With college football's Week 12 in the books, here's a look at who's on the rise and who's in decline based on the weekend's action.
John Ross, WR, Washington: It's very hard for me to watch Ross without being reminded of DeSean Jackson, the former Pac-12 star (Cal) and three-time Pro Bowler. Listed at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Ross had a career-high 12 catches for 95 yards on Saturday against Arizona State, and has a very similar build to Jackson. Ross' extreme speed and agility with the ball in his hands makes him a dangerous weapon. The redshirt junior dances off the snap in a way that freezes cornerbacks, allowing him to jump inside or outside and avoid a jam. NFL corners will certainly be more apt at stopping him near the line, but if they miss, his speed down the sideline will result in big gains. Ross' speed also makes him a threat on crossers and from the slot, where he'll beat man coverage. Teams will be interested in his medical exams, as he's fought through multiple knee injuries -- a potential issue for a player relying on speed to succeed. But so far this season, Ross' past hasn't prevented him from improving from a return specialist into one of the top big-play receivers in the country. I'm guessing he'll continue his ascension.
Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA: McKinley is tied for fifth in the country in sacks per game (1.0). He didn't have one of his best games of the year in the Bruins' loss to cross-town rival USC, as it was the first time in nine contests that he wasn't credited with a tackle for loss. But even when facing his toughest foes of the year (two future NFL tackles in Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner) McKinley showed promise. He was dominated at times by Banner (who has 100 pounds on him) in the run game. But when defensive line coaches get a load of McKinley's closing speed, they will fall in love with him. He covers 10 yards in the blink of an eye to attack quarterbacks and chase down running backs. McKinley brought quick Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold down from behind once, shedding a Banner block, and forced a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. His best pro position will be rush linebacker in a 3-4 system, and UCLA coaches showed scouts his agility in coverage by dropping him a few times and using him to spy Darnold as a runner. Watch out for McKinley come NFL Scouting Combine time this spring -- he'll make a name for himself as a top-20 pick.
De'Veon Smith, RB, Michigan: Starting Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight didn't play against Indiana on Saturday due to injury, and the team struggled to move the ball through the first half of the game. Then, Smith got the call. The senior back scored on runs of 34 and 39 yards in the second half, taking advantage of holes up front while also setting up second-level defenders with a strong cut -- or plowing over them by lowering his pads and churning his feet. Smith might not run a great 40-yard-dash time, but he's a north-south running force with enough speed to break off runs like he did against the Hoosiers. The team also relied on him to eat clock as the snow fell late in the game, and he did the job. Michigan will need Smith to be effective to beat the Buckeyes this weekend.
Keionta Davis, DE, Chattanooga: Davis has performed extremely well over the past four years for the Moccasins, earning FCS All-American honors as a junior in 2015. But he faced a totally different level of competition Saturday when lining up against Alabama's well-regarded tackles, Cam Robinson and Jonah Williams. Davis started against Williams, a freshman right tackle who has played well in his first season with the Tide. The 6-4, 260-pound Davis ran around Williams when going after quarterback Jalen Hurts, and used leverage to hold his ground when the Tide ran the ball. Then Chattanooga coaches moved Davis over to Robinson's side, and while he didn't dominate by any stretch, he more than held his own against one of the top tackles at the FBS level. Davis can play under the pads of tackles, and possesses a strong lower body that will serve him well at the next level. Davis forced a fourth-quarter fumble, showing his hustle even when Alabama had a big lead. It was an impressive performance that scouts will notice.
Pat Elflein, C, Ohio State: Elflein's upper-body strength is impressive, but against an athletic and tough Michigan State line on Saturday, his foot quickness and ability to stick on blocks through the whistle were challenged. Elflein can move to the second level to hit a target, but he had trouble maintaining his block at times. He also looked past defenders on the move, allowing them to make tackles behind him. After initial contact, Elflein's blocks were shed regularly; in one instance in the third quarter, he was called for holding for pulling jersey instead of moving his feet to prevent his man from disengaging to make a tackle. There's no doubt in my mind that Elflein will be a starting center in the NFL, but limitations in his foot quickness and overall athleticism might prevent him from being the top-50 pick many assumed he would be before the season began.
Charles Walker, DT, Oklahoma: In October, Walker tweeted a message stating, in part, "I'll never leave my guys behind," per The Oklahoman. However, Walker has decided to leave his teammates to focus on the next chapter in his career. He suffered a concussion against TCU in September and hasn't played since, and it was revealed last week that Walker has decided to leave the Sooners to prepare for the 2017 draft. It's not known whether Walker would've played in the games remaining on Oklahoma's schedule, but this will not be seen as a positive move by most league scouts and general managers, who will wonder about Walker's commitment to the game and his teammates. Those same evaluators will be talking with Oklahoma coaches, and the coaches might not be giving Walker glowing reviews after his decision. Walker's talented, to be sure, and will likely be a very good NFL five- or three-technique. He'll have to answer questions from NFL teams about the severity of the concussion and his decision to leave the team, though. Departing before the end of the season might be the best course of action for Walker and his family in the long term. There's also a possibility that the decision will come back to bite him a bit in the draft.