The SEC's 25 best players: No. 12

The No. 12 player on our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players was one of those rare freshmen who was in the starting lineup from the moment he stepped on campus.

No. 12: Stephon Gilmore, CB, So., South Carolina

2009 numbers: Finished fifth on the team with 56 total tackles. He had six tackles for loss, including three sacks, and intercepted a pass.

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the preseason or postseason countdown for 2009.

Making the case for Gilmore: Before the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Gilmore had ever played a college game, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier called him “one of the best football players to ever come to South Carolina.” He didn’t do anything to disappoint during his freshman season and started all 13 games at cornerback, earning Freshman All-America honors. One of those natural athletes who would make an impact no matter where you lined him up, Gilmore will get a chance to move around in 2010. Spurrier wants to play him two or three series a game at quarterback in the Wildcat formation. A quarterback in high school, Gilmore set the tone for the win over Clemson last season with his all-around play at quarterback, leading the Gamecocks to their first touchdown. He also recovered a fumble in that game and returned three punts for 31 yards. As a cornerback, Gilmore has the size, strength and speed to match up with anybody. He’ll be even better next season now that he has a deeper understanding of Ellis Johnson’s defense and will also be better from a technical standpoint. One of the best things about Gilmore is how grounded he is. Nothing seems to get to him, good or bad. All the great ones have that quality, and Gilmore certainly seems destined for greatness.

The rundown

No. 13: Kelvin Sheppard, LB, Sr., LSU

No. 14: Randall Cobb, WR/QB, Jr., Kentucky

No. 15: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Jr., Florida

No. 16: Mark Barron, S, Jr., Alabama

No.17: Darvin Adams, WR, Jr., Auburn

No. 18: Alshon Jeffery, WR, So., South Carolina

No. 19: D.J. Williams, TE, Sr., Arkansas

No. 20: Cliff Matthews, DE, Sr., South Carolina

No. 21: Clint Boling, OT, Sr., Georgia

No. 22: Greg Childs, WR, Jr., Arkansas

No. 23: Washaun Ealey, RB, So., Georgia

No. 24: Chris Marve, LB, Jr., Vanderbilt

No. 25: Luke Stocker, TE, Sr., Tennessee