The SEC's 25 best players: No. 14

As middle linebackers go, this next guy in our countdown was pretty much the prototype:

No. 14: Kelvin Sheppard, LB, Sr., LSU

2010 numbers/honors: Led LSU with 116 total tackles, tying for second on the team with 11 tackles for loss. Included were four sacks. A consensus first-team All-SEC selection.

Preseason ranking: Ranked No. 13 on the 2010 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Sheppard: For the second year in a row, Sheppard collected 110-plus tackles and wound up third in the SEC last season in total tackles. He’s been a tackling machine for the Tigers from the time he entered the starting lineup and is versatile enough to chase the ball from sideline to sideline and also drop back into coverage when needed. But to truly appreciate what the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Sheppard meant to the LSU defense last season, you have to look beyond the numbers. He was the Tigers’ emotional leader, the guy who made sure the right tone was set every day on the practice field and the guy who made sure everybody was ready on game day. He was also the brains of that defense, knowing exactly what defensive coordinator John Chavis wanted and able to make checks and get everybody in the right places. Sheppard didn’t pile up a bunch of his numbers against teams that didn’t matter, either. All four of his sacks came against SEC competition as did eight of his 11 tackles for loss. In the win over Alabama, he had his only interception of the season and recovered a fumble. In the win at Florida, he had two of his four sacks. Every great defense needs a rock at middle linebacker, and Sheppard was that rock for the Tigers.

The rundown

No. 15: South Carolina DE Devin Taylor

No. 16: Florida S Ahmad Black

No. 17: Arkansas TE D.J. Williams

No. 18: Alabama S Mark Barron

No. 19: Florida CB Janoris Jenkins

No. 20: Mississippi State LB Chris White

No. 21: LSU RB Stevan Ridley

No. 22: Mississippi State OT Derek Sherrod

No. 23: Alabama DE Marcell Dareus

No. 24: Kentucky LB Danny Trevathan

No. 25: Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw