The SEC's 25 best players: No. 17

It wasn't a great first season in the SEC for Missouri, but that didn't stop the No. 17 player in our countdown from having a great season.

No. 17: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri, Jr.

2012 summary: Richardson led all SEC interior defensive linemen with 75 total tackles. He tied for the team lead with 10.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks, and also had three forced fumbles, three pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. Richardson was a first-team, All-SEC selection by the Associated Press and a second-team selection by the coaches.

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2012 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Richardson: Good luck in finding many defensive tackles anywhere in college football last season who were more athletic and more disruptive than the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Richardson. He bounced back from offseason shoulder surgery to have a terrific junior season at Missouri, which ended up being his final season. Richardson entered his name into the NFL draft and is projected as a first-round selection, possibly a top-15 pick. Even though he played inside for the Tigers, Richardson used uncanny speed and quickness for a guy his size to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks and running backs. He was equally effective at rushing the passer and stopping the run. There were times when he looked more like a linebacker with his ability to make plays in pursuit and down the line of scrimmage. The only real blip on Richardson's season was his suspension for Missouri's final home game against Syracuse for violating team rules. Otherwise, he firmly established himself as one of the more explosive defenders in the league.

The Rundown