With Week 4 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 weekend's action.
SEC running backs: The most talented conference in college football is home to three of the top running backs in the country with LSU's Leonard Fournette, Georgia's Nick Chubb and Arkansas' Alex Collins emerging as legitimate superstars this season. Each player posted ridiculous numbers in Week 4, while exhibiting the core traits needed to shine as workhorse backs at the next level. From their collective speed, quickness and burst to their physical, hard-nosed running styles, all three are squarely on the radar of scouts.
Fournette and Chubb, in particular, are standout sophomores with the size, vision, balance and body control to thrive as workhorse runners at the next level. Fournette has shown blue-chip traits in back-to-back 200-yard games against Auburn and Syracuse, respectively. He runs through arm tackles in the hole, yet also displays the speed and quickness to separate from defenders on the corner. Most impressively, Fournette shows home-run potential in a chiseled 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame that's built for the pro game.
Chubb has topped the 100-yard mark in 12 consecutive games for the Bulldogs, which ties Herschel Walker's school record. Chubb has done it in impressive fashion as a big-bodied runner with nifty feet and superb balance. Chubb is a rare runner with size to run over defenders and the wiggle to avoid contact in traffic. He shows outstanding discretion in using finesse or physicality, which makes him a tough matchup for defenses in the SEC.
Collins, a junior, doesn't garner the national attention of his counterparts, but he might be the most pro-ready runner in the SEC at this time. He has exceptional balance and body control, as evidenced by his ability to string moves together in traffic against Texas A&M in a 26-carry, 151-yard effort that will have scouts raving about his potential as a feature back. With Collins also displaying physicality and toughness running between the tackles in the Razorbacks' power-based offense, it is easy to get excited about his prospects at the next level.
Overall, the SEC is loaded with talent at running back and scouts are paying close attention to their development as workhorse runners in traditional pro-style offenses.
Cody Kessler, QB, USC: It's easy to dismiss Kessler's gaudy numbers as a starter, but there's no disputing his effectiveness running the Trojans' pro-style offense. Kessler quickly gets the ball out of his hands and into the mitts of a talented cast of playmakers that are capable of doing damage on the perimeter. Given his decisiveness and effectiveness working through his reads, it is apparent Kessler understands all of the reads within the offense and willingly takes the options available based on coverage. Kessler's stat line (19 of 33 for 375 yards and five touchdowns) against Arizona State might not impress at first glance, but the fact that he distributed the ball to seven different receivers is a testament to his willingness to spray the ball all over the field. With Kessler exhibiting sound judgment and solid passing skills in a conference game with huge implications, the scouting community is certainly impressed with his solid skills as a franchise quarterback.
Josh Doctson, WR, TCU: Production definitely matters when it comes to evaluating prospects during the pre-draft process. Thus, there is plenty of intrigue surrounding Doctson's potential after he posted an 18-catch, 267-yard performance against Texas Tech on Saturday. The 6-3, 195-pounder showed off impressive skills as a No. 1 WR, exhibiting exceptional ball skills and athleticism as he snagged passes from Trevone Boykin on an array of sandlot-like plays on the perimeter. Doctson repeatedly found a way to put the ball in the paint (Doctson finished with three touchdowns) against the Red Raiders; he has five touchdowns in the past two games. Given the emphasis scouts place on touchdown makers and big-play specialists, Doctson will continue to garner attention as a top prospect.
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: The freshman sensation continues to make noise as a dynamic playmaker on the perimeter. He torched Arkansas for 173 receiving yards on eight catches, including a 57-yard catch-and run that showcased his spectacular big-play potential. Despite his youth and inexperience, Kirk is a polished route runner. He's capable of creating separation from defenders with nifty head fakes and subtle dekes at the top of his routes. With Kirk also exhibiting strong hands and electric running skills, the Aggies' young star is already garnering attention as a future No. 1 WR at the next level.
Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon: The ex-Eastern Washington quarterback was expected to save the Ducks' season with his electric improvisational skills, but the senior has struggled with a finger injury and failed to make enough plays to keep the offense humming at a nice clip in a loss to Utah on Saturday. Although the Ducks' defense deserves just as much criticism, the disappointing play of Adams has slowed the offensive juggernaut that dominated the college football scene during the past few seasons.
Texas special teams: For the second straight week, a special-teams gaffe spoiled the Longhorns' bid for a win. After kicker Nick Rose missed an extra-point attempt that would have tied the game against Cal in the waning moments a week ago, Longhorns punter Michael Dickson muffed a punt snap at the end of the fourth quarter, resulting in a chip-shot field-goal chance for Oklahoma State. While coaches are ultimately responsible for the performance of their players, it's unfair that Charlie Strong's future could be affected by a pair of boneheaded mistakes by his kicking units.