The SEC's top 25 players: No. 4

The No. 4 player in our countdown was a major reason Alabama's defense was such a force in 2011:

No. 4: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama, Sr.

Preseason rank: No. 10

2011 summary: Upshaw finished second in the SEC with 18 tackles for loss and tied for third in the league with 9.5 sacks. He was third on Alabama's team with 52 total tackles and led the Crimson Tide with 11 quarterback hurries. He also forced two fumbles. Upshaw earned All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and was a finalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award, which goes annually to the nation's top interior lineman or linebacker. He was also a finalist for the Butkus Award, which is presented annually to the top linebacker in college football.

Why he's here: Alabama's defense was good enough that the Crimson Tide didn't have to lean on one or two players. But when they needed a big play, Upshaw was usually the one delivering. He emerged as one of the best pass-rushers in the country, but was just as good against the run with his blend of size, strength and quickness. He was strong enough to overpower blockers, but also had the burst on the edge to beat blockers with his speed. The 6-2, 265-pound Upshaw was a perfect fit for the "Jack" linebacker position in Alabama's scheme. He was able to move around and line up in different spots, but always around the ball making plays no matter where he came from. Upshaw had some of his best games in Alabama's biggest games. He was named the Defensive MVP in the BCS National Championship Game and was a force in both shutting down LSU's option game and putting pressure on LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson. There weren't a lot of people who blocked Upshaw, period, in 2011.