In Miller's midseason big board for the 2017 draft, Chubb was the eighth-best RB and Michel went unmentioned.
Michel and Chubb came back to Georgia and were the third and fourth running backs off the board in the 2018 draft. Michel went 31st overall to the New England Patriots and Chubb went 35th overall to the Cleveland Browns.
Etienne can use 2020 to further address any lingering questions about his game, particularly his ceiling as a pass-catcher.
Clemson, meanwhile, is poised to once again have one of the most dynamic offenses in FBS. The Tigers will have Etienne, quarterback Trevor Lawrence and wide receiver Justyn Ross back, giving Clemson plenty of options in pursuit of another national title.