With Week 6 of the college football season in the books, here's a look at who's on the rise and who's in decline based on the first half of the 2015 campaign.
Devonte Booker, Utah, RB: The 5-foot-11, 212-pound senior is considered the top running back in the 2016 class, according to several members of the NFL scouting community. Booker exhibits rare vision, body control and agility for a big back. He is capable of turning the corner on perimeter runs, yet also displays the strength and explosiveness to pick up tough yards between the tackles. With Booker also showing soft hands and strong ball skills, it is easy to envision the Utes' star blossoming into a "three-down" back at the next level.
Josh Doctson, TCU, WR: Scouts are always searching for big, athletic pass-catchers with all of the tools to thrive as a WR1 as a pro. Dotson has certainly piqued the interest of evaluators with a strong season that has featured four straight 100-yard games and 10 touchdown receptions. While the numbers certainly jump off the stat sheet (50 receptions for 877 receiving yards), it's his spectacular playmaking skills that have evaluators salivating over his potential as a WR1 in a vertical-based passing game. Dotson has routinely won "50-50" balls down the boundary. His ability to snag jump balls makes him a dangerous weapon in the red zone. Given the importance of acquiring scorers on the perimeter, Doctson's explosiveness will make him a hot commodity on draft day.
Jalen Ramsey, Florida State, DB: The pass-happy nature of the NFL forces scouts to place a premium on acquiring defensive backs with versatile skills and impeccable instincts. Ramsey not only checks the boxes in those areas, but he also brings size, athleticism and speed to the equation as a hybrid safety with corner-like cover skills. Ramsey is a big hitter and relentless competitor with a knack for making big plays in key moments, too. Scouts are smitten with his cover skills and playmaking ability as a 6-1, 202-pounder in the back end, so Ramsey is squarely on the radar for teams looking to add a dynamic defensive playmaker to the mix.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State, QB: It's easy to dismiss Prescott as a top quarterback prospect based on his Tim Tebow-like role in the Bulldogs' offense, but scouts see an efficient pocket passer with athleticism and leadership skills. Prescott has impressed evaluators with his spot-on accuracy on short and intermediate throws. He's displayed touch, timing and anticipation on tight-window throws inside the numbers. Most importantly, he has shown the ability to work through progression reads to hit his second and third option within a route concept. With Prescott also bringing size (6-2, 230) and running skills to the mix, the Mississippi State star is creeping up the charts as a value pick at the position.
QBs Christian Hackenberg (Penn State), Connor Cook (Michigan State), Cardale Jones (Ohio State) and Jared Goff (Cal): The race for the top quarterback spot is in flux due to the lackluster performances of the headliners throughout the season. Despite the endless hype and speculation regarding their chances of developing into franchise-caliber players at the next level, NFL scouts are waiting for one of the heralded prospects to step up and show they are worthy of claiming the top spot. Goff appeared to be the front-runner for the spot until a five-interception performance against Utah showcased his flaws on a big stage. Although he will have additional big-stage opportunities (UCLA and Stanford) to show scouts that he is ready for primetime, the abysmal performance in a big game will force scouts to question his readiness for the pro game.
Jones and Hackenberg have been maddeningly inconsistent for most of the season despite possessing extraordinary physical skills. Jones, in particular, has struggled with turnovers, judgment and accuracy as the Buckeyes' starter. While he shows flashes of brilliance as a strong-armed passer, the fact that he has just nine career starts and remains a work in progress as a leader should temper some of the enthusiasm surrounding his prospects as a franchise quarterback.
Hackenberg looks like a misfit in James Franklin's spread offense, but scouts are concerned about his lack of progress as an efficient passer. Hackenberg is only completing 53 percent of his passes in 2015 and has taken 19 sacks in six games. This continues a disturbing trend where Hackenberg has failed to complete at least 60 percent of his passes in any season. It's an alarming stat for an "elite" quarterback prospect. Although Hackenberg possesses the prototypical skills scouts covet in a franchise quarterback, it's hard to justify his lofty position based on his spotty play.
Cook has the talent and experience scouts covet, but questions about his leadership skills and "franchise" potential prevent NFL evaluators from fully endorsing his candidacy as a top pick. While supporters will point to his career record (29-3), the fact that he's routinely a role player for the Spartans has led to concerns about his ability to put a team on his back. With a few big games on the horizon (Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State), Cook will get a chance to make his case for scouts around the NFL.
Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss, OT: The 6-5, 315-pound junior is viewed as the premier offensive tackle prospect in college football, but a lengthy NCAA investigation has kept him off the field for the entire season. Thus, scouts haven't had a chance to monitor his progress as a franchise-caliber player on the edge. Without any games to evaluate Tunsil as a junior, it is tough for some teams to consider the Rebels' star as a potential top-five prospect at this point.