With Week 13 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.
Derrick Henry, Alabama, RB: Whenever a runner is capable of toting the rock 40-plus times in a rivalry game with playoff implications, NFL scouts won't question whether the runner has the strength, stamina and endurance to serve as a workhorse runner at the next level. In fact, scouts will recognize the runner for showing the grit and toughness needed to handle a heavy workload in an era where running backs make their contributions as role players in a two- or three-back rotation. Thus, Henry's 46-carry, 271-yard effort vs. Auburn should cement his status as one of the top running back prospects in college football. Measuring 6-foot-3, 242 pounds with 4.4 speed, Henry exhibits rare speed and quickness for a big back. He flashes the burst to turn the corner on outside runs, but also shows the acceleration to get to the second level on power runs between the tackles. Considering Henry also displays soft hands and adequate skills in the passing game, the Alabama standout is a unique three-down back with the physical tools to thrive as a feature back.
Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State, RB: After voicing displeasure with his role in the Buckeyes' game plan a week ago, Elliott showed the football world that he might be the best running back in college football with a 30-carry, 214-yard effort against Michigan. Although scouts have seen Elliott essentially carry the Buckeyes' offense for the past two seasons, the standout performance eliminated any doubts about his potential as a feature back. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder showed exceptional strength and power between the tackles. He also displayed exceptional quickness, pitter-pat and burst, bouncing around the corner on outside runs. With Elliott joining Archie Griffin (only Buckeyes runners with multiple 1,500-yard seasons) and Eddie George (matched George's four career 200-yard rushing games) in the school record books, NFL scouts should have few questions about the junior's production and potential at the next level.
Elijah Hood, North Carolina, RB: For all of the attention heaped in the direction of other runners this fall, Hood has quietly emerged as a standout workhorse in the ACC. The 6-foot, 220-pound sophomore has already amassed 1,280 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on 192 carries as the bell cow for a North Carolina offense that leans on a physical running game to complement a splashy passing game directed by Marquise Williams. Against North Carolina State, Hood showed evaluators his impressive running skills as a power runner in 200-yard performance (21 carries for 221 yards and two scores). From his ability to run through arm tackles at the point of attack to his superb vision and cutback skills, Hood exhibits all of the traits NFL scouts covet in a RB1 at the next level. With an opportunity to his show ability on a big stage against the top team in the country (Clemson) in the ACC Championship Game this week, the sophomore is on the verge of becoming a household name.
Adoree' Jackson, USC, CB/WR/PR: It's uncommon to find three-way players at any level, but the Trojans' standout sophomore is one of the few players to log snaps as a cornerback, wide receiver and kick returner as a collegian. That versatility and athleticism will certainly catch the attention of scouts searching for multipurpose playmakers, and Jackson's impressive skills in each area could make him a potential star at the next level. From his spectacular ball skills and anticipation as a cover corner to his soft hands and remarkable burst as a pass-catcher to his sensational stop-start quickness and wiggle in the open field as a returner, Jackson is the most electric player in college football. Against UCLA, it was Jackson's sensational skills as a punt returner (42-yard return for a touchdown) that sparked the Trojans to a 40-21 victory that clinched the Pac-12 South title. With scouts prone to giving big grades to impact players with a penchant for delivering big plays in critical moments, Jackson's impressive resume as a second-year player (24 receptions for 382 yards and two scores; 23 punt returns for 250 and two scores and four passes defensed, including a pick-six) will make him a top prospect to watch going forward.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State, QB: I've listed the junior on this list a few times this fall, largely due to the potential vs. production debate that will ensue in NFL meeting rooms in the spring, if Hackenberg elects to apply for early entry into the 2016 draft. While the 6-foot-4, 228-pound junior possesses the prototypical dimensions and arm talent to lead some evaluators to view him as a potential franchise quarterback, Hackenberg's scattershot production, judgment and accuracy could make him a tough sell for a team looking for an immediate impact player at the position. Against Michigan State, Hackenberg did little to alleviate concerns about his awareness, accuracy and poise as a potential starter at the next level. He not only struggled with his ball placement on short and intermediate throws, but he repeatedly overshot receivers on vertical throws down the boundary. Although he threw a couple of darts on slants, including his eight-yard touchdown to Chris Godwin, Hackenberg's overpowering velocity made it tough for receivers to snag his throws between the numbers. With the junior prone to firing fastballs into traffic, he could struggle with turnovers as a pro based on the number of tips and overthrows that land in the hands of defenders at the next level.
Tommy Armstrong, Jr., Nebraska, QB: For Mike Riley to win big at Nebraska, he needs to find a way to resolve Armstrong's turnover woes in the pocket. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior has thrown nine interceptions in the Huskers' last three games, including a four-interception performance against Iowa that ruined the team's chances of finishing with a .500 record. Armstrong's errant throws and poor decisions are inexcusable for a two-year starter with 25 career starts. Although the Hawkeyes' defense ranks as one of the best in the Big Ten, the struggles from the junior quarterback will lead NFL scouts to question his ability to read and diagnose coverages on the fly. Given the importance of judgment, accuracy and anticipation at the next level, Armstrong's poor play down the stretch has seriously damaged his stock.