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Tuesday, February 9, 2010
The SEC's 30 best players: Nos. 15-11

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

All right, five more selections until we get to the 10 best players in the SEC from this past season.

There’s a distinct Florida flavor to these next five selections. Unfortunately for the Gators, all three of them will be playing in the NFL next season.

Here are numbers 15-11 in our countdown of the SEC’s 30 best players from the 2009 season:

Carlos Dunlap
Carlos Dunlap was second in the SEC with nine sacks.
No. 15: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida: His college career ended on a sour note with the DUI arrest and subsequent suspension the week of the SEC championship game, but there was no denying Dunlap’s impact this past season as a pass-rusher. He was second in the SEC with nine sacks and came back strong in his final game against Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl. Few players possess Dunlap’s combination of size and burst off the edge. He gave up his senior season to enter the NFL draft and is a lock to go in the first round.

No. 14: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: Peterson blossomed during his sophomore season as one of the most complete cornerbacks in college football. He has great range and cover skills along with the size to overpower receivers at the line of scrimmage. Peterson was also one of the better tackling cornerbacks in the SEC. He finished third in the conference with 15 passes defended and also had two interceptions. He’ll easily be the top returning cornerback in the SEC next season.

No. 13: Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida: Spikes’ senior season wasn’t quite as productive as his junior season, but he was still one of the top three linebackers in the league. He was a key cog in a Florida defense that ranked near the top of the country in just about every category. Unfortunately for Spikes, the whole eye-gouging incident will be what a lot of people remember about his final year. But his leadership and productivity from his middle linebacker position established Spikes as one of the top defenders in the league for the second year in a row.

No. 12: Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina: The first half of the season belonged to Norwood, who racked up six sacks, an interception return for a touchdown and a blocked kick in the first four games. He slowed down a little bit as the season wore on, but he was still one of the best big-play defenders in the SEC. Norwood finished the season with seven sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss and also led the Gamecocks with 11 quarterback hurries from his outside linebacker position. He leaves South Carolina as the school’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss.

No. 11: Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida: Hernandez was perhaps my biggest whiff on the preseason Top 30 list. Just a bad oversight on my part. But there was no missing him this past season. He was a first-team All-American and established himself as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country. Hernandez led the Gators with 68 catches, including five touchdowns. He was a nightmare matchup for teams and was extremely effective after the catch. He was one of five Florida juniors declaring early for the NFL draft and is being projected as a first-round pick.