College Football Rankings 2011: Projecting the Top 10 Defensive Players in CFB

Andrew KulhaSenior Analyst IIIJuly 23, 2011

College Football Rankings 2011: Projecting the Top 10 Defensive Players in CFB

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    College football is right around the corner and fortunately for all of us, there is no way it could ever be locked out, so it is with great anticipation that we here at Bleacher Report are looking forward to the 2011 college football season.

    Anybody who follows college football knows that with the preseason comes an effort to look ahead, and that effort almost always entails rankings.

    We rank everything from the top 25 teams, to the best players at each position. Heck, we’ve even ranked the best and worst team mascots!

    The football adage that defense wins championships is going to be the main focus of this preseason ranking.

    The world of college football lost a great deal of incredible defensive players to the NFL, but that doesn’t mean defense will be null and void in 2011.

    There is a good crop of new players ready to step in and be the best defensive stoppers in the land.

    Here is a preseason ranking of the top 10 defensive players of the 2011 college football season:

10. Cliff Harris: CB Oregon

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    Unfortunately for Harris, he is a guy that I would have considered putting very high on this list, even as high as No. 1, but his off-the-field problems have has on-the-field status in jeopardy.

    He will be suspended for Oregon’s first game of the season at the very least, and the suspension could go much longer than that.

    On the field, he is a beast, though.

    He was a huge factor in Oregon’s run to the BCS title game with 23 passes defended, six interceptions, and four punt returns taken back for touchdowns.

9. Devin Taylor: DE South Carolina

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    Taylor is playing on a team that many expect to win the SEC, which is somewhat rare for the Gamecocks, so that might help him gain some national attention in 2011.

    He is on the preseason watch list for the Nagurski Trophy after leading South Carolina with 12 tackles for loss and tallying seven and a half sacks as a sophomore.

8. Morris Claiborne: CB LSU

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    Morris Claiborne might have the biggest shoes to fill of any player on this list, being that he essentially has to take the spot of last year’s best defensive player, Patrick Peterson.

    I think Claiborne is going to do well to live up to the expectations, though.

    Claiborne had five interceptions last season and should improve on that, as well as help out in the return game.

7. Mark Barron: S Alabama

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    Barron, a senior for Alabama, led the Crimson Tide with 75 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions before a season-ending injury took him out in the epic 28-27 loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

    Because of the injury, I am hesitant to put him much higher on this list until I can see him play, but nonetheless, he deserves strong consideration.

6. Harrison Smith: S Notre Dame

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    Harrison Smith is a great safety playing out of Notre Dame, and I expect him to have a stellar year in 2011.

    Notre Dame is slowly on the rise, and Smith has been a huge contributor to that.

    He was put on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list for 2011, which is awarded to the nation's best defensive back.

    Smith is also on the Nagurski Award watch list, which goes to the nation's best defensive player.

    The senior Smith had 93 tackles and seven interceptions in 2010.

5. Robert Lester: S Alabama

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    Coming in as a junior, Lester is most likely the premier safety in college football. He led the SEC with eight interceptions last year and has the privilege of playing alongside of a defense packed with talent.

    He will benefit from the talent around him, and Alabama will benefit from his 6-2, 210-pound frame and ball-hawking abilities.

4. Jayron Hosley: CB Virginia Tech

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    Nine interceptions in 2010 will get you on this list, no problem.

    If Hosley can keep it up, which I expect him to, then his will easily go down as a first-round draft pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

    I expect his numbers will be good in 2011, despite the fact that offenses will most likely avoid him, but that is just a testament to how good he will be.

3. Brandon Jenkins: DE Florida State

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    Jenkins was a force to be reckoned with in 2010 and I think he will continue his dominance this season.

    He compiled 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in just his sophomore year with Florida State.

    I can only see him improving, and that fact alone makes him scary good.

2. Jared Crick: DT Nebraska

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    Jared Crick is coming back for his senior season with Nebraska, and it couldn’t come at a better time. As a defensive tackle,  mind you, he led the team in sacks with 9.5 and tackles for loss with 17.

    He finished with 70 total tackles and was awarded with All-Big 12  and second team All-American awards.

    No offense to the Big Ten, but Crick is going to absolutely destroy his new conference, and I feel his numbers will be even better in 2011.

1. Travis Lewis: LB Oklahoma

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    Many people consider Oklahoma to be the team to beat in 2011 and they seem to be atop all the preseason ranking polls.

    If they are the best team and Travis Lewis is the best defensive player on their team, then naturally he has every right to take top honors on this preseason rankings list.

    He racked up 109 tackles in 2010, and I believe he will be even better as a senior on a defense that could end up being the best in the nation.

    Follow Andrew on Twitter: @AKonSports