A year ago, Andre Ellington made the decision to return to Clemson for his senior season.
That choice seems to be working in his favor as prepares for the 2013 NFL Draft, beginning this week with his participation in the NFL-operated Senior Bowl at Mobile, Ala.
Ellington broke no new ground in 2012, but he followed up on a breakthrough 2011 season with his second straight 1,000-yard performance, improved himself as a pass-catcher, and, most importantly, demonstrated his durability as an every-down back.
Both NFL.com and NFL Draft Scout are projecting Ellington to be in the top group of running backs selected this spring, as high as in the second round.
NFL Draft Scout ranks him fourth out of 192 available running backs, while WalterFootball.com ranks him 10th at his position, and a likely third or fourth-rounder.
Ellington has an early opportunity to enhance his standing this week at the Senior Bowl, where he'll practice and play under the scrutiny of NFL scouts and coaches.
In a video interview with the Carolina Panthers after the South team's opening Senior Bowl practice, Ellington talked about what he wants to accomplish this week.
"I just want to take my talent to the next level and show them what I can do against the best of the best coming out of college," Ellington said. "If you do well out here, then you're well on your way."
Part of the opportunity, Ellington said, is in meeting face to face with NFL team personnel for interviews.
"You do a lot of interviews with the scouts who are down here, and most of that is background," Ellington said. "Nobody wants a player with a bad background - people are looking for positive guys."
In its scouting analysis, NFL.com offers a glimpse of what scouts see in Ellington, both positive and negative as it relates to playing in the NFL.
On the plus side, Ellington is described as a player with "above-average straight-line speed, who attacks the line of scrimmage in one-back formations...Good vision and foot quickness for the cutback, has a burst through the hole and can accelerate away from oncoming defenders...Excellent balance in the open field to cut, put his hand on the ground to stay upright, or even leap sprawling defenders. Runs with some lean for his size, and he lowers his pads pre-contact to get an extra yard. Takes big hits and bounces back up...Shows the ability to create behind the line of scrimmage when the play side breaks down, and the creativity and knowledge of pursuit angles to set up second level defenders. Shows patience running behind pulling guards and fullbacks, can cut in either direction off the block. Stiff-arm in the open field can be effective in keeping away defensive backs. Very dangerous in space."
Ellington also gets high marks for his ability to contribute as a receiver and a kick returner: "Good hands to be a threat as a receiver in the flat, over the middle, on screens, and down the sideline on wheel routes. Dangerous kick returner who can slide through creases and explode into the open with quick cuts and pure acceleration."
Size (he was measured at 5-9, 192 pounds at the Senior Bowl weigh-in on Monday) is an issue.
From NFL.com: "Undersized, and lacks great power as an inside back, though he has some lower-body strength and the effort is there when trying to run clock. Cuts are not consistently decisive or strong. Pass protection skills are lacking - lays down at the feet of defenders instead of holding his ground. Generally holds the ball high and tight, but upper-body strength is not exceptional so the ball will come out on occasion."
During Senior Bowl practice this week, Ellington will attempt to show pro scouts that the sum is greater than the collective parts.
"I'm a hard worker," Ellington said during his interview with the Panthers. "I'm not the biggest guy out there, but I can be the mightiest and I can do a lot of things that the biggest guys can't do. Overall, I'm just a hard worker."
Ellington said he's glad to have teammates Dalton Freeman and Malliciah Goodman with him in Mobile.
"I'm glad that Dalton got the late invite, because I felt that he should have been a part of this game," Ellington said. "And Malliciah being here is well-deserved. We all grouped together this season as seniors and got things on the right track. I think you'll be seeing a lot of good things from Clemson from here on."