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College Football 2011 Predictions: Top 10 Defenders in the Country

Daniel BrommerCorrespondent IJune 13, 2011

College Football 2011 Predictions: Top 10 Defenders in the Country

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    MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 18: John Clay #32 of the Wisconsin Badgers is tackled by the face mask by Vontaze Burfict #7 of the Arizona State Sun Devils at Camp Randall Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Image
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This short list of defenders will certainly cause a debate. With so many great defenders out there, it's hard to narrow it down to a list of 10, but this is my attempt to do just that.

    As the old saying goes, "Defense Wins Championships," and these ten defenders will certainly help their teams in the quest to win the crystal ball.

    Without further ado, here are the top 10 defenders in the country.

10. Jared Crick: Defensive Tackle/Nebraska

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    LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 13: Jared Crick #94 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers wraps up Angus Quigley #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated Kansas 20-3. (Photo by Eric Francis
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Jared Crick is following in the foot-steps of Ndamukung Suh, and that path leads straight to greatness. Crick is a very large tackle at 6'6", 285, but his play is very disruptive. The past two seasons Crick has had 70 tackles in each season and nine-plus sacks in each year.

    Crick chose wisely in staying for his senior season because Suh had plenty of success in his senior year and there's no reason why Crick can't have the same.

    Crick could end up being a top-10 pick in next years NFL draft is he stays healthy and produces on the field. Judging by his track record, he should match his past two seasons and then some.

9. Brandon Jenkins: Defensive End/Florida State

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    NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 11:  Offensive lineman Donald Stephenson #59 of the Oklahoma Sooners grabs the facemask of Brandon Jenkins #49 of the Florida State Seminoles at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Norman, Oklahoma.  (P
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Brandon Jenkins had a huge coming out party last year. He had 56 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. He's one of the reasons why critics are raving about this revamped Florida State defense.

    Jenkins is already projected to be a high draft pick in next years NFL draft, but he's projected to switch over to be an outside linebacker. He will still be on the line this year, however and should have another monster year in Mark Stoops defensive scheme.

    With the departure of Da'Quan Bowers, Jenkins returns as the top defensive end in the country, arguably that is. Expect Jenkins to have another great season and expect him to be one of the best defenders in the country.

8. Dont'a Hightower: Linebacker/Alabama

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 16:  Dont'a Hightower #30 of the Alabama Crimson Tide pressures quarterback Jeremiah Masoli #8 of the Ole Miss Rebels at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    If Dont'a Hightower isn't the best linebacker in the country, he sure is the biggest. At 6'4", 260 he's a force in the middle of Alabama's defense.

    Hightower was experiencing some setbacks last year after coming off of a knee injury in 2009, but at this point going into the 2011 season, he is 100 percent healthy, which should make SEC offenses worry.

    Hightower had 70 tackles last season, but expect that total to increase this season now that he's made a full recovery.

    Hightower could end up having the same success as his former teammate and current Oakland Raider, Rolando McClain.

7. Cliff Harris: Cornerback/Oregon

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Cliff Harris #13 of the Oregon Ducks reacts during their game against the Auburn Tigers during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jo
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Cliff Harris enters the 2011 season as one of the best, if not the best, cornerback in the country. He had a fantastic year last season and should have an even better year this season.

    Harris had 30 tackles and six interceptions last year. His interception against Tennessee for a 76 yard touchdown had to have been one of the best defensive plays of the year.

    Oregon is now officially in the spotlight from their recent success and with that success comes plenty of media attention, which Harris will surely benefit from.

6. Travis Lewis: Linebacker/Oklahoma

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Travis Lewis #28 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts at the end of the game against the Connecticut Huskies during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ro
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Honestly, I don't know how this guys doesn't get more attention. Travis Lewis has been extremely consistent in his three years as a starter at Oklahoma. He's a tackling machine. He's had just one season under 100 tackles, and he came one shy of that with 99 tackles in 2009.

    Lewis is the leader of the Oklahoma defense and the team as a whole is the favor to win the National Title this year, thus giving Lewis more exposure that he deserves.

    Lewis is going to get his 100 tackles this year and he'll make plenty of big defensive plays for the Sooners, which is precisely why he is on this list.

5. Quinton Coples: Defensive End/North Carolina

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    CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 13:  Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Virginia Tech Hokies tries to get away from Quinton Coples #90 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Kenan Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Street
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Quinton Coples, at a potential standpoint, might just be the best player in the country. He has great size at 6'6, 275. He's athletic and disruptive, but more than anything, he showed up when his teammates were ruled ineligible.

    Coples played all of last year without Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn and all he did was collect 59 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Imagine what he would have done with Austin and Quinn.

    Coples will now be the target of double teams, but with his size and athletic ability, he should be able to overpower nearly every offensive lineman that he will go up against.

    Coples already has NFL scouts drooling over his size and stature and with success on the field this season, he will be a high pick in next years draft.

4. Jayron Hosley: Cornerback/Virginia Tech

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  Jayron Hosley #20 of the Virginai Tech Hokies intercepts a pass in the second quarter against Ryan Whalen #8 of the Stanford Cardinal during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida.
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Jayron Hosley will do his best Patrick Peterson impression this year as being the best cornerback in the country. Last year in his first full year as a starter, he had 39 tackles and nine interceptions, and he didn't play against East Carolina, so those stats could have been better.

    Hosley is the top defensive back in the country. He's still a little small at 5'11", 170, but his coverage ability is spectacular.

    Hosley might not match nine interceptions this season, but he's sure to shut down plenty of receivers.

3. Mark Barron: Safety/Alabama

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Mark Barron #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide intercepts a pass intended for Brett Brackett #83 of the Penn State Nittany Lions at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Gett
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Alabama is going to have the best defense in the country, and I'm sure that statement alone will stir up a disagreement, but either way, Mark Barron is the leader of that defense.

    Barron is so much more than just a safety though. At 6'2", 210 he has the bulk to run up in run support and he's athletic enough to cover as well. Last season he had 77 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions.

    Barron returned for his senior season after flirting with the NFL and the idea was probably smart because we was projected as a late first rounder.

    With another year of success and consistency, Barron could end up being a high pick in next years draft.

2. Vontaze Burfict: Linebacker/Arizona State

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    TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 04:  (L-R) Gregory Smith #17, head coach Dennis Erickson, Vontaze Burfict #7 and Keelan Johnson #10 of the Arizona State Sun Devils lead teammates out onto the field prior the college football game against the Portland State Vikings
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Vontaze Burfict was one of the top prospects coming out of high school three years ago, now as a junior to be he is one of the scariest defenders in the country. He may not rack up tackles, but he packs a punch and punishes whoever he hits.

    Burfict has shown some signs of immaturity the past two seasons with personal foul calls, but now the coaching staff at Arizona State say that he's grown up and turned a new leaf.

    He's still going to be a viscous hitter, but he's going to control his temper which can only mean he will be a more productive player.

    Last season, Burfict had 89 tackles. This year in his third season as a starter, that number should increase and Burfict will be on of the best defenders in the country.

1. Luke Kuechly: Linebacker/Boston College

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 09:  Mike Ball #5 of the Nevada Wolf Pack is pushed out of bounds by Luke Kuechly #40 of Boston College during the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park on January 9, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Many will disagree with Kuechly being the best defender in the country, but look at the numbers. He had 183 tackles last year, along with 1.5 sacks and three interceptions. The year before that he had 142 tackles, one sack and an interception for a touchdown.

    Kuechly is a tackling machine. He's the best tackler in the country and while he may need to bulk up a little more for the NFL, he's perfect for the college game.

    Kuechly tops this list for the simple fact that he's involved in everything defensively when Boston College's defense takes the field, and that won't change this year.

    Kuechly might just have over 200 tackles this season, and that's a statistic that the NFL simply can't ignore.

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