LSU Football: 20 Best Defensive Players in School History

Sean MerrimanCorrespondent IFebruary 24, 2012

LSU Football: 20 Best Defensive Players in School History

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    LSU Football has a built a tradition as one of the top college football powerhouses in the nation.

    Over the past couple of years and beyond even that, the Tigers have become known as a defensive minded program that loves to tackle, hit, and of course make big plays.

    From Tommy Casanova, to Glenn Dorsey to Tyrann Mathieu, this program has had a ton of defensive talent come through the school over the years.

    But where do these players rank on the all-time list?

    Let's break down the top 20 defensive players in LSU Football history, Bleacher Report Style!

20. Kelvin Sheppard

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    It was just over one year ago that Kelvin Sheppard roamed the football field in Baton Rouge.

    And as good as Les Miles' team was this past season, it was near impossible to replace a guy like Sheppard, who produced for the Tigers from the second he arrived on campus.

    Sheppard received a good amount of playing time as a freshman and went on to be the headliner for this defense over the next three seasons, recording back-to-back 100 tackle campaigns during his junior and senior year.

    When it was all said and done, this dominant linebacker recorded a total of 311 tackles while sporting the purple and gold. That ranks him ninth all-time in the programs' history.

19. Tyson Jackson

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    The Kansas City Chiefs raised some questions when they took Tyson Jackson as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 Draft. But this kid did have quite the college resume, and was deserving of a high draft choice.

    Jackson was a three-year starter for LSU and was a force in the middle of the Tigers' dominant defensive line during their 2007 National Championship run.

    In fact, when Jackson's selection as the third pick in the '09 draft was the highest of any LSU defensive player ever.

    We shall see if Morris Claiborne takes over that honor with this April's NFL Draft just around the corner.

18. Sid Fournet

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    This is going back a long ways, but this list wouldn't be complete without including Sid Fournet, who was one of the top players in college football back in the 1950s.

    In those days, football differed from its modern iteration in that the best players on the field often played both ways, which was the case with Fournet.

    This former great was a standout offensive guard and defensive tackle at LSU. He was named an All-American in 1954 before going on to play seven seasons in the NFL.

    So what if its old-school? Fournet is more than worthy of a spot on this slideshow.

17. Ali Highsmith

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    Who remembers just how good that LSU defense was during their National Championship run in 2007?

    Well, that defensive unit had a leader in the linebacking core by the name of Ali Highsmith, and for LSU fans, this guy was a true treat to watch on Saturdays.

    Highsmith was a three year starter for the Tigers and posted a total of 260 tackles and 11 sacks while sporting the LSU purple and gold.

    Like so many of the greats, Highsmith saved his best for last. He was named an All-American and was a Butkus Award finalist during his senior season at LSU. He went undrafted but landed with the Cardinals as a free agent. 

16. Mike Williams

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    No, we're not talking about the sluggish NFL wide receiver who made Detroit Lions fans sick to their stomach in the mid 2000s.

    This Mike Williams was a standout defensive back for the Tigers back in the mid 1970s. In fact, he was named an All-American during the 1974 season before going on to be a first round selection in the following year's NFL Draft.

    But what Williams will always be remembered for is that he was the first African American football player to ever letter at LSU. 

    That right there is a big deal in its own right.

15. Jarvis Green

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    All he does is win, win win.

    Jarvis Green was a winner at LSU during the early 2000s and he was a winner in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.

    Green was a standout defensive end for the Tigers, and he racked up 20 total sacks while wearing the purple and gold, which puts him at fourth all time in the programs history. In fact, he owns the freshman record for the most sacks in a single season with eight.

    When you crack the record books in a category like that, you are more than deserving of a spot on a list like this.

14. Craig Steltz

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    Craig Steltz wasn't the strongest or the fastest player on the football field, but he was everything that a coach could ask for in a defensive back.

    Steltz was one of the key players on the Tigers' 2007 National Title team, starting at safety for the dominant defense.

    Steltz was a two-year starter for LSU and currently ranks sixth in school history with 11 career interceptions. He was an All-American and Jim Thorpe finalist during his senior season before going on to be a fourth round draft selection by the Chicago Bears.

13. Chad Lavalis

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    Chad Lavalais was often overlooked on LSU's defensive line because he was playing alongside Marcus Spears, but that didn't stop this dominant DT from wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines.

    Lavalais was named a finalist for both the Nagurski and Outland awards, as well receiving All-American honors during his senior season at LSU.

    In total, this outstanding defensive tackle had over 200 tackles and 12 sacks during his playing career. He went on to be a fifth round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft.

12. Morris Claiborne

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    Of course it was Tyrann Mathieu who stole the majority of the national coverage this season, but make no mistake about it, Morris Claiborne was the best cover corner and probably the best defensive player on LSU's 2011 defensive unit.

    Claiborne has exceptional cover skills as well as elite size and speed for the defensive back position. He was the winner of the Jim Thorpe award this past season, which goes to the best defensive back in all of college football.

    Of course, Tyson Jackson represents the program's highest ever selection in the NFL Draft, but there is a good possibility that Morris Claiborne could be right there with him after this April's NFL Draft.

11. Marcus Spears

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    Not many players are recruited to play one position and then go on to be named an All-American while playing another position. The few that do usually at least stay on the same side of the ball.

    Not Marcus Spears, who came to LSU as a tight end, but quickly made the transition to defensive line and was a standout for the Tigers in the mid 2000s.

    Spears was great throughout his career, but his outstanding play during the 2003 season helped lead the Tigers to a National Title. During his career, Spears was named an All-American and was a Lombardi Award finalist.

    Spears went on to be a first round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2005.

10. Chuck Wiley

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    Wiley wasn't a part of those dominant National Championship teams in the 2000s, but he was one of the best defensive linemen ever to play at LSU.

    Wiley ranks No. 4 on LSU's all-time sack list with 19 in his career. He actually had four sacks in a single game, which is a school record.

    This big-time playmakers was named an All-American in 1997 and an all conference performer in 1996 and 07.

    Not many people realize just how good this man was in his college playing days.

9. Corey Webster

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    Corey Webster is not only one of the top cornerbacks to play at LSU, but he is also one of the best DB's in the NFL today and a Super Bowl champion at that.

    Webster was honored as an All-American during the 2003 and 2004 seasons, when he also helped lead the Tigers to a National Championship.

    Think of how many great wide receivers have come out of the SEC over the past decade—now consider that Webster was responsible for shutting those wideouts down during his days in purple and gold.

8. Anthony McFarland

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    Anthony "Booger" McFarland was a force on the defensive line in the late 1990's for LSU's football program.

    With his massive size, McFarland filled running lanes and often shut down opposing teams' offenses from the defensive tackle position.

    This big boy was named an All-American during the 1998 season before going on to play eight seasons in the NFL.

7. Tyrann Mathieu

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    Of course, Tyrann Mathieu is still adding to his impressive resume, with only two college seasons under his belt so far.

    But keep in mind that Mathieu is the only defensive player in LSU football to be named as a top-five Heisman finalist.

    Mathieu had an outstanding sophomore season this past year where he was named an All-American. He was the most electrifying player in college football this season, being deemed the "Honey Badger" because of his impressive ability to get to opposing players and make big plays.

    In his 18th career game at LSU, Mathieu set a school record with his eighth forced fumble, which he recovered and returned for a touchdown.

    When its all said and done, Mathieu could be on top of this list.

6. Bradie James

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    Bradie James was not only one of the best linebackers in LSU history; it could be argued that he was one of the top linebackers to ever play in the SEC.

    During his four years sporting the purple and gold, James recorded over 400 career tackles. His 154 tackles during his senior season was the second most all-time in school history.

    Before going on to the NFL in 2003, James was honored as an All-American during his senior season, becoming the first linebacker at LSU to receive the designation since the 1970s.

    Bradie James still plays in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys, but he will always be remembered as a tremendous talent at the college level.

5. Al Richardson

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    Determining whether James should come before or after Al Richardson as the best ever LSU linebacker was a toss-up.

    But there was one thing that swung the tide for Richardson, and that was his tackle total during his time in a LSU uniform.

    Richardson racked up an eye-popping 452 tackles in his collegiate career at LSU, which is a school record to this day. After all, how many players can say that they recorded 21 tackles in a single game during their college career?

    Al Richardson can.

4. LaRon Landry

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    When it comes to the most feared, hard-hitting safeties in the NFL today, you can't start or finish the conversation without mentioning LaRon Landry.

    But the amazing part is that Landry was rocking guys that hard while playing at LSU during the early 2000's.

    Landry was a freshman All-American in his first season at LSU while helping lead the Tigers to a National Title. He went on to have an incredible four-year career, which included being named an All-American and Jim Thorpe finalist during his senior season.

    Landry currently stars for the Washington Redskins in the NFL.

3. Glenn Dorsey

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    Glenn Dorsey may not have been as dominant in the NFL as many as expected, but when it comes to the best defensive tackles in college football over the past decade, Dorsey is one of if not the best of that group.

    Dorsey was a two-time All American while at LSU and won the Lott, Outland, Nagurski and Lombardi trophies during his senior year. In fact, he was so good in that 2007 National Championship senior season that he was named a Heisman Finalist.

    Despite not being invited to the awards ceremony, how many defensive linemen at LSU had ever been named a Heisman finalist?

    The answer is zero.

    That just goes to show how good Glenn Dorsey was during his years at LSU.

2. Patrick Peterson

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    Patrick Peterson is arguably the top defensive back in college football over the past decade.

    In fact, there really shouldn't be much of an argument, because no cornerback has come through college football since Charles Woodson who possessed the array of skills that Peterson did during his days at LSU.

    Just two seasons ago at LSU, Peterson was the SEC Player of the Year, an All-American and the winner of the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards.

    Peterson is already one of the best defensive backs in the NFL, so the sky is truly the limit for this talented kid.

1. Tommy Casanova

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    “Tommy Casanova of LSU, Best Player in the Nation.”

    That is exactly what a cover of Sports Illustrated read back in 1971.

    Casanova brought a new meaning to the term "dual-threat" player. He played running back, defensive back and returned punts and kicks at the college level. He was as talented a player as has ever been seen at LSU.

    The stat that stands out the most about Casanova however is that he is the only player in the program's history to be selected as an All-American in three straight seasons.

    That is why he tops this prestigious list of the best defensive players to ever play at LSU.