The Missouri Tigers bring back of the nation's top defenses from last season, with a wealth of great talent to choose from when ranking the best defenders on the team.
Many of these players have been named to watch lists for the Lombardi, Nagurski and Butkus Awards given to the nation's top defensive players for 2011. Two of these players have been named to the first team preseason All-Big 12 squad for their stellar 2010 performances.
Simply put, there's a lot of great players on the Tiger defense looking forward to next season.
Without further ado, here are the top seven defenders on the Missouri defense.
Sophomore cornerback E.J. Gaines sneaks into my top seven defensive players because he's a great athlete who had a really good spring for the Missouri Tigers this season.
The former 3-star player out of Missouri made a big impression on the Mizzou coaching staff last fall during practices and wound up in the defensive back rotation in 2010. Gaines played well during his first MU season, recording 26 tackles and a pass breakup.
Gaines has stepped into the starting cornerback void left by Carl Gettis this spring and it hasn't gone unnoticed.
E.J. Gaines is a talented young Tiger who will prove his worth as one of Missouri's top defensive players in 2011.
Missouri defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton is primed for a big senior season on the Tiger defense.
Hamilton had a strong junior campaign going until an ankle injury prematurely ended his season against Oklahoma. Hamilton recorded 20 tackles and 1.5 sacks in seven starts last season.
His impact on the defense was felt when the Tigers were ripped up by Nebraska for over 300 yards rushing the week after his ankle injury.
If Dominique Hamilton can stay healthy in 2011, expect some big production from the experienced senior starter.
Opposite E.J. Gaines at cornerback will be junior Kip Edwards, the team's best coverage player on defense.
Edwards was Mizzou's nickel back in 2010 and played extremely well in the pivotal defensive role. He made 36 tackles (five for loss) while breaking up six passes and intercepting one as well.
Edwards takes over the starting cornerback role after playing in every major passing down last season. He's a versatile player and Missouri's best man-to-man defender.
Look for Kip Edwards to continue his progression as one of Missouri's best defensive players in 2011.
Hard-hitting senior safety Kenji Jackson will lead the Missouri Tigers secondary and emerge as one of the better defensive players in the Big 12 this season.
Jackson was the new starter in a veteran Tiger secondary last season and responded by ranking fourth on the team in tackles. He hauled in 66 stops, three pass breakups, two interceptions and a forced fumble as the Mizzou strong safety.
Jackson will be integral in the development of the young players around him in the defensive backfield going into 2011.
Look for Kenji Jackson's experience and knock-out hitting next season as he becomes one of Missouri's best defenders.
Senior defensive end Jacquies Smith makes up one-half of Missouri's dominant defensive line tandem and is on pace for a huge season in 2011.
Smith was a major part of Missouri's turnaround on the defensive side of the ball in 2010. He was the complete package as a defender, taking down 35 ball carriers with 5.5 sacks, three pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles, a blocked field goal and a defensive touchdown.
Quite a resume for a player entering his senior season.
Jacquies Smith enters 2011 as one of the best defensive ends in the Big 12 with the potential to be a high NFL draft selection.
Along with being one of the team's best athletes, junior linebacker Zaviar Gooden is one of Missouri's best overall players going into next season.
Gooden is an athletic freak with all-around playmaking ability. He led the team in tackles with 85 last season, as well raking in three sacks, breaking up five passes for two interceptions, and recovering two fumbles.
Gooden is the most important returning starter to the Tiger defense next season as he gives the linebacking corps some much needed consistency.
Look for Zaviar Gooden to continue his ascent among the nation's elite linebackers this upcoming season.
From scout team offensive guard to leading Missouri in sacks, junior defensive end Brad Madison is primed for a huge 2011 as the squad's best defensive player.
Madison worked his way into the defensive line rotation in 2010 and made his presence known in a big way. He recorded 32 tackles for a team-leading 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. For a player who wasn't even a starter to earn second team All-Big 12 honors is one heck of an accomplishment.
Madison hasn't stopped there either, earning the Team MVP award in spring practices. He had one of the best spring camps of any Tiger in the history of Gary Pinkel's tenure.
He's been named to the preseason All-Big 12 team as well as other national award watch lists. Brad Madison will be a household name before the 2011 college football season is over.