SEC: 2011 SEC postseason Top 25

The postseason top 25 countdown is done and it's time for us to discuss our reasons for how we sorted our list and why we left some players off.

Anytime you do this sort of thing you always second-guess yourself. There are always players you wish you had put higher, slid down lower, left off or put on the list. The only thing that's for sure is that you'll never be perfect and you'll never please everyone, but that's the way it goes.

Alabama running back Trent Richardson was the obvious choice to be first on our list. He was named the nation's top running back and was a unanimous first team All-American and All-SEC member. He accounted for more than 36 percent of Alabama's offense last year and became just the third player in SEC history to rush for 20 or more touchdowns.

Richardson is a track star built like a tank.

While Richardson was spot on, there was another player who we felt should have been higher. At second glance, Chris and I felt that Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones was too low. He ended up sixth, but we now feel like we should have had him above both Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw.

When you finish the year with an SEC-best 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks after a a year away from the field you deserve to be higher.

Our bad.

We took some heat from the College GameDay crew during the season for having only one LSU player — cornerback Morris Claiborne — on our preseason list. (We didn't even have Tyrann Mathieu on the preseason list! We sure look boneheaded now.) Well, we certainly deserved that and had four Tigers on the postseason list, including No. 2 (Claiborne) and No. 3 (Mathieu). Defensive end Sam Montgomery and guard Will Blackwell just missed the cut, too.

We've also received word from some readers that we missed on Tennessee wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who was passed by LSU's Rueben Randle and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery.

When we created this list we took into consideration stats and total impact on a team — good and bad. Yes, Rogers led the SEC in receiving, but his impact wasn't as positive as the others. Randle was LSU's top receiving target all season, was a true leader and finished the year third in the SEC in receiving. Jeffery was South Carolina's only real dependable receiver all season and of his eight touchdowns, five came in conference games. Jeffery also spent the first eight games on a team that didn't have much of a passing game and was still sixth in the league in receiving.

Also, Jeffery had a monster outing in South Carolina's bowl win, while when Tennessee needed a win over Kentucky to become bowl eligible, Rogers caught just two passes in the loss and was openly complaining and being divisive on the sideline.

Rogers had a solid season, but more was taken into consideration than just his play.

Five players — Richardson, Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower, Barrett Jones and Mark Barron — from our preseason top 10 remained there in our postseason countdown, so that made us look good.

We missed on two South Carolina players in the preseason in Devin Taylor (No. 6) and Stephon Gilmore (No. 12) and didn't see Ingram (postseason No. 5) coming. But we did have 14 of 25 from our preseason list back on our postseason list. It probably would have been more if not for injuries to South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, Arkansas running back Knile Davis and defensive end Jake Bequette, or the dismissal of former Tennessee safety Janzen Jackson.

Here's a breakdown of the list by team, position, side of the field, year and division:

TEAM
  • Alabama (7)
  • Georgia (5)
  • LSU (4)
  • Arkansas (3)
  • South Carolina (2)
  • Auburn (1)
  • Kentucky (1)
  • Mississippi State (1)
  • Vanderbilt (1)
POSITION
  • DB (7)
  • LB (4)
  • WR/TE (4)
  • DL (3)
  • QB (2)
  • RB (2)
  • OL (3)
SIDE OF THE FIELD
  • Defense (14)
  • Offense (11)
YEAR
  • Senior (11)
  • Junior (9)
  • Sophomore (5)
DIVISION
  • West (16)
  • East (9)

Check in tomorrow to see players who just missed the cut for the postseason top 25.

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 1

March, 12, 2012
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We've come to the end of our countdown, and the No. 1 player on our list should come as no surprise to anyone. He spent all season running over and by defenders, and was up for college football's most prestigious award. Without him manning Alabama's backfield, the Crimson Tide might not have won its second national championship in three years. He's also expected to be the first running back taken in April's NFL draft.

No. 1: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama, Jr.

Preseason rank: No. 2 in the 2011 preseason countdown.

2011 summary: Richardson led the SEC and was fifth nationally with 1,679 rushing yards on 283 carries (5.93 yards per carry), and became the third player in SEC history to rush for 20 or more rushing touchdowns (21) in a season. He also caught 29 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Richardson was a unanimous first team All-American and All-SEC member. He also won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back, and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

Why he's here: In his first season as Alabama's starting running back, Richardson made sure the loss of Mark Ingram wasn't much of a concern for the Crimson Tide. He was the ultimate workhorse for Alabama, and had no problem being the focal point in the Tide's offense. What made him so special was his ability to pack power and speed into his game. He could sprint with track stars, but wasn't afraid to bulldoze his opponents if necessary ... of if he just felt like it. And Richardson certainly wasn't afraid of contact, as 49.7 percent of his rushing yards came after contact during the regular season. Richardson also showcased tremendous agility, and his elusiveness made him even more dangerous when he had the ball in his hands. Just ask Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson about his moves, because he's sure to be on Richardson's permanent highlight reel after getting shaken to the ground on a ridiculous cutback Richardson made on him last fall. His 2,017 yards from scrimmage accounted for more than 36 percent of Alabama's offense in 2011, and he did that while facing eight teams (LSU twice) that ranked among the top 51 nationally in total defense. No other Heisman contender had played more than five. In his two games against LSU (No. 2 in total defense), Richardson combined for 276 yards from scrimmage and recorded the only touchdown for either team in the series. Richardson registered nine games with at least 100 rushing yards, which tied a school record, and is expected to be a top-1o draft pick in April.
  • No. 2: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
  • No. 3: Tyrann Mathieu, CB/RS, LSU
  • No. 4: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
  • No. 5: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
  • No. 6: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
  • No. 7: Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
  • No. 8: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
  • No. 9: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
  • No. 10: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
  • No. 11: Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky
  • No. 12: William Vlachos, C, Alabama
  • No. 13: Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas
  • No. 14: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
  • No. 15: Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
  • No. 16: Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
  • No. 17: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
  • No. 18: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
  • No. 19: Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
  • No. 20: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
  • No. 21: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
  • No. 22: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
  • No. 23: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
  • No. 24: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
  • No. 25: Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 2

March, 9, 2012
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The top two guys in our countdown ought to be pretty obvious by now.

No. 2: Morris Claiborne, CB/RS, LSU, Jr.

Preseason rank: No. 15

2011 summary: Claiborne, who decided to give up his final season to enter the NFL draft, finished third in the SEC with six interceptions and tied for the team lead with 12 passes defended. He had 51 total tackles and was fourth on LSU's team with 32 solo stops. Among those players with 20 or more kickoff returns, Claiborne was second in the SEC with a 25.1-yard average. He returned one 99 yards for a touchdown against West Virginia. He also had a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown against Georgia in the SEC championship game. Claiborne won the Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football and was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches. He was a consensus first-team All-American.

Why he's here: Patrick Peterson set the college football world on fire two years ago with his play at cornerback and returning punts. Claiborne followed in Peterson's footsteps and might have had an even better season. It remains to be seen who ends up being the better player, but the fact that Claiborne is even in the conversation tells you what kind of season he had in 2011. He was one of those corners that few teams challenged. And when teams did challenge him, they usually came away sorry that they did. His ability to lock down on receivers and take away one side of the field gave LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis the green light to bring the heat just about any time he wanted. Like all great players, Claiborne made big plays in big games. His 33-yard interception return in the first Alabama game was a huge turning point, and his 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against West Virginia came at a time when it looked like the Tigers might be on the ropes. Claiborne led the nation with 173 yards in interception returns. He was as electric with the ball in his hands as he was blanketing opposing receivers. Sound familiar? In short, it will be a long time before two cornerbacks as explosive and polished as Peterson and Claiborne come through the same school again in back-to-back years.
  • No. 3: Tyrann Mathieu, CB/RS, LSU
  • No. 4: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
  • No. 5: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
  • No. 6: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
  • No. 7: Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
  • No. 8: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
  • No. 9: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
  • No. 10: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
  • No. 11: Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky
  • No. 12: William Vlachos, C, Alabama
  • No. 13: Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas
  • No. 14: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
  • No. 15: Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
  • No. 16: Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
  • No. 17: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
  • No. 18: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
  • No. 19: Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
  • No. 20: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
  • No. 21: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
  • No. 22: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
  • No. 23: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
  • No. 24: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
  • No. 25: Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 3

March, 8, 2012
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Not only did this next guy have a catchy nickname, but he was a master at taking the ball away from foes and coming up big on special teams.

No. 3: Tyrann Mathieu, CB/RS, LSU, So.

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2011 summary: Mathieu tied for the team lead with 76 total tackles and led all LSU players with 59 solo tackles. He had 7.5 tackles for loss and also intercepted two passes. Mathieu's six forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries led the SEC. He scored four touchdowns -- two on fumble returns and two on punt returns -- and averaged 15.6 yards on punt returns. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, and won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player. Mathieu was also selected as the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press, and earned consensus All-America honors.

Why he's here: Talk about the ultimate stat stuffer on defense. For that matter, talk about the ultimate playmaker on defense. Mathieu was always around the ball and always in position to make plays at key times in the game. He wasn't a premier cover cornerback, and there were some who knocked him for that. But as the nickel/rover in LSU's defense, he was as good as it gets. He was able to roam and make plays, which is what he does best. Showing his versatility, he even played safety in one game. And on special teams, he was a force no matter which unit he was on. He turned both the Arkansas and SEC championship games around with electrifying punt returns for touchdowns, and also scored a defensive touchdown against Oregon in the opener. It was a memorable season for the Honey Badger, who was only playing his second year of college football. Had he played better in the two games against Alabama and not been suspended for the Auburn game, he could have easily been No. 1 in our countdown.

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 4

March, 7, 2012
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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.
Our next member of the countdown proved to be one of the fiercest, most athletic defensive ends around:

No. 5: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina, Sr.

Preseason rank: Not ranked in the 2011 preseason top 25.

2011 summary: Ingram recorded 48 tackles and was third in the SEC with 15 tackles for loss. He also tied for second in the league with 10 sacks. He recorded two interceptions, recovered a fumble, broke up two passes and had six quarterback hurries. Ingram also registered three touchdowns, including a 68-yard run for a score on a fake punt against Georgia. He was selected as a first-team All-American by The Associated Press and was a first team All-SEC member by the AP and the league's coaches.

Why he's here: Ingram was one of the most fun defensive players to watch in 2011. He was fast, powerful and relentless. He battled through a couple of nagging injuries and still found ways to make quarterbacks miserable throughout the season. He averaged .77 sacks per game last season, with 6.5 of his sacks coming in conference play. What made Ingram so dangerous on the outside was his ability to not only fly past tackles but the way he overpowered them as well. At 6-foot-2, 276 pounds, Ingram could shoot off the edge like a rocket or bulldoze over an opposing offensive lineman if he had to. Ingram's best game of the season came against Auburn when he recorded 11 tackles, including eight solo and 4.5 for loss. He also had 3.5 sacks against the Tigers. Another aspect of Ingram's game that made him so tough to deal with was the tremendous stamina he showed last season. He didn't take plays off and rarely got very tired out on the field. He would wear players down before he needed a breather. Ingram will enter April's NFL draft as one the top defensive end/linebacker prospects and figures to be a first-round draft pick.
The nation's most versatile offensive lineman makes our top 10:

No. 7: Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama, Jr.

Preseason rank: No. 8 in the 2011 preseason rankings.

2011 summary: After starting 25 games at right guard in the two previous seasons, Jones started 11 games at left tackle and played everywhere on the offensive line except for his old position in 2011. He graded out first or second on the Alabama offensive line in nine of the first 10 games of the season. He won the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation's top interior lineman, and was a unanimous first team All-American. He was also named a first team All-SEC member by The Associated Press and the league's coaches.

Why he's here: Honestly, was there a better offensive lineman in college football last season? In short, no. Jones tried to do everything for the Crimson Tide last season. At first he thought he might have to move to center before taking over at left tackle. But when Jones was called upon to move around the line, he did so with relative ease. He was graded at 90 percent or better by Alabama's staff in four games during the regular season, and faced seven of the nation's top 50 defenses, including LSU twice, during the 2011 season. He blocked for 25 individual 100-yard rushing games during his career, including 10 in 2011 (Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy both eclipsed 100 yards against North Texas). With him manning the most important position on the offensive line, Alabama surrendered just 17 sacks, which was the best in the SEC. Alabama also led the SEC in rushing (214.5 yards per game) and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Jones wasn't just the ultimate lineman that any coach -- and quarterback -- would love. He also became one of the best leaders on Alabama's team. It was tough to find another lineman on Jones' level, and the scary thing for opposing defense linemen is that he decided to return for his senior season.

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 8

March, 1, 2012
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Another day, another Alabama player in our countdown.

No. 8: Mark Barron, S, Alabama, Sr.

Preseason rank: No. 7

2011 summary: Barron was second on Alabama's No. 1-ranked defense with 68 total tackles, including five for loss. He also had two interceptions. Barron was a consensus first-team All-American and a finalist for the Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football. He earned All-America mention in each of his last three seasons with the Crimson Tide.

Why he's here: Widely considered to be the best safety in the country, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Barron was one of the centerpieces of an Alabama defense that finished the season ranked No. 1 nationally in all four major defensive statistical categories. He was the Tide's catalyst in the secondary, and when he wasn't making big plays, he was helping clean up mistakes or turning what looked like it might be a big gain for the opposing team into a minimal gain. Barron made 39 career starts at safety for Alabama and was the kind of player who made everybody around him better. He was a tremendous athlete and could have played a number of different positions in college, but also combined uncanny football instincts with that athletic ability to become the ideal safety in Alabama's 3-4 scheme. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said he always felt good about his defense as long as Barron was on the field.

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 9

February, 29, 2012
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One of the league's most active linebackers from the nation's top defense makes our countdown today:

No. 9: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama, Jr.

Preseason ranking: No. 5 in the 2011 preseason rankings.

2011 summary: He led Alabama and ranked 13th in the SEC with a career-high 85 tackles last season. He was second on the team with 11 tackles for loss and was third with four sacks. He also defended four passes, recorded an interception, forced a fumble, had eight quarterback hurries and blocked a kick. He was a finalist for four national defensive player awards and was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press and a first-team All-SEC member by the league's coaches.

Why he's here: Hightower really embraced the role as being a true captain for his team last season. He was responsible for basically running Alabama's No. 1 defense on the field by delivering the play calls and the checks throughout the entire season. Hightower showed tremendous instincts and versatility with the Crimson Tide. He mostly lined up in the middle for Alabama, but could move outside on passing downs, where he became one of the league's best pass-rushers. He could also drop back into coverage, where he showed pretty solid awareness. He registered five or more tackles in 11 of his 13 games last season, including getting a career-high 11 against Mississippi State. He also recorded a career-best 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks against the Bulldogs. On the season, Hightower recorded 8.5 of his 11 tackles for loss in conference games and averaged seven tackles in league games. Hightower was able to move all around Alabama's defense to make plays in 2011. The knee injury that cut his 2009 season short and nagged him at times in 2010 was a thing of the pass, as he didn't seem to have a problem chasing down opposing offensive players at all. He was also very quick with his decision-making and reactions on the field and never strayed from the defensive scheme. Hightower played with great determination and showed an impressive work ethic last season. It also didn't hurt that since he was a little big for his position, he delivered quite the punch to offensive players.

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 10

February, 28, 2012
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We're cracking into the top 10 early on our list. This lineman didn't have much trouble cracking into opposing backfields with the way he played in 2011.

No. 10: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State, Jr.

Preseason ranking: No. 22 in the 2011 preseason rankings

2011 summary: He finished the season with 56 tackles, and was fifth in the SEC with 14.5 tackles for loss. He also led Mississippi State with five sacks. Cox left Mississippi State as the all-time leader in blocked kicks (five), after blocking two last fall. He also forced a fumble and returned one 52 yards. He was a first team All-SEC selection by The Associated Press and a second team selection by the league's coaches.

Why he's here: Cox burst onto the scene in 2010, but exploded in 2011. He caused constant headaches for offensive linemen and basically lived in opposing teams' backfields last fall. He was one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the SEC, leading all linemen in tackles for loss. The spotlight was placed on Cox before the season, but he received some unwanted attention right at the start when he was one of five Mississippi State players suspended for the season opener. He bounced back to have quite the final season in Starkville. He probably saved his best game of the year for the last one of his Bulldog career, when he registered seven tackles, a sack and blocked a kick in Mississippi State's 23-17 win over Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl. He also registered back-to-back games with two sacks against South Carolina and Kentucky during the season's midpoint. Cox is projected to be one of the top defensive tackles taken in April's NFL draft.
  • No. 11: Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky
  • No. 12: William Vlachos, C, Alabama
  • No. 13: Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas
  • No. 14: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
  • No. 15: Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
  • No. 16: Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
  • No. 17: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
  • No. 18: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
  • No. 19: Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
  • No. 20: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
  • No. 21: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
  • No. 22: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
  • No. 23: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
  • No. 24: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
  • No. 25: Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 11

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
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The next player on our list deserved a lot more national attention than he received last season:

No. 11: Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky, Sr.

Preseason rank: No. 17 in the 2011 preseason rankings.

2011 summary: For the second straight season, Trevathan led the SEC in tackles, registering 143 stops, including 67 solo tackles. He also had 11.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and led the Wildcats with four interceptions and defended nine passes. He also tied for second in the SEC with five forced fumbles, was selected as a first team All-SEC member by The Associated Press, and a second team member by the league's coaches.

Why he's here: Yet again, Trevathan was one of the hardest working players in the SEC. He really excelled in new defensive coordinator Rick Minter's defense because of his freedom to move all over the field. He was easily one of the most underrated players in the entire country and was often overlooked by others at his position, but there was no doubting how good Trevathan was for the Wildcats. He displayed tremendous closing speed when pursuing players and could also drop back into coverage if needed. He had a real nose for the ball and was rarely caught out of position when he was on the field. Trevathan registered eight games with double-digit tackles, including recording 17 stops three different times last season. In those games, Trevathan had 25 solo tackles. Trevathan wasn't the biggest player at his position, but he was easily one of the toughest and had a motor that just didn't stop. He was Kentucky's Will linebacker, but had the skill and knowledge to play each linebacker position for the Wildcats. Trevathan was also the ultimate leader for the Wildcats and really was the heart of that entire Kentucky team last fall.
  • No. 12: William Vlachos, C, Alabama
  • No. 13: Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas
  • No. 14: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
  • No. 15: Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
  • No. 16: Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
  • No. 17: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
  • No. 18: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
  • No. 19: Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
  • No. 20: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
  • No. 21: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
  • No. 22: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
  • No. 23: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
  • No. 24: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
  • No. 25: Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 12

February, 27, 2012
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It's hard to imagine the middle of that vaunted Alabama offensive line without this next guy.

No. 12: William Vlachos, C, Alabama, Sr.

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2011 summary: Vlachos was a first-team All-SEC selection by both the coaches and Associated Press and a second-team Walter Camp All-America selection. He was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy as the best center in college football and helped clear the way for an Alabama running attack that led the SEC and was 16th nationally with an average of 214.5 yards per game.

Why he's here: What he lacked in height, the 6-foot-1, 294-pound Vlachos made up for with smarts, strength, toughness and technique. He was a two-time SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week last season and capped his career with his 40th straight start in the BCS National Championship Game. His ability to neutralize the middle of every defensive front the Crimson Tide faced was a big reason they were so balanced. Rarely did the opposing defense get any real push up the middle against Alabama, the only team in the SEC to average more than 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing per game. Vlachos graded out at 90 percent or better in seven games last season. His consistency and knowledge of the offense gave Alabama an edge that's impossible to put a value on. Not only did Vlachos make all of the calls up front, but he had only eight missed assignments in more than 730 snaps. A three-year starter, Vlachos was a rock against LSU in the BCS National Championship Game and earned his second national championship ring.
  • No. 13: Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas
  • No. 14: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
  • No. 15: Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
  • No. 16: Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
  • No. 17: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
  • No. 18: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
  • No. 19: Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
  • No. 20: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
  • No. 21: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
  • No. 22: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
  • No. 23: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
  • No. 24: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
  • No. 25: Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 13

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
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Was there any SEC player last season more electric in the open field than this guy?

No. 13: Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas, Sr.

Preseason rank: No. 16

2011 summary: Adams was second on Arkansas' team with 50 catches. He finished with 652 receiving yards and three touchdown catches. Adams returned four punts for touchdowns, tying an SEC record, and was second nationally with a 16.9-yard average on punt returns. Adams was a consensus All-American and honored as both a return specialist and all-purpose player. He was named the SEC's Special Teams Player of the Year by the league's coaches.

Why he's here: Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino would describe it simply as "Wow!" when Adams would make one of those jaw-dropping moves and then turn on the jets until he reached the end zone. Easily one of the most dynamic and versatile players in college football, Adams also had impeccable timing. Whenever the Hogs needed a big play, he was almost always there to deliver in 2011. He returned two punts for touchdowns in the opener against Missouri State and then capped his college career by returning one 51 yards for a touchdown to jump-start Arkansas to a 29-16 win over Kansas State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Adams also had one of the plays of the year in the SEC when he broke seven tackles on his way to a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown against Tennessee. And if you want speed, go back and watch Adams' 92-yard run for a touchdown against Auburn. Adams was the only FBS player in the country last season to have multiple punt returns for touchdowns and also have a rushing and receiving touchdown. He was the ultimate playmaker for the Hogs.

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 14

February, 23, 2012
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Another defensive back makes our list, and this one had a knack for making plays all over the field:

No. 14: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia, Sr.

Preseason rank: Not ranked in the 2011 preseason rankings.

2011 summary: He was fourth on the team with 55 tackles, including 11 for loss. He also had three interceptions, defended 12 passes, forced two fumbles and had a safety. He led the Bulldogs in all-purpose yards with 1,203 (850 kick return, 180 punt return, 103 receiving and 71 rushing). He finished the year with four total touchdowns and won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile college football player. He was Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist and a second team All-SEC selection by the league's coaches.

Why he's here: Boykin tried to do just about everything he could (except throw the ball) to help the Bulldogs last season. He was a threat in the return game, was a shutdown corner and probably should have been used more on offense, especially in the running game. Boykin only recorded 13 interceptions, but that didn't mean he wasn't solid in coverage. He had the ability to take his side of the field away, forcing quarterbacks to look elsewhere for plays. He really showed how special of a player he was in the Outback Bowl loss to Michigan State when he scored three different ways with a safety, a 92-yard punt return and a 13-yard reception. He was elite in two phases of his game -- defense and special teams -- and probably would have been on offense as well, if he received more touches. He also left school as Georgia's leader in career kickoff return yards with 2,663, which ranks second in SEC history. He's also the only player in SEC history with three 100-yard plays of any kind. Boykin was also an ultimate leader for this team. He was one of the players his teammates turned to when this team fell behind 0-2 to start the season. It was just his play that helped propel this team toward its rebound.
  • No. 15: Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
  • No. 16: Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
  • No. 17: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
  • No. 18: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
  • No. 19: Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
  • No. 20: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
  • No. 21: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
  • No. 22: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
  • No. 23: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
  • No. 24: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
  • No. 25: Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn

The SEC's top 25 players: No. 15

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
10:24
AM ET
This next guy on our countdown had a record-setting season.

No. 15: Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas, Sr.

2011 summary: Wright led the SEC in receiving yards (1,117) and receiving touchdowns (12) and was second in receptions (66). He set the Arkansas single-season record in all three categories and leaves school as the career leader in receptions and receiving yards. Wright was a first-team All-SEC selection by both the coaches and Associated Press.

Why he's here: Not only did the 5-10, 180-pound Wright emerge as one of the SEC's best big-play receivers, but he improved as a runner after the catch and also showed a penchant for finding the end zone, as evidenced by his 12 touchdown receptions. Even though he's not very big, he showed his toughness time and time again in 2011 and combined that toughness with exceptional speed to put together a record-breaking season. Wright produced big catches and big performances and had an SEC-leading six touchdown catches in league games. His biggest game came in the 42-38 comeback win over Texas A&M when he pulled in 13 catches for 281 yards, and he also pounced on a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to tie that game. The Hogs weren't lacking in receiving talent this season, but Wright became the clear leader of that group and was also one of the strongest leaders on the entire team. His consistency was one of the big reasons the Hogs were able to win 11 games for the first time since the 1977 season.

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