The SEC's 25 best players: No. 14

The No. 14 player on our countdown was a tackling machine this season.

No. 14: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU, RJr.

2012 summary: One of five finalists for the Butkus Award as the top linebacker in college football, Minter finished third in the SEC with 130 total tackles. He was fourth in the league with 15 tackles for loss, which led all SEC inside linebackers. He finished with five pass breakups, four sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. He was a second-team All-America selection by the Associated Press and Walter Camp Foundation, and a consensus first-team All-SEC selection.

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

Making the case for Minter: The thinking coming into the 2012 season was that LSU could again be one of the country's top defenses if some of the Tigers' inexperienced linebackers grew up in a hurry. Minter didn't just grow up. He blew up. He made 11 starts in 2011 as a sophomore and was solid. But this past season, he developed into the heart and soul of the LSU defense, and was the best player on that side of the ball for the Tigers from his middle linebacker position. He was outstanding at finding the ball, and when he got there, he put his strength to good use and proved to be an equally explosive finisher. The 6-foot-2, 242-pound Minter squatted a team-best 545 pounds during his redshirt freshman season. In his second season as the Tigers' starting middle linebacker, Minter became a much more complete player. He knew John Chavis' scheme inside and out and was able to be more of a coach on the field. His best game came in one of LSU's most disappointing losses. He had 20 tackles, including 17 solo stops, in the 14-6 loss at Florida. He also had 12 tackles, including a sack, and had a key third-quarter interception in the 24-19 win at Texas A&M. In his final game in an LSU uniform, Minter finished with 19 tackles in the 25-24 loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Easily one of the top inside linebackers in the SEC this season, Minter was also one of the most improved players in college football, and is being projected by some as a late first-round selection in the NFL draft.

The Rundown