Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big 12 [Print without images]

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Ranking the Big 12's top 25 players: No. 9

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Our countdown of the Big 12's top 25 players continues. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we're revealing a new member of the list every day.

Here's a quick rundown on my criteria for this list.

We're in the top 10 now, officially. That means it could be a little heated from here on. Got beef? Send it to my mailbag, and we'll have a later post logging and answering your complaints.

No. 9: A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State

2011 numbers: Made 117 tackles (66 solo) and 7.5 tackles for loss. Made two sacks and broke up six passes. Returned his only interception 78 yards for a touchdown.

Most recent ranking: Klein was unranked in our preseason list of the top 25 players.

Making the case for Klein: Klein's partner in crime in Ames, Jake Knott, earned a bit more of the recognition in 2010, but Klein emerged as one of the league's best defenders this year.

Look no further than the upset win over Oklahoma State, an inspired performance by the entire Cyclones defense, but especially Klein, whose 14 tackles were his highest total of the regular season. You saw a lot of emotion in that game, and that's nothing new for Klein and Knott, the emotional leaders of the Cyclones' defense.

Klein was arguably the league's most productive defender. He always seemed to show up where the ball was during the year, and was rewarded by the league's coaches as the co-Defensive Player of the Year.

The rest of the list: