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Friday, March 18, 2011
Ranking the Big 12's best players: No. 2

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

The official list of the Big 12's top 25 players is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we're revealing the list day by day here on the blog. Here's a refresher on my exact criteria.

We're inside the top 10 now, so things should heat up a little bit. Have a gripe with the list? Let me know in the mailbag.

Texas A&M's Von Miller
Texas A&M's Von Miller made 68 tackles, including 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss.
No. 2: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M

2010 numbers: Miller made 68 tackles, including 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. He also broke up six passes, forced three fumbles, recovered two fumbles and his only interception of the season sealed a win over rival Texas.

Most recent ranking: Miller was ranked No. 4 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Miller: As impressive as Miller's numbers are, they still don't accurately portray how disruptive he was to opposing offenses, especially during conference play. He led the league in sacks for a second consecutive season and was second in tackles for loss, but I'd venture to guess that no defensive player was in the offensive backfield more. Quarterback hurries are a horribly inconsistent stat by nature, but no pass-rusher in the league was more skilled at making quarterbacks uncomfortable, forcing offenses to shift the pocket or making a quarterback throw the ball before he was ready. This year, however, he showed he can be solid in pass coverage, too, which has helped his NFL stock soar.

Despite being shut out by the coaches and the media, Miller was my pick for the league's defensive player of the year. He didn't finish the year empty-handed, though. He won the Butkus Award as college football's best linebacker, and should be a top five pick in next month's NFL draft. He was also one of the Big 12's eight consensus All-Americans.

He was at his best during conference play, and his numbers ballooned during the Aggies' toughest games, but unlike another Aggies player who A&M fans would like to see on this list, Miller had an excuse for his slow start. A sprained ankle limited him early on, and his first sack of the season actually didn't come until the team's fifth game, a loss to Arkansas. From then on Miller was the Big 12's best defensive player. He had 8.5 sacks in his final six games, including two sacks in both wins over Nebraska and Texas and 1.5 in a win over Oklahoma. He was also a big piece of the defense that stuffed the Sooners on the goal line three times during the game.

Nobody else in the Big 12 has his size (6-foot-3, 246 pounds) and speed (4.46 40-yard dash) and few anywhere in all of football possess that combination. Because of that, he'll have a chance to do big things at the next level.

We're down to No. 1 on our list now. Any guesses?

Hint 1: It took me roughly two seconds to put his name at the top of the list.

Hint 2: It's not Alex Henery.

Hint 3: It's not Malcolm Brown, either. (Or is it?)

Find out on Monday morning.

The rest of the list: