SEC: Top 25 players 2010

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 1

July, 6, 2010
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I’m sure the suspense has been killing all of you about who’s No. 1 in our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players. Well, here goes.

No. 1: Mark Ingram, RB, Jr., Alabama

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Shelby Daniel/Icon SMIMark Ingram is the first Crimson Tide player to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
2009 numbers: His 1,658 rushing yards led all SEC players, as did his 20 touchdowns. Averaged 6.1 yards per carry and also caught 32 passes for 334 yards.

Most recent ranking: No. 1 on the 2009 postseason countdown.

Making the case for Ingram: The Heisman Trophy is a pretty good place to start. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Ingram became Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner in school history last season, but his value goes much deeper than just winning college football’s most prestigious individual award. To really appreciate Ingram, watch him after initial contact. The first guy never gets him, as evidenced by the fact that Ingram had an astonishing 1,075 yards after contact last season. Former Alabama offensive guard Mike Johnson marveled at Ingram’s vision and his ability to hit any crease, no matter how small, at full speed. When he does get some daylight, he has the wheels to go the distance. More than 30 percent of his rushing attempts last season went for a first down or a touchdown. One of the things that sets Ingram apart is his versatility. He has excellent hands out of the backfield and is equally good in pass protection when it comes to picking up the blitz. Ingram was at his best against the best teams, averaging 156.8 yards against six Top 25 opponents. And you want dependable? Ingram handled the ball 303 times last season (271 rushing attempts and 32 catches) and lost just one fumble. He’s only put the ball on the ground twice during his career. When you think of a football player, and I'm talking about a guy who impacts the game in a variety of different ways, No. 22 is the measuring stick in this league.

The rundown

No. 2: A.J. Green, WR, Jr., Georgia

No. 3: Ryan Mallett, QB, Jr., Arkansas

No. 4: Patrick Peterson, CB, Jr., LSU

No. 5: Marcell Dareus, DE, Jr., Alabama

No. 6: Julio Jones, WR, Jr., Alabama

No. 7: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Jr., Alabama

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 2

July, 2, 2010
7/02/10
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Our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players is winding down. It’s safe to say this next guy is a pretty fair player.

No. 2: A.J. Green, WR, Jr., Georgia

2009 numbers: Led Georgia with 53 catches for 808 yards and six touchdown receptions. His average of 80.8 receiving yards per game ranked second in the SEC.

Most recent ranking: No. 24 on the 2009 postseason countdown and No. 6 on the 2009 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Green: The only thing holding Green back last season was a spate of injuries, because he was nearly unstoppable the first two months of the season. Seven games into the season, he already had 41 catches for 682 yards and six touchdowns. But he bruised a lung against Florida and missed the Tennessee Tech game. And then in the second quarter against Auburn, he injured his left shoulder and missed the next two games. The 6-4, 207-pound Green insists that he’s all the way back as we approach the 2010 season -- which is bad news for opposing defenses. You just don’t find many receivers with Green’s combination of size, speed and leaping ability. A former star basketball player in high school, he’s outstanding at using his body to shield defenders and then has the athletic ability to go up and get anything that’s thrown near him. Green was a first-team All-SEC selection each of the past two seasons and enters the 2010 season as one of the favorites to win the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in college football. He’s just an explosive offensive weapon all the way around and is truly one of those players that would impact the game no matter where he lined up. He blocked a fourth quarter field goal to help Georgia beat Arizona State last season and is lobbying to return punts this coming season. The Bulldogs would be wise to put the ball in his hands as many times as they possibly can. He's a game-changer in every sense of the word.

The rundown

No. 3: Ryan Mallett, QB, Jr., Arkansas

No. 4: Patrick Peterson, CB, Jr., LSU

No. 5: Marcell Dareus, DE, Jr., Alabama

No. 6: Julio Jones, WR, Jr., Alabama

No. 7: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Jr., Alabama

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 3

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
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Finally, a quarterback shows up in our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players, and he might be one of the best three or four quarterbacks in the country.

No. 3: Ryan Mallett, QB, Jr., Arkansas

2009 numbers: Led the SEC with 3,624 passing yards and 30 touchdowns while throwing just seven interceptions. Completed 55.8 percent of his passes.

Most recent ranking: No. 6 on the 2009 postseason countdown.

Making the case for Mallett: Really, not much of a case needs to be made. The 6-foot-7, 238-pound Mallett is one of the most talented quarterbacks in college football and showed just how talented last season in his first tour through the SEC after transferring from Michigan. He set or tied 16 Arkansas school records and finished seventh nationally in pass efficiency (152.5). Mallett is still recovering from a broken bone in his foot that he suffered during offseason conditioning, but should be back to full strength by the time preseason practice begins next month. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has raved about Mallett’s feel for the offense, and he should be even better in that department next season, in particular when it comes to spreading the ball around to his deep stable of playmakers. Mallett was the only player in the SEC last season to throw five or more touchdown passes in three different games. He also led the league in passes of 50 yards or more with 10. As good as he is at hitting the deep ball, he’s also extremely effective when it comes to throwing the ball on the move. One of Mallett’s goals this coming season is to improve his overall accuracy and take the shorter throws when they’re there instead of trying to force the ball down the field. He thinks his mechanics have improved and is bursting at the seams to lead the Hogs to a special season. Mallett threw 30 touchdown passes a year ago. Don’t be surprised if he makes a run at 40 in 2010.

The rundown

No. 4: Patrick Peterson, CB, Jr., LSU

No. 5: Marcell Dareus, DE, Jr., Alabama

No. 6: Julio Jones, WR, Jr., Alabama

No. 7: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Jr., Alabama

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 4

June, 30, 2010
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As we approach the top selection in our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players, the No. 4 guy on our list has few peers anywhere in the country when it comes to playing cornerback.

No. 4: Patrick Peterson, CB, Jr., LSU

2009 numbers: Recorded 52 total tackles and intercepted two passes. Ranked fourth in the SEC with 15 passes defended.

Most recent ranking: No. 14 on the 2009 postseason countdown.

Making the case for Peterson: He’s exactly what you’re looking for in a cornerback in every facet. Athletically, he’s off the charts. Just this offseason, he was laser-timed at 4.37 in the 40-yard dash, recorded a vertical leap of 39 inches and squatted 535 pounds. The 6-foot-1 Peterson weighed in at 220 pounds, too. He has great ball skills and the upper-body strength to overpower receivers. You won’t find a better tackler from the cornerback position, either. Go back and watch a few of the plays he made on Tim Tebow in the open field last season. His 43 solo tackles were second on LSU’s team a year ago to middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard’s 50. So when he’s not shutting down the opposing team’s best receiver, he’s equally effective in run support and makes up for a lot of mistakes. The other thing that makes Peterson so great is his undying confidence. He has a genuine belief that he’s going to make every play, and that confidence wears off on his teammates. Heading into last season, Peterson might have been overshadowed some by safety Chad Jones in the LSU secondary. But the Pompano Beach, Fla., product motors into the 2010 season as the SEC’s premier defensive back and a guy who many NFL scouts believe might be the most talented cornerback in all of college football.

The rundown

No. 5: Marcell Dareus, DE, Jr., Alabama

No. 6: Julio Jones, WR, Jr., Alabama

No. 7: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Jr., Alabama

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 5

June, 29, 2010
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For those of you keeping count, and I’m sure a few of you are, the No. 5 guy on our list of the SEC’s 25 best players is the third straight from defending national champion Alabama.

No. 5: Marcell Dareus, DE, Jr., Alabama

2009 numbers: Recorded 33 total tackles, including nine for loss, and led Alabama with 6.5 sacks.

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

Making the case for Dareus: Even though he’s started in only four games during his Alabama career, Dareus returns for the 2010 season as the top defensive lineman in the SEC. Per snap, he was the most productive defensive lineman on Alabama’s team last season and just seemed to have that knack for coming up with the big play. A defensive end in the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 scheme, the 6-foot-3, 306-pound Dareus is versatile enough to get to the quarterback whether he lines up outside or collapses the pocket from an inside position. He’s extremely athletic for his size, and the college football world saw just how athletic in the BCS National Championship Game last season. His 28-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first half included a nifty stiff arm and pirouette on his way to the end zone. And then earlier in the first half, he knocked out Texas quarterback Colt McCoy on his way to being named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player for the game. Those kind of performances will be routine for Dareus next season. He’ll get even more chances and will be a lot more instinctive in the Crimson Tide’s system. He has everything it takes to dominate games and is on a fast track to being a top-10 pick in the NFL draft.

The rundown

No. 6: Julio Jones, WR, Jr., Alabama

No. 7: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Jr., Alabama

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 6

June, 28, 2010
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We resume our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players with a guy who plays the receiver position with a linebacker’s mentality.

No. 6: Julio Jones, WR, Jr., Alabama

2009 numbers: Led Alabama with 43 catches for 596 yards and four touchdown receptions.

Most recent ranking: No. 30 on the 2009 postseason countdown and No. 5 on the 2009 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Jones: It goes without saying that some people will look at Jones’ numbers from a year ago and scratch their heads as to why he’s this high. After all, he had even better numbers as a freshman. But numbers alone don’t begin to tell you how good a football player Jones is. He’s bigger, stronger and healthier than he was for much of last season and poised for his best season yet. Once his knee rounded back into shape a year ago, Jones looked like his old self. Always a relentless blocker in the run game, he was at his best when the Crimson Tide needed him to be at his best. Remember his 73-yard catch and run for a touchdown against LSU in the fourth quarter? How about his clutch performance on that final drive to beat Auburn? What makes Jones so special is that he has the strength, size and leaping ability to get the best of any cornerback in a one-on-one situation, and he’s one of those guys who almost never goes down on the first hit. But he also has explosive straight-end speed. When he gets in the clear, you don’t see anybody catching him. The consummate team player, Jones has been more than willing to play whatever role is laid out there for him. So far, that role has included winning a lot of games. Look for the 2010 season to be one in which he clearly establishes himself as one of the premier players in this league.

The rundown

No. 7: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Jr., Alabama

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 7

June, 25, 2010
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If this next guy in our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players hadn’t been injured last season, he might be even higher on this list.

No. 7: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Jr., Alabama

2009 numbers: Recorded 16 tackles, including four for loss, in his first four games before being injured. Also had a sack.

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

Making the case for Hightower: Because he played in only four games last season, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Hightower might be off the radar for some people. But he rehabilitated like a mad man from a left knee injury that cut short his sophomore season and was back out there going through contact this spring. Alabama coach Nick Saban thought Hightower was the best linebacker prospect in the country when he signed him, and if he stays healthy next season, Hightower will prove just how good he really is. A first-team Freshman All-American two years ago, Hightower became one of only 11 true freshmen in Alabama history since 1972 to start the season opener. He’ll move over to the middle linebacker position in 2010 to take over for Rolando McClain, but is also one of the Crimson Tide’s best pass-rushers. He’ll play the Jack linebacker rush position on passing downs and is one of those players offensive coordinators want to know where he is on every down. Hightower’s knee injury was a serious one. He tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus, but looked like his old explosive self in the spring. The real test will be this fall. If he is indeed all the way back, the Crimson Tide could be looking at their second consecutive Butkus Award winner.

The rundown

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 8

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
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With the No. 8 choice, we introduce you to the second offensive lineman in our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players.

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

2009 numbers: A second-team All-America selection by The Associated Press, Pouncey was part of a Florida offensive line that paved the way for the Gators to lead the SEC in total offense with an average of 457.9 yards per game.

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

Making the case for Pouncey: The Gators’ recruiting class this past February was outstanding, but their most important get may have been the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Pouncey deciding to return to school for his senior season. His twin brother, Maurkice, did elect to go pro and went in the first round to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike will slide over from guard next season to take over for his brother at center. He played both right guard and left guard a year ago for the Gators and has started in 28 consecutive games. Maurkice won the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center last season, and it’s not out of the realm to think that Mike could follow in his brother’s footsteps. This is the first time the Pouncey twins have been split up since they started playing football. As valuable as Mike will be in the middle of that offensive line, one of the best and most experienced in the league, he’ll be just as valuable in the locker room with his leadership. Florida coach Urban Meyer will tell you that the Pounceys were players the Gators built their program around these past few years and now Mike remains as the anchor of their offensive line.

The rundown

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 9

June, 23, 2010
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The No. 9 player on our list of the SEC’s 25 best players was relatively unknown at this time a year ago. But not anymore.

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

2009 numbers: Recorded 56 tackles, leading the Bulldogs with 12 tackles for loss and five sacks.

Most recent ranking: No. 25 on the 2009 postseason countdown.

Making the case for McPhee: He’s one of those defensive ends who’s as hard on the running back trying to turn the corner as he is the quarterback dropping back to pass. Relentless in the way he plays the game, McPhee burst onto the scene last season in the SEC after coming over from junior college. It didn’t take him long to establish himself as one of the top defensive ends in the league. He earned second-team All-SEC honors from The Associated Press and the coaches. The 6-foot-4 McPhee has worked hard in the Bulldogs’ strength and conditioning program and is now up to 285 pounds. He hasn’t lost any of his burst off the edge, either, and could approach double digits in sacks in 2010. McPhee also fits nicely into first-year coordinator Manny Diaz’s aggressive style and admits he got by on instincts and talent last season. He thinks his increased knowledge of the game and extra film work on the people he’ll be going against will allow him to make even more big plays next season, or as McPhee says, “creating trouble in the backfield.”

The rundown

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 10

June, 22, 2010
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We’re now down to the top 10 in our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players, and blocking the No. 10 guy on our list isn’t anybody’s idea of fun.

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

2009 numbers: Recorded 34 tackles, tying for the team lead with 12 tackles for loss. Included were three sacks.

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

Making the case for Powe: The 6-2, 320-pound Powe emerged as a dominant presence in the middle of the Rebels’ defensive line last season. He enters this next season as the top interior defensive lineman in the league. His 12 tackles for loss a year ago led all SEC defensive tackles, and that’s not counting all the times he completely wrecked a play with his penetration -- allowing somebody else to make the tackle behind the line of scrimmage. A second-team All-SEC selection last season by the Associated Press, Powe will be the centerpiece of an Ole Miss defensive line in 2010 that should be one of the best in the league. Every great defensive line has that immovable force in the middle, and Powe is that guy for the Rebels. Still, he’s remarkably athletic for a player his size and has improved his conditioning by leaps and bounds since coming to Ole Miss. One of the Rebels’ more popular players in recent memory, Powe first signed with Ole Miss in 2005 and waged a long and winding eligibility battle before finally being cleared to play in 2008. His perseverance paid off … for him and for the Rebels.

The rundown

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 11

June, 21, 2010
6/21/10
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The No. 11 guy on our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players doesn’t even start, but don’t let that fool you.

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

2009 numbers: Rushed for 751 yards and eight touchdowns while backing up Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.

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

Making the case for Richardson: If you talk to enough people in and around the Alabama program, they will tell you that Richardson might be the most talented running back on campus. That’s probably not the most politically correct thing to say with Ingram coming off a Heisman Trophy season, but the game tape doesn’t lie. The 5-11, 220-pound Richardson is oozing with natural ability. He’s explosive enough to hit a seam and run away from everybody on the field. After all, you’re talking about a guy who’s run a 10.5 in the 100 meters. He’s powerful enough to run over a linebacker and turn a minimal gain into a 25-yard gain, and he’s savvy enough to let his blocking develop and find the right crease. Richardson would have been a 1,200-yard rusher on just about any other team last season, but served as the perfect complement to Ingram. They return as the best one-two punch in college football. Richardson figures to be even better in 2010 now that he’s been through the SEC for a season. Alabama coach Nick Saban said he could see that Richardson was becoming a more complete football player during spring practices. He wasn’t too shabby as a freshman, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and coming up big in both the SEC championship and BCS national championship games. His best is yet to come.

The rundown

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

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 12

June, 18, 2010
6/18/10
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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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 13

June, 17, 2010
6/17/10
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As middle linebackers go, this next guy on our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players might have been underrated in the past, but he returns next season as one of the premier defenders in the league.

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

2009 numbers: Finished fourth in the SEC with 110 total tackles, including 8.5 for loss.

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

Making the case for Sheppard: The SEC was loaded with talented linebackers last season, and when you started listing them, Rolando McClain, Eric Norwood, Brandon Spikes, Rennie Curran, Jamar Chaney, Patrick Benoist and Micah Johnson were the names you usually heard first. The 6-foot-3, 239-pound Sheppard deserved to be in that group then, and he enters the 2010 season at the forefront of the top linebackers in the league and the country. He’s coming off his best season in more ways than one. Not only was he the Tigers’ leading tackler, but he was also their emotional leader on defense. That role will be even more important in 2010 when you look at all of the quality players the Tigers lost on defense. Plus, they will be especially young and inexperienced around Sheppard at the other linebacker spots. The good news for LSU is that Sheppard is a tackling machine and makes plays sideline to sideline, in the opposing backfield and even dropping into coverage on occasion. A weakside linebacker earlier in his career, he’s an extremely instinctive player, which is the reason he’s always around the ball. It’s also the reason he’s so consistent. In three straight games last season against Florida, Auburn and Tulane, he recorded 13 tackles and had at least seven tackles in 11 of LSU’s 13 games. So when you start reeling off the top linebackers in college football heading into this next season, don't forget about the guy on the Bayou.

The rundown

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 14

June, 16, 2010
6/16/10
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If you like players who can do a little bit of everything, you’re going to love No. 14 on our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best.

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

2009 numbers: Second in the SEC behind Mark Ingram with 15 touchdowns. Led Kentucky with 39 catches for 447 yards and four touchdown catches. Second on the team with 573 rushing yards, while leading the way with 10 rushing touchdowns.

Most recent ranking: No. 22 on the 2009 postseason countdown.

Making the case for Cobb: Line him up anywhere, and the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Cobb is going to make plays. He’s still coming into his own as a receiver after playing quarterback in high school, yet is still a big part of Kentucky’s Wildcat package when he lines up at quarterback in the shotgun. Cobb is especially crafty in the red zone. He also returns kickoffs and punts and was the only player in the SEC last season who had more than 300 yards rushing, receiving, returning kickoffs and returning punts. A first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press last season, Cobb averaged 139.4 all-purpose yards per game and rolled up a career-high 237 all-purpose yards against Mississippi State. One of his challenges is to become a more complete receiver this coming season. He’s already plenty dynamic after the catch and is one of those guys who just naturally makes defenders miss. One of the things that should help Cobb in 2010 is having a more seasoned Chris Matthews on the other side at receiver. Teams won’t be able to load up as much on Cobb. But he’s so versatile that the Wildcats can move him around to just about anywhere to create mismatches. Even though he’s not a speed burner, there are few players in the league who are any better with the ball in their hands.

The rundown

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

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 15

June, 15, 2010
6/15/10
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We’re now down to the final 15 in our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players, and this next guy is the first Gator to crack the list.

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

2009 numbers: Recorded 38 tackles, including three for loss. Intercepted two passes and also forced a fumble.

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

Making the case for Jenkins: The 5-11, 186-pound Jenkins has been a fixture in the Florida secondary since the start of his true freshman season. He became just the second true freshman in school history to start at cornerback on opening day. The fact that Jenkins wears No. 1 should tell you plenty about what kind of football player he is. The No. 1 jersey at Florida is reserved for the best of the best. The two guys who had No. 1 before Jenkins were Percy Harvin and Reggie Nelson. An outstanding all-around athlete, Jenkins returns as one of the most established cornerbacks in the SEC. He’s a sure tackler who prides himself on being able to lock down on anybody. We should find out even more about Jenkins as a player and leader in 2010 now that Joe Haden won’t be on the other side at cornerback, but Jenkins is ready to take on that leadership role. He grew up a lot last season following his arrest in the offseason and then struggled through a subpar game against Arkansas when Greg Childs beat him for a couple of long gainers. But Jenkins recovered nicely and is poised to make his mark as one of the top cornerbacks in the country this coming season.

The rundown

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

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