- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players continues.
You can see Ted Miller's preseason top 25 here.
5. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
2011 numbers: Finished the season with 52 total tackles, including 33 solo stops. But the real damage was behind the line of scrimmage, where he finished with a conference best 17.5 tackles for a loss (the closest players behind him at 14.5). He was also second in the conference with 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.
Preseason ranking: No. 19
Making the case for Thomas: No defensive player in the conference created more havoc in the backfield than Thomas, who instantly bolsters Stanford's defense next season with his decision to return for another year. He was one of the top run-stoppers on the conference's best rush defense, which yielded just 84.4 yards per game. What makes the first-team all-conference performer's season all the more impressive is that he still put up monster numbers without inside linebacker Shayne Skov playing next to him most of the season. Without Skov, teams were able to scheme just for Thomas, often committing two linemen or a lineman and a back to slow him down. Sometimes it worked, a lot of times it didn't. Thomas was also named to the Sporting News first-team All-America squad. At 6-4, 240-pounds, he had a chance to crack the second round of the NFL draft with a strong showing at the combine, but instead he headlines a Stanford defense that returns six of seven starters up front next year. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks Thomas the No. 1 senior outside linebacker returning next season.