College Football's Top 300 Impact Defenders for the 2012 Season

Danny Flynn@FlynnceptionSenior Analyst IJune 17, 2012

College Football's Top 300 Impact Defenders for the 2012 Season

0 of 114

    Last season, both LSU and Alabama proved that you don’t necessarily need a Heisman-winning quarterback or a high-powered offensive attack to make it to college football’s ultimate promised land. Instead, they showed us that if a team has a good old-fashioned dominant defense that can consistently shut down opponents week in and week out, anything’s possible, including a run to the BCS championship game. 

    The Tide and the Tigers had the two top-ranked defenses in the country in 2011, and both units were filled with premier talent. 

    Even though Alabama experienced a few notable defections to the NFL this offseason, both teams will likely boast two of the toughest and strongest defenses in the country yet again in 2012. 

    For a sport that places so much emphasis on making stars out of offensive skill-position players, most notably quarterbacks and running backs, it’s talent-stocked defenses like the ones that LSU and Alabama are routinely putting together that remind fans that there’s still room for defensive stars to shine too.

    There were some truly outstanding individual defensive performers in Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa last year, but there were also plenty of other defenders around the country that opened eyes as well. 

    While college football may have lost a bunch of celebrated defenders this offseason, including high NFL draft picks such as LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Alabama safety Mark Barron, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly and South Carolina defensive lineman Melvin Ingram; there’s still a great deal of defensive star power returning for the 2012 season. 

    So with that in mind, here’s a detailed look at the 300 defenders that are set to make the biggest impact during the upcoming 2012 college football season. 

1. DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU

1 of 114

    LSU's supremely stacked defense is loaded with top-notch talent and elite playmakers, but the Tiger defender that is set to make the most noise in 2012 is DE Barkevious Mingo. 

    Mingo is the most athletic and physically gifted defensive lineman in the country, and the frightening part is that he's only just beginning to tap his true potential. 

    The speedy 6'5'', 240-pound edge-rusher has only been playing football since his junior year in high school, but you couldn't tell that from watching him fly around the field. 

    Mingo's managed to use his tremendous natural ability to mask some of the flaws in his technique, as he's worked on becoming a fundamentally sound and well-rounded player during his time in Baton Rouge. 

    After showing some encouraging early flashes as a redshirt freshman in 2010, Mingo took his game to another level this past season when he racked up eight sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hurries. 

    Last year, Mingo overwhelmed plenty of offensive tackles with his exceptional agility, his explosive burst off the edge and his relentless motor. 

    Even though he still has to add some bulk to his tall, lean frame, and although he still has to improve his overall technique and get stronger at the point of attack, there's no doubt that the extremely gifted junior end has what it takes to be a top-10 pick in the 2013 NFL draft. 

    Mingo will once again team with fellow frightening pass-rusher Sam Montgomery to give LSU the most dangerous defensive end duo in the country this season. 

    If he plays up to his potential and takes the next step in his development this year, there's no telling what kind of havoc KeKe Mingo will wreak in 2012.

2. CB David Amerson, North Carolina State

2 of 114

    David Amerson probably won't be able to match the exploits of his outstanding 2011 campaign once again this season. However, it won't be Amerson's fault, given that opposing quarterbacks likely won't be eager to throw his way, as they now know that doing so could be disastrous.

    Last year, Amerson set an ACC record with 13 interceptions, which is the second highest total in FBS history, and he proved that he's the type of elite ball-hawk that is adept at making game-changing plays.

    The 6'3'', 193-pound junior possesses the type of rare size-speed combo that is sure to raise the eyebrows of NFL scouts, and he's got the makeup to be a future Pro Bowl player at the next level.

    There's no other cornerback in college football that can match Amerson's ball-skills, and he's got the size, the coverage skills and closing speed to lock down any receiver he goes up against.

    Amerson likely won't be tested enough to match the 13 interceptions he had last season, but his impact will still be felt on North Carolina State's defense, as he's the type of standout cornerback that can basically shut down his entire side of the field in the passing game.

    The 2013 NFL draft class should be loaded with solid cornerback prospects, but Amerson might just be a cut above the rest, as he'll enter the season as the front-runner to earn the title of college football's top cornerback of 2012. 

3. LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia

3 of 114

    After transferring from USC to Georgia back in the summer of 2010, it didn’t take very long for LB Jarvis Jones to make an impact once he finally got out onto the field in Athens this past season. 

    Jones proved to be a perfect fit as an outside rush linebacker in the Bulldogs’ 3-4 defense, as he stepped into the lineup and became an instant star in 2011. 

    The 6’3’’, 241-pound junior was a true terror coming off the edge last year, and he ended up finishing as the SEC leader with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. 

    The former 4-star recruit out of Georgia’s Carver High School plays the game with a mean streak, and his take no prisoners attitude out on the field has really given a big boost to Georgia’s already strong defense. 

    Jones has the pure power, explosive burst and tenacious attitude that you look for in an elite 3-4 outside linebacker, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is going to be able to slow him down in 2012.

4. CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

4 of 114

    Before the start of last season, LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu was considered to be an intriguing young player with a lot of upside, who was given the tough task of trying to replace his former mentor Patrick Peterson.

    It didn't take long for Mathieu to rise to stardom in 2011, though, as he proved to be a worthy successor to Peterson.

    Mathieu earned his now well-known “Honey Badger” nickname for his relentless playing style, and his popularity quickly skyrocketed over the course of the season. It didn't take long for him to become one of the most discussed and recognizable players in college football. 

    Last year, the 5’9’’, 175-pound junior racked up 76 tackles, seven pass-breakups, six forced fumbles, two interceptions and scored four touchdowns. It was a performance which earned him consensus All-American honors, the Bednarik Award and an invitation to New York City as a Heisman finalist. 

    Although his small stature and lack of lock down coverage skills may concern some NFL scouts, Mathieu is a proven playmaker who has a nose for the football, and he’s certainly got the type of physical skills and football instincts that it takes to become the third straight LSU cornerback to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. 

    It will definitely be tough for the Honey Badger to live up to the hype that he's created for himself, especially since he won't have the benefit of lining up across from Morris Claiborne anymore.

    Still, given what we saw last season, it's clear that Mathieu is one of the most gifted and entertaining players to watch in all of college football, and he should be ready to have another standout performance in 2012. 

5. LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame

5 of 114

    Manti Te'o is without a doubt one of the most intimidating players in all of college football.

    Any poor running back that has to line up across the line of scrimmage from the beastly 'backer deserves plenty of pity.

    The former 5-star recruit from Hawaii has certainly lived up to his enormous high school hype so far.

    Now, with one big final campaign, he'll likely go down in Notre Dame history as one of the greatest defensive players to ever step foot in South Bend. 

    The 6'2'', 255-pound senior has already racked up 324 tackles in his college career, and he's got another season left to add to that total. 

    Although the inside linebacker position seems to have been devalued in today's day and age of spread offenses and pass-happy schemes, Te'o still offers the type of threatening presence out on the field that is invaluable to a defense. 

    The esteemed Irish 'backer would have been a first-round pick if he had decided to enter the 2012 NFL draft, but since he's chosen to return to school, Te'o will now have the chance to show scouts that he's got what it takes to be a top-15 pick in next year's draft.

    As the undisputed leader of the Irish defense, Te'o will play a key role in Notre Dame's quest to finally get over the eight-win hump in 2012.

6. DE Sam Montgomery, LSU

6 of 114

    It almost doesn't seem fair that LSU has been blessed with having the best defensive end in college football, Barkevious Mingo, as well as the second best defensive end in the country, Sam Montgomery. 

    Mingo and Montgomery are an absolutely dynamic defensive duo who are capable of causing plenty of chaos for opposing offenses. 

    Like his partner in crime Mingo, Montgomery doesn't possess the prototypical size or bulk that you would normally expect from a dominant defensive end. Nevertheless, the 6'4'', 245-pound junior makes up for his slightly slender frame with his tremendous speed off the edge, his natural power and his fierce style of play. 

    Last year, Montgomery solidified his status as one of the elite defensive difference-makers in the SEC by racking up nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. 

    Montgomery will be one of the top 3-4 outside linebacker prospects for the 2013 NFL draft if he declares, and the tenacious Tiger pass-rusher will once again be one of the standout players on college football's most talented defense in 2012. 

7. S John Boyett, Oregon

7 of 114

    Oregon's high-powered offense has been the main story during Chip Kelly's three-year tenure in Eugene, but this season, the Ducks' defense will be looking to garner some national respect of its own. 

    This year's unit features its fair share of standout playmakers, but the unquestioned leader of the group will again be safety John Boyett.

    Boyett is a veteran three-year starter who has led the Ducks in tackles in two out of the past three seasons, accumulating 276 total stops, nine interceptions and 29 pass break-ups during his career. 

    The 5’10’’, 202-pound senior is the type of secondary stalwart that can seal up the back end of a defense and cause trouble for opposing passing attacks. 

    Although he may not be the biggest or most physically intimidating safety in the country, Boyett has no trouble making his presence felt all over the field, as he has the range to roam around from sideline to sideline. 

    If Oregon’s defense truly wants to take the next step and become a nationally recognized unit this year, it will be Boyett who has to lead the charge in 2012.

8. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

8 of 114

    Jadeveon Clowney arrived at South Carolina last year as one of the most publicized and highly touted high school football recruits of all time.

    When you've already been proclaimed to be a future No. 1 overall NFL draft pick before you've even taken a snap at the college level, you've obviously got a lot of expectations to live up to.

    Clowney didn't seem to let the pressure affect him at all, though. The "once-in-a-decade" recruit turned out to be one of the most dominant defensive ends in the SEC in 2011, as he racked up eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss and forced five fumbles in his debut performance.

    The 6'6", 256-pound sophomore possesses rare athleticism and explosiveness for a player of his size, and he has the type of speed and burst off the edge to develop into a nightmare pass-rusher over the next few years.

    If Clowney continues to hone his skills and progress as expected, he should prove his many supporters right and ultimately develop into a top-5 NFL draft pick.

    Before he can make the move up to the pros, though, the former 5-star recruit will spend the next two seasons terrorizing SEC quarterbacks and fighting for All-American honors. 

9. LB Chris Borland, Wisconsin

9 of 114

    After missing the majority of the 2010 season with a shoulder injury, Wisconsin's Chris Borland had something to prove last year, and he certainly played like it.

    Last season, Borland showed no signs of rust as he burst back into the lineup and showed why he was the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. 

    The Badger 'backer ended up finishing tied for seventh in the country with 143 total tackles in 2011, and he also notched 2.5 sacks, forced five fumbles and picked off two passes.

    The 5'11'', 250-pound junior is the type of strong, tough and physical defender that you would expect to find in the middle of a defense like Wisconsin's.

    With Borland and fellow linebacker Mike Taylor returning to Madison this season, the Badgers defense will be flaunting one of the most talented linebacker tandems in the country in 2012.

    Don't be surprised if Borland ends up being this year's version of former Boston College tackling-machine Luke Kuechly.

    He's got the potential to earn plenty of postseason accolades this year, including All-American honors, and he should be a strong contender for the prestigious Bednarik Award. 

10. DE Alex Okafor, Texas

10 of 114

    After spending the 2010 season out of position at defensive tackle, Alex Okafor moved back to his more natural spot at defensive end this past season, and he had no trouble re-acclimating himself to life back on the outside.

    Okafor emerged as the leader of the Longhorns' defensive line in 2011, as he racked up seven sacks, 14 quarterback hurries and 14 tackles for loss.

    The 6'4'', 260-pound senior earned a spot on the All-Big 12 first team for his standout performance last year, and he'll now enter his final season as one of the most feared defenders in the country.

    While he may not be the strongest or fastest defensive end in college football, Okafor is the type of solid and dependable defensive line linchpin that always seems to be disrupting the flow of opposing offenses.

    With Okafor and fellow end Jackson Jeffcoat both returning, Texas will once again have one of the top pass-rushing pairs in the country for the 2012 season.

11. S Eric Reid, LSU

11 of 114

    Tyrann Mathieu may be the most famous player in the LSU secondary, but he's not the best NFL prospect. That honor belongs to safety Eric Reid, who has all the makings of a future top-15 NFL draft pick.

    Reid is one of the most athletic and instinctive safeties we've seen in the college ranks in years.

    Not only does he have the type of range and speed to make plays all over the field, he also has the type of valuable football intelligence that sets apart elite safeties from the rest of the crowd. 

    Reid finished tied with Mathieu for the team lead with 76 tackles in 2011, and he also picked off two passes, one of which was a crucial goal-line takeaway from Alabama TE Michael Williams in the "Game of the Century," a critical interception that might have been the single most important play of LSU's season. 

    The 6'2'', 205-pound junior definitely proved what type of playmaker he was in 2011, and this season he'll get the opportunity to step out of the Honey Badger's shadow and show the country that he's one of the top defensive players in all of college football. 

12. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

12 of 114

    Although fellow cornerback Brodrick Brown earned most of the postseason honors and safety Markelle Martin gained most of the attention from NFL scouts, if you watched Oklahoma State play last season, you know who the best player in the Cowboys' secondary actually was, and that's CB Justin Gilbert. 

    Since opponents were trailing so often and decided to test the Pokes through the air so much last season (Oklahoma State led the nation in pass attempts faced in 2011), Gilbert had plenty of chances to make plays, and he certainly took advantage of the numerous opportunities, as he racked up five interceptions, 10 pass break-ups and notched 59 total tackles. 

    The 6'0'', 194-pound junior is the only player who can say that he intercepted a pass thrown from both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the two top picks in this year's NFL draft. 

    Admittedly, Gilbert is still a bit of an off-the-radar player at this point, and you probably will not see his name on many preseason honors lists, but I have a feeling he's going to be one of the biggest breakout stars of the 2012 season.

    The former 4-star recruit out of Texas' Huntsville High School is one of the fastest and most athletic corners in the country, and he has ideal size for the position. Plus, he's also shown that he can be a factor in the return game, as he averaged 27 yards on kickoff returns in 2011. 

    With Gilbert and fellow talented corner Brodrick Brown both returning to Stillwater, Oklahoma State will be able to once again boast one of the top cornerback combos in the country in 2012. 

13. LB Denicos Allen, Michigan State

13 of 114

    Michigan State's defense is loaded with potential star defensive playmakers such as DE William Gholston, LB Max Bullough, CB Johnny Adams and S Isaiah Lewis, but the true showcase player on the unit will once again be LB Denicos Allen. 

    Last season, Allen stepped into the starting lineup and emerged as one of the Big Ten's most disruptive defenders. The 5'11'', 232-pound junior proved to be a force on the outside of the Spartans defense, as he caused consistent havoc all season long. 

    Allen notched 83 tackles and finished second in the Big Ten with 11 sacks and fourth in the conference with 18.5 tackles for loss in 2011. 

    The strongside 'backer made a living in opponents' backfields all season long, and he was an absolute nightmare coming off the edge on outside blitzes

    Allen embarrassed plenty of offensive tackles in 2011, and he'll be looking to do the same thing this season, as he continues his quarterback hunt. 

14. LB Shayne Skov, Stanford

14 of 114

    Stanford's Shayne Skov seemed like he was ready to ascend to star status in 2011.

    Unfortunately, after experiencing a season-ending knee injury in the team's third game of the year, Skov was left to watch the Cardinal battle without him last season as he stood on the sideline. 

    The 6'3'', 251-pound senior is now expected to be ready to return for the 2012 season, though, and if he's back to full health, he should be ready to take the Pac-12 by storm. 

    Physically, Skov reminds me a lot of former USC linebacker Brian Cushing, as he's the same type of big, well-sculpted inside-backer who has the speed and the tenacious attitude to strike fear in the heart of opposing ball-carriers. 

    Skov is truly a sensational talent, and if his knee holds up this year, he'll be one of the most talked about defenders in the country in 2012. 

15. DT Star Lotulelei, Utah

15 of 114

    After transferring from Snow Junior College before the 2010 season, Star Lotulelei came in and immediately showed that he had the potential to be a dominant run-stuffer during his sophomore campaign.

    It wasn't until last season, however, that Lotulelei became one of the most devastating interior forces in the country. 

    The monstrous 6'4'', 320-pound behemoth earned the Pac-12's Morris Trophy, which is given to the conference's top defensive lineman, after he piled up 44 stops, including nine tackles for a loss, and helped the Utes finish 20th in the nation in run defense in 2011. 

    The Tongan native seems like he's the next great defensive tackle import from the South Pacific region, as he has all the physical tools to be a true monster in the middle of Utah's defense in 2012.

    Lotulelei will be one of the most coveted defensive line prospects for the 2013 NFL draft, but before he makes the jump to the pros, he's going to spend one last season being the centerpiece for a Utah defense that should be one of the best in the Pac-12 this season. 

16. LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama

16 of 114

    C.J. Mosley was surprisingly back out on the field this spring and feeling fine after returning from a gruesome-looking hip injury that he experienced after making an interception against LSU in the BCS championship game. 

    Now that he's back, Mosley will be counted on to be one of Alabama's biggest impact defenders in 2012. 

    The 6'2'', 232-pound junior is an intelligent, athletic and instinctive inside-backer who should be one of the most coveted defensive prospects for the 2013 NFL draft if he plays like he's capable of this season.

    Mosley's going to be asked to take on a key leadership role in 2012 now that linebackers like Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower are both gone.

    It's time for Mosley to step up and show that he's got what it takes to be one of Alabama's next showcase star defenders this season, and it should be interesting to see how he handles the increased spotlight. 

17. CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

17 of 114

    Johnthan Banks could have joined fellow Bulldog DT Fletcher Cox in the 2012 NFL Draft, and if he had entered, he likely would have competed with Janoris Jenkins to be the fourth corner selected. 

    Ultimately, though, Banks' decision to return to Starkville for his senior year may prove to be a wise one, as he's now got the chance to solidify his status as a Top-20 pick for next year's draft. 

    At 6'2'', 185-pounds, Banks not only has the rare size that NFL scouts covet in a cornerback, he also possesses elite athleticism and a complete skill-set.

    Banks was a hidden gem when he was a lightly recruited 3-star prospect at Mississippi's East Webster High School, but once he got to Mississippi State, he immediately made his presence felt.

    Since breaking his way into the starting lineup midway through his freshman season in 2009, Banks has continued to progress and get better each year, and he's now ready to be a spotlight star in 2012.

    Banks has the type of ball-skills that only truly topflight corners can offer, and he's routinely displayed them by picking off 12 passes and breaking up another 19 throws during his career. 

    With Banks and his talented corner counterpart Corey Broomfield leading the way in the secondary this season, the Bulldogs should have one of the strongest pass defenses in the SEC in 2012. 

18. DE Corey Lemonier, Auburn

18 of 114

    Sometimes you look at a young college player and say to yourself, "Wow that kid looks like he could probably start for an NFL team right now!" Auburn DE Corey Lemonier is one of those players. 

    Physically, Lemonier is built exactly how you want a superior defensive end to look, as he's the type of big, well-defined and powerful pass-rusher who is capable of overwhelming anyone that tries to block him. 

    That's just what he did in 2011, as the 6'4'', 240-pound junior was constantly breaking his way into opponents' backfields, racking up 10 sacks and 14 tackles for loss last season. 

    Lemonier will now have the opportunity to prove that he's one of college football's top pass-rushers in 2012, as he leads an Auburn defensive line that has the chance to be one of the strongest front-fours in the country this season. 

19. DE William Gholston, Michigan State

19 of 114

    Right now, Michigan State DE William Gholston may be best known around the country as the player who committed two egregious acts of uncalled for violence when the Spartans played Michigan last year. However, Gholston's actions that day shouldn't overshadow all that he was able to accomplish during the rest of the 2011 season. 

    The 6'7'', 275-pound junior actually had one of the best seasons out of any defensive lineman in the country, as he racked up 70 tackles and five sacks last year. 

    Gholston has the combination of size, power, explosiveness and tenacity that makes him an almost impossible edge-rusher to try to contain. 

    The former 5-star recruit out of Detroit really came into his own this past season, and you could tell that he's now ready to be one of the spotlight defensive players in the country in 2012. 

    The defensive end class for the 2013 NFL draft is set to be one of the deepest and most talented in decades, but Gholston has the type of elite physical talent to be mentioned among the best pass-rushing prospects that college football has to offer this year. 

    If he keeps his head on straight and learns to keep his emotions in check out on the field, Gholston could end up being a top-20 pick in next year's draft, and he could also play a key role in Michigan State's run at a Big Ten championship in 2012. 

20. S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas

20 of 114

    Texas' secondary ranked first in the Big 12 in pass defense last year, as the Longhorns gave up an average of just six yards per pass attempt. Now, with three starters returning, the team should once again have the conference's top defensive backfield in 2012, and the leader of the unit will yet again be safety Kenny Vaccaro. 

    Vaccaro could have entered the 2012 NFL draft and likely been a second-round pick, but instead, he decided to return to Austin to try to boost his stock even more.

    After his performance in 2011, he most certainly belongs in the conversation for the title of college football's best safety. 

    Last year, the 6'1'', 215-pound senior took over the full-time starting job at safety and proved to be one of the most dependable defenders in the country, racking up 82 tackles, notching two interceptions and eight pass break-ups and picking up two sacks. 

    Vaccaro definitely deserved the title of "playmaker" and he's proven that he can fly around the field and come up with key stops when counted on. 

    With Vaccaro and potential All-Big 12 corners Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom all returning, it's again going to be difficult for opposing offenses to find consistent success through the air against the Longhorns in 2012. 

21. DE Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

21 of 114

    Florida State DE Brandon Jenkins gained a reputation as a pass-rushing phenom following his breakout performance during the 2010 season, in which he racked up 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. However, Jenkins failed to build off that success last year when he became the main focus of every opposing offensive line. 

    Still, even though he faced double-teams and chip-blocks on a regular basis, the 6'3'', 265-pound senior still had a very successful season in 2011, as he led the Seminoles with 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

    Jenkins still has the look of a future high NFL draft pick, as he has all the traits you look for in an elite pass-rusher.

    With fellow end Bjoern Werner emerging on the other side of the defensive line, and with defensive tackles Tim Jernigan and Everett Dawkins eating up blockers in the middle, Jenkins should be more free to do damage this season.

    Jenkins is the type of long, explosive and athletic edge-rusher who has the chance to really leave his mark on the college football map in 2012. 

22. DT Kawann Short, Purdue

22 of 114

    At 6'3'', 310-pounds, Kawann Short isn't exactly an easy young man to overshadow.

    Still, that didn't stop his teammate DE Ryan Kerrigan from doing just that in 2010, as Kerrigan soaked up the spotlight as Purdue's most celebrated defensive lineman, leaving little room for anyone else to garner much attention. 

    Once Kerrigan moved on to the NFL, though, that allowed Short to step out and shine this past season, as he racked up 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 2011. 

    Short possesses the type of size, strength, power and quickness to be a disruptive force in the defensive interior.

    The big tackle will once again pair up with fellow defensive line mate Bruce Gaston to give the Boilermakers one of the best defensive tackle duos in the country for 2012. 

23. DE Dion Jordan, Oregon

23 of 114

    Safety John Boyett may be Oregon's defensive leader, but Boyett isn't the best overall NFL prospect on the Ducks defense.

    That honor belongs to budding star defensive end Dion Jordan. 

    It only takes one look at Jordan's tall, long frame to realize he's got the type of body that pro scouts covet in a defensive end.

    Plus, when you watch how well he moves for his size, it's easy to realize the type of massive potential that he truly possesses. 

    The 6'7'', 241-pound former tight end blossomed into an extremely effective edge-rusher in his junior season in 2011, as he notched 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss—a performance which helped him earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors. 

    Jordan has quickly picked up all the nuances of what it takes to be a dominant defensive end on every snap, and what's so exciting is that he still has so much room left to grow into his body. 

    If he can manage to bulk up a bit and refine his technique during the offseason, Jordan should be capable of rocketing himself into the first-round conversation for the 2013 NFL draft, and he should once again be one of the standout defenders in the Pac-12 conference. 

24. CB Johnny Adams, Michigan State

24 of 114

    Since returning from a serious shoulder injury in 2010, Michigan State's Johnny Adams has established himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten. 

    Now, it's time for Adams to step out and prove that he's one of the best overall defensive playmakers in the country in 2012. 

    Over the past two years, the 5'11'', 175-pound junior has combined to rack up 101 tackles, 13 pass break-ups and six interceptions. 

    Adams is a well-coached leader of the secondary who possesses the natural athleticism, instincts, intelligence, toughness and coverage skills to be one of college football's standout cornerbacks this season. 

    Michigan State's defense is loaded with top-tier talent, but Adams will definitely be one of the unit's must-watch players in 2012. 

25. LB Nico Johnson, Alabama

25 of 114

    A defense doesn't lose a pair of linebackers like Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower without feeling some major after-shocks. 

    That's why it's going to be so important for LB Nico Johnson to step up and become a reliable leader for Alabama's defense in 2012. 

    Johnson has been groomed for the role for the past few years and this season will be his time to shine on the national stage as one of the Tide's key defenders. 

    Last year, Johnson finished fourth on the team with 46 tackles, and he'll now go into the 2012 season as the team's leading returning tackler. 

    The 6'3'', 245-pound senior has just as much natural talent as his former teammates, Upshaw and Hightower, and he'll have the opportunity in 2012 to prove that he can regularly play at the same high level that they did last season.

    The strong and active inside 'backer is capable of shutting down opposing running games, and he's also got the lateral quickness to move around and make plays outside the tackle box as well. 

    With Johnson, fellow linebacker C.J. Mosley and nose tackle Jesse Williams all returning, Alabama's defense will once again be incredibly stout up the middle this season. 

26. S Bacarri Rambo, Georgia

26 of 114

    After sitting out Georgia's season-opening loss to Boise State for undisclosed reasons, Bacarri Rambo came back focused and motivated, and he turned out to be an absolute ball hawk in the back end of the Bulldogs defense in 2011. 

    The 6'0'', 218-pound senior finished second in the country with eight interceptions and also broke up eight passes while notching 55 total tackles, which helped to earn him All-American honors last year.

    Rambo showed that he has a great radar for finding the football, and he's also the type of tough and physical safety that never hesitates to come up and stick someone. 

    While he'll reportedly have to sit out the first four games of the season due to a positive drug test, when he does return, Rambo will be the leader of what should be one of the best secondaries in the country in 2012. 

27. DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

27 of 114

    As the son of former first-round NFL draft pick Jim Jeffcoat, everyone knew that Jackson Jeffcoat had the type of bloodlines to be great. They first just had to see the talented young defensive end prove it on the field at the collegiate level.

    That's just what the younger Jeffcoat did in 2011, as he stepped up and led the Longhorns with eight sacks and 21 tackles for loss.

    Last year, the former heralded 5-star recruit out of Texas’ Plano West High School proved that his high school hype was legitimate. Now, the 6'5'', 250-pound junior will be looking to cement his status as one of college football's elite edge-rushers this season.

    With both Jeffcoat and fellow end Alex Okafor returning to Austin, the Longhorns will once again have one of the scariest sets of pass-rushers in the country in 2012.

    Given his type of pass-rushing skills, strength and natural explosiveness, you have to believe that Jeffcoat will be in the running to be one of the top defenders taken in the 2013 NFL draft if he decides to declare. 

28. LB Sean Porter, Texas A&M

28 of 114

    There's simply no way to properly replace a rare star linebacker like former Texas A&M pass-rushing sensation Von Miller. 

    Apparently, though, no one told that to Sean Porter because he did everything he could last season to make Aggies fans forget about Miller.

    The 6'2'', 230-pound senior enjoyed a breakout campaign, as he racked up a team-leading 9.5 sacks and also notched 17 tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries in 2011. 

    Porter may not be on the same level as Miller as far as natural physical ability is concerned, but that certainly doesn't mean he won't have the chance to be one of the top defensive playmakers in the country this season. 

    It should be fun to see what the talented veteran edge-rusher can do against the strong SEC offensive lines that he'll face in 2012. Don't be surprised if he makes a fool out of a few distinguished offensive tackles this season.  

29. LB Kevin Reddick, North Carolina

29 of 114

    North Carolina's defense lost two of its most important players—DE Quinton Coples, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and LB Zach Brown, the No. 52 overall pick.

    The Tar Heels still return a bunch of quality defensive talent for 2012, however, and the key defensive player in Chapel Hill this season will be linebacker Kevin Reddick. 

    Reddick is the team's leading returning tackler after making 71 stops in 2011. The 6'3'', 240-pound senior has the size, speed and football aptitude to be a steady force in the middle of North Carolina's defense this year, and he should be one of the most coveted inside linebacker prospects available for the 2013 NFL draft. 

    With Reddick and other potential standouts such as DT Sylvester Williams, DE Kareem Martin and S Tre Boston all returning to the fold, the North Carolina defense may not actually miss Coples and Brown all that much in 2012. 

30. DE John Simon, Ohio State

30 of 114

    After losing most of its top performers from 2010, Ohio State's defense needed someone to step up. As it turned out, DE John Simon was just the player that the Buckeyes defense needed last year.

    The powerful and fearless end was one of the most disruptive defenders in the country, as he racked up seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2011.

    The 6'2'', 270-pound senior will now once again be the most vital component of Ohio State's defense for 2012.

    With Simon, fellow end Nathan Williams and defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel all returning, the Ohio State defensive line has a chance to be one of the strongest front-fours in the country in 2012. 

31. LB Jake Knott, Iowa State

31 of 114

    Calling Iowa State's defensive performance in 2011 poor would be an understatement. Last year, the Cyclones ranked 95th in the country in total defense, giving up an average of 427 yards per game. 

    Still, there were a few defenders who did play at a high level all season long, and they were the unit's two leaders—linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein.

    Both 'backers deserve plenty of credit for their performances in 2011, but the real player to watch this season will be Knott. 

    Last year, the 6'3'', 239-pound senior was one of the most productive linebackers in the country, registering 115 total tackles, including six games with at least 10 tackles. 

    Knott may have been an unheralded 2-star recruit coming out of Iowa's Waukee High School. However, he's proven that while he may not be be a top-notch athlete; he's got the type of heart, passion and desire that it takes to thrive and succeed in a prestigious conference like the Big 12.

32. CB Dee Milliner, Alabama

32 of 114

    Alabama's secondary may have just lost three starters who were selected in this year's NFL draft, including safety Mark Barron and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who were both top-20 picks.

    Remember, though, this is Alabama. This is a team that does not rebuild on defense; it simply reloads. 

    Kirkpatrick, Barron and cornerback DeQuan Menzie will all be missed, but given the type of new talented reinforcements that are now entering the fold, Alabama should again have one of the most stacked secondaries in the country in 2012. 

    Senior safety Robert Lester will be the veteran captain of the defensive backfield, but the player that will really turn some heads this season is CB Dee Milliner. 

    The 6'1'', 199-pound junior is a former 5-star recruit who is absolutely loaded with potential. All he has to do is prove that he can handle a full-time starting role in 2012. 

    Milliner still has to work on the fundamentals of his game such as taking better angles to make tackles and not letting receivers cross his face in man coverage. However, his physical attributes are absolutely stunning. 

    The Tide may have lost Kirkpatrick and Menzie, but with Milliner now stepping in, Alabama has a new highly skilled corner that will definitely catch the attention of NFL scouts this season. 

33. LB Gerald Hodges, Penn State

33 of 114

    The Penn State defense lost a lot of key defenders from last season, including DT Devon Still, DE Jack Crawford, LB Nate Stupar, CB D'Anton Lynn and S Drew Astorino. However, that won't change the fact that the Nittany Lions will still have one of the strongest linebacker units in the Big Ten this season.

    The leader of the talented trio will once again be Gerald Hodges. 

    Last year, Hodges led the team with 106 tackles and he notched 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss, as he proved to be one of the real "heart and soul" players for the Penn State defense. 

    The former 4-star recruit finally came into his own in 2011 with a breakthrough performance that caused quite a buzz around the Big Ten.

    Now, he'll be looking to take the next step and become a national star in 2012. 

    The 6'2'', 233-pound senior is one of the most physically gifted linebackers in the country, and Hodges is the type of extremely active and passionate defender that can pick up the energy of an entire defense with his play. 

34. CB Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State

34 of 114

    Before the start of the 2011 season, Oklahoma State CB Brodrick Brown was probably most well known for his remarkable highlight-reel interception tip to LB Shaun Lewis, as the play instantly became a viral sensation. 

    That may have been the most eye-catching play that Brown made in 2010, but it certainly was not the only big play he made that year.

    Brown finished that season second on the Cowboys with 77 tackles and he also picked off two passes and broke up another eight throws. 

    After establishing himself as a defender to watch in the Big 12 with a big sophomore campaign, Brown took his game to another level as a junior in 2011, as he notched 68 tackles, picked off five passes and finished with 15 passes defended.

    The 5'8'', 183-pound senior may not be the biggest cornerback in the country, but it would be tough to find many defensive backs in college football that have the type of pure ball-skills that Brown possesses.

35. S T.J. McDonald, USC

35 of 114

    Star quarterback Matt Barkley isn’t the only returning USC senior who could have hopped to the NFL a year early and made some major cash. Safety T.J. McDonald also could have entered the 2012 NFL draft and likely been a high pick.

    Luckily for the Trojans, though, McDonald made the decision to return to Los Angeles for one more year to try to boost his already solid pro stock. 

    The 6’3’’, 205-pound senior is a big, physical safety who displayed great range and instincts last season when he led the team with three interceptions and finished third on the squad with 67 tackles. 

    McDonald is ready to compete to be the first safety selected in the 2013 NFL draft, and if he has the season many are expecting, USC’s secondary should be one of the strongest units in college football in 2012.

36. CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

36 of 114

    After a breakout freshman campaign in 2010, for which he earned ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, it seemed that Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes was ready to become one of the most talked about defenders in college football last year. 

    While he didn't exactly become the true star that many thought he would; the big, talented cover corner still had a respectable performance this past season, as he was one of the top performers for a defense that ranked 20th in the country in pass defense last year. 

    The 6'2'', 209-pound junior has a sky-high ceiling, and he is clearly one of the most physically gifted defensive backs in college football.

    Rhodes has the type of talent to be an elite corner. All he has to do is finally make the most of it. 

37. CB Quandre Diggs, Texas

37 of 114

    Texas should have one of the best secondaries in the country this season with cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom and potential All-American safety Kenny Vaccaro all returning to Austin.

    While Vaccaro will be the unquestioned leader of the group, Diggs could turn out to be the biggest star in the defensive backfield in 2012.

    Last year, Diggs stepped into the starting lineup as a true freshman and had no trouble handling himself, as he racked up 49 tackles, picked off four passes and broke up another 15 throws.

    For his efforts, the 5'10", 200-pound corner was rewarded with Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors, and he landed on numerous different Freshman All-American teams.

    Texas has produced plenty of notable defensive backs over the last decade, and it looks like Diggs is on his way to becoming the next big-name corner that the Longhorns will have the pleasure of showing off. 

38. LB Chase Thomas, Stanford

38 of 114

    When Stanford's top linebacker Shayne Skov went down with a knee injury early last season, the Cardinal needed somebody to step up and become the leader of the defensive front-seven.

    Chase Thomas turned out to be the one who answered that call. 

    Last year, Thomas was a terror coming off the edge of Stanford's 3-4 defense, racking up 8.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 2011. 

    The 6'4'', 245-pound senior is one of the most skilled rush linebackers in the country, and he has a knack for finding his way into the backfield and making plays behind the line of scrimmage. 

    With Skov set to team back up with Thomas for 2012, Stanford will have one of the most dynamic linebacker duos in the country this season.

39. DE Devin Taylor, South Carolina

39 of 114

    When Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney both emerged as breakout stars for South Carolina's defensive line last season, they took a lot of the spotlight off of defensive end Devin Taylor. 

    Taylor was the type of young pass-rushing prodigy that many felt could have made the early jump to the NFL if he had had a strong enough 2011 campaign. However, after watching Ingram and Clowney soak up most of the attention last year, he made the wise decision to return for his senior season. 

    Now, that's not to say that the 6'8'', 267-pound edge-rusher had a bad performance last season. Any time you pile up six sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in the SEC, you've definitely got some legitimate talent. 

    Still, now that Clowney has begun to emerge as one of the premier defenders in the SEC, Taylor is going to have to step things up in 2012 if he wants to keep pace. 

    The tall, long and athletic end has the type of frame that is sure to make pro scouts drool. All he has to do now is learn how to play at a high level more consistently in his final season.

    If he can do that, Taylor should be able to solidify his spot in the conversation with the rest of the elite pass-rushing prospects for the 2013 NFL draft. 

40. S Robert Lester, Alabama

40 of 114

    Since Alabama's long-time secondary leader Mark Barron has moved on to the NFL, it will now be Robert Lester's turn to step up and help guide a defensive backfield that lost its three other starters from last year's championship squad. 

    Lester has found himself in a similar position to the one that Barron was in at the start of the 2010 season when Bama's defense lost so much star power from their BCS championship team the year before. 

    It's a good thing that the 6'2'', 210-pound senior has two years of starting experience under his belt, as he's the type of veteran presence that the Tide will need in the back end of its defense. 

    The former 4-star recruit has the type of size and athleticism that you would expect from an Alabama defensive back, and with one of the best defensive coaching staffs in college football showing him the ropes, he's really made a vast improvement as a football player during his time in Tuscaloosa. 

    After losing some very prominent defenders this offseason, Alabama will now need Lester to really step his play up in 2012 and finally fully maximize the great potential that he possesses. 

41. DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State

41 of 114

    Brandon Jenkins may have been the Florida State defensive end that everybody was talking about at this time last year.

    This offseason, however, there's another Seminoles' pass-rusher that's going to garner plenty of attention, and that's Bjoern Werner. 

    Last season, Werner burst onto the ACC scene with a breakout campaign, as he piled up seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries.

    The 6'4'', 272-pound German native proved to be a perfect complement on the other side of Jenkins and he showed that he's one of the strongest and most physical defensive lineman in all of college football.

    The junior powerhouse is a nightmare matchup for any blocker that's given the unfortunate task of matching up with him for four quarters, as he's the type of relentless player whose motor never stops running. 

    Werner will once again team with Jenkins to give the Seminoles one of the top defensive end duos in the country for the 2012 season.

    It wouldn't be shocking if the potent pair combined for at least 20 sacks this year.  

42. DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State

42 of 114

    It only takes one quick glance at Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins to realize that no offense is going to have an easy time trying to establish an effective ground game against the Buckeyes in 2012. 

    The 6'4'', 317-pound Hankins is definitely a lineman who passes the eyeball test, and he matches his hulk-like physical presence with his play.

    Hankins is the type of big, intimidating defensive force that Ohio State needs if it wants to bounce back after last year's uncharacteristically mediocre season. 

    Last year, Hankins proved that he was more than just a big body that could take up space, as he showed that he could penetrate into the backfield and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. 

    The monstrous junior finished second on the team with 10 tackles for loss and he also notched two sacks in 2011. 

    Hankins has the type of size and physical tools to become one of the most coveted defensive tackle prospects for the 2013 NFL draft, and he should be able to dominate opposing offensive linemen on a regular basis throughout the 2012 season. 

43. DE Michael Buchanan, Illinois

43 of 114

    Illinois' defense has produced an unlikely first-round NFL draft prospect in each of the last two seasons with DE Whitney Mercilus and DT Corey Liuget. Now, the Illini may have another breakout candidate for the 2012 season in DE Michael Buchanan.

    With Mercilus gone, Buchanan will now be asked to step up and become the leader of the Illini defensive line this season, and it's a role he should thrive in. 

    The former 4-star recruit is one of the most athletic and explosive pass-rushers in the country, and he's the type of end that opposing linemen dread having to face. 

    The 6'6'', 240-pound senior possesses a long and lean frame, and he's got the strength and the speed off the edge to either blow by blockers or blow them up with a bull-rush. 

    Last year, Buchanan totaled 7.5. sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, and those numbers should only increase in 2012 now that he no longer has to race Whitney Mercilus to see who gets to the quarterback first. 

44. S Matt Elam, Florida

44 of 114

    Not only does Florida have one of the strongest defensive front-sevens in college football, the Gators also have a few difference-makers in the secondary as well. 

    This year, the team's top defensive back will again be safety Matt Elam. 

    Elam finished second on the team with 78 tackles, broke up nine passes, made two interceptions and forced two fumbles in 2011, as he finally lived up to the 5-star recruiting billing he had coming out of Florida's Dwyer High School. 

    The 5'10'', 210-pound junior is a big, strong and physical safety who has the range to roam all around the field and make key plays.

    With all four starters returning from last year, Elam will be at the forefront of a Gators secondary that should be one of college football's best defensive backfields in 2012. 

45. LB Mike Taylor, Wisconsin

45 of 114

    Chris Borland garnered a ton of attention during his comeback season in 2011, but it was another Wisconsin linebacker, Mike Taylor, who ended up leading the Big Ten with a whopping 150 total tackles last season. 

    Taylor's stellar performance helped prove that he's just as big of a defensive difference-maker as his highly touted teammate Borland is.

    The 6'2'', 222-pound senior may not be the biggest or most intimidating linebacker in the Big Ten, but he plays a smart and intense brand of football that has helped lead him to great success during his time in Madison.

    Taylor earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for his 2011 campaign, and the savvy and experienced veteran will again be looking to garner the same type of accolades and recognition with another big effort this season.  

46. S Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

46 of 114

    It certainly didn't take long for safety Tony Jefferson to make a name for himself at Oklahoma.

    In his first season in a Sooner uniform, Jefferson earned Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors and he found his way onto numerous freshman All-American teams.

    He carried over that success into 2011, as he emerged as one of the best defensive backs in the conference this past season. The 5'10'', 199-pound junior led the team with four interceptions and finished the season with 74 total tackles. 

    Now he'll be asked to be a key leader of what should be one of the best defenses in the country in 2012.

    Jefferson possesses elite coverage skills and physical traits, and he might just be the best safety to play for the Sooners since Roy Williams. 

47. LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

47 of 114

    One of the big storylines surrounding the Rutgers defense going into last season was how Khaseem Greene would handle the transition from free safety to linebacker in 2011.

    It turned out that Greene was a natural fit at his new position, as he led the Big East with 140 tackles, notched 3.5 sacks and forced three fumbles last season.

    That was a performance which helped earn the talented safety convert the conference's Co-Defensive Player of the Year honor in 2011. 

    The 6'1'', 220-pound senior possesses the speed and the range of a safety and the size of a linebacker, and that combination helped him excel on the outside of Rutgers' 4-3 defense last year. 

    Greene suffered an awful-looking leg injury in the Pinstripe Bowl back in December. However, he should be back to man the weak side spot for the Scarlet Knights this season, and he should once again be the Big East's top impact linebacker in 2012. 

48. DT Kwame Geathers, Georgia

48 of 114

    When you play a 3-4 defense, it certainly helps if you have a big, run-stuffing nose tackle in the middle of the defensive line who can eat up double-teams and free up linebackers to make plays. 

    Luckily for Georgia, the Bulldogs just so happen to have two such tackles—Kwame Geathers and John Jenkins. 

    Both Geathers and Jenkins tip the scales at over 350-pounds, and both of them look like they'll be playing on Sundays some day soon. 

    Geathers is the one who could have an especially bright NFL future ahead of him, though.

    The younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals DE Robert Geathers and Dallas Cowboys DE Clifton Geathers certainly has the bloodlines to develop into a standout pro prospect, and he also happens to have all the physical traits that scouts look for in a 3-4 nose tackle. 

    The enormous 6'6', 350-pound junior may not make many flash plays, but he's the type of monster in the middle that can disrupt an opposing running game play after play. 

49. DE James Gayle, Virginia Tech

49 of 114

    Blocking Virginia Tech DE James Gayle is something that certainly couldn't have been very fun for opposing offensive tackles last season. Judging from the type of numbers Gayle put up in 2011, it's something that not a lot of them could do very effectively.  

    Last year, Gayle notched seven sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hurries in his first season as a starter. 

    The 6'4'', 260-pound junior displayed the type of strength, explosiveness and tenacity that you look for in a top-flight edge-rusher, and now that he has a year of experience under his belt, he's only going to get better this season. 

    Gayle will once again team up with fellow end J.R. Collins to give Virginia Tech one of the scariest pass-rushing duos in the country for 2012. 

50. LB Hayes Pullard, USC

50 of 114

    Oregon's star sophomore running back De'Anthony Thomas may be the most famous alumni of Los Angeles' Crenshaw High School in college football. However, his former high school teammate, USC linebacker Hayes Pullard, is about to gain some major recognition around the Pac-12 as well this season. 

    Pullard and fellow standout Trojan linebacker Dion Bailey comprise one of the top linebacker tag-teams in the country, and they'll be two of the key leaders of a USC defense that has the chance to be one of the best in the nation in 2012. 

    The 6'1'', 230-pound redshirt sophomore tied Bailey for the team lead with 81 tackles last season, and he should once again be right in the mix to lead USC in total take downs again this year. 

    After redshirting for his first season in 2010, it didn't take long for Pullard to show off his tremendous physical ability last season, as he stepped into the starting lineup and immediately made his presence felt. 

    USC produced some truly special linebackers during former coach Pete Carroll's tenure, and it now looks like Pullard and Bailey will be the first two big star 'backers of the Lane Kiffin era. 

51. LB Jelani Jenkins, Florida

51 of 114

    You can't build a much better 4-3 weak side linebacker than Florida's Jelani Jenkins. 

    The 6'0'', 233-pound Jenkins has displayed some outstanding read and recognition skills, tackling ability and physicality during his time in Gainesville, and he now seems ready to really put it all together for his junior season. 

    Over the last two years, Jenkins has combined to rack up 141 total tackles, four sacks and two interceptions, and he's been one of the most vital pieces of Florida's defense since stepping into the starting lineup in 2010. 

    The former 5-star recruit is without question one of the most talented linebackers in college football, and if he has the type of 2012 campaign that's expected of him, he's got the chance to develop into one of the most coveted pro prospects available for the 2013 NFL draft. 

52. CB Merrill Noel, Wake Forest

52 of 114

    Merrill Noel may only be just a redshirt sophomore, but he's already started to create quite a buzz around the ACC after his fantastic freshman performance in 2011. 

    Last year, Noel played at an exceptional level and he locked down nearly every receiver he squared off with. 

    The 5'10'', 180-pound corner earned numerous freshman All-American honors after notching 66 tackles, picking off two passes and leading the ACC with 19 pass break-ups. 

    The former 3-star recruit from Florida's Pahokee High School could have played for more prestigious programs such as Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia or Michigan, but coming to Wake Forest seems to have been a wise decision, given that he's already the standout star on the Demon Deacons defense. 

    Noel may still have three years of eligibility left, but if he can build on the success he had last season and put together another monster campaign in 2012, he may have to strongly think about possibly making an early exit to the NFL. 

53. DE Craigh Roh, Michigan

53 of 114

    Michigan lost three out of the four starters from last year's defensive line, including defensive tackle Mike Martin, who was taken in the third round in this year's NFL draft. 

    While there's obviously rebuilding that needs to take place this offseason, the Wolverines will at least have veteran defensive end Craig Roh back to lead the way in 2012. 

    Roh is a three-year starter who has been one of Michigan's most reliable players since he entered the lineup as a true freshman back in 2009. 

    The 6'5'', 269-pound senior has moved around from outside linebacker to defensive end during his time in Ann Arbor, but he's always managed to make an impact no matter where he is lining up. 

    Last year, Roh racked up four sacks and eight tackles for loss, and he helped Michigan rank third in the Big Ten in run defense. 

    Although he'll have a lot of new faces surrounding him this season, Roh should still be able to cause consistent havoc again in 2012. 

54. DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina

54 of 114

    With Quinton Coples moving back out to his more natural position of defensive end for the 2011 season, someone had to step up inside for North Carolina's defense.

    DT Sylvester Williams was the player who did just that, as he quickly developed into a valuable run-stopper in the middle of the Tar Heels defense. 

    Williams regularly ate up blockers and he made it a habit of stopping ball-carriers dead in their tracks any time they were foolish enough to run up the middle. 

    The powerful 6'3'', 320-pound senior finished the season ranked fifth on the team with 54 total stops, and he helped the Tar Heels finish third in the ACC in run defense in 2011. 

    Williams could have turned pro after this past season, but one more year of development should serve him well, as he'll now have the chance to show pro scouts that he's truly one of the best defensive tackle prospects available for the 2013 NFL draft. 

55. LB Dion Bailey, USC

55 of 114

    At 6'0", 200 lbs, Dion Bailey definitely isn't the biggest linebacker you're going to find in college football. However, Bailey's lack of size didn't prevent him from making plenty of crucial stops for USC's defense last season.

    Bailey moved from safety to strong side linebacker last offseason, and he turned out to be a perfect fit for the role, as he flourished at the position, finishing tied for the team lead with 81 tackles in 2011.

    The former 4-star recruit has the type of speed, instincts and tracking ability to hunt down ball-carriers from sideline to sideline.

    With Bailey and teammate Hayes Pullard both returning, USC will have one of the top linebacker tandems in the country this season.

56. DT Bennie Logan, LSU

56 of 114

    The two undisputed leaders of LSU's defensive line are defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. 

    There's another Tiger defender, however, who has the chance to really make a name for himself in 2012, and that's DT Bennie Logan.

    Michael Brockers was the spotlight player of the team’s deep defensive tackle group last season, but with Brockers now gone, the door is wide open for Logan to step out and shine this year.

    In his first season as a starter in 2011, the 6’3’’, 287-pound junior ranked sixth on the team with 57 tackles and he also notched three sacks. 

    Logan may be just a step below his former teammate Brockers in terms of raw potential, but he’s got the type of size, strength, quickness and toughness to really turn some heads, and his name could go flying up draft boards this season if he has the type of performance he's capable of. 

    Joined by Anthony Johnson and Josh Downs, Logan will be the face of one of college football's most stout defensive tackle units in 2012. 

57. CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State

57 of 114

    Oregon State went just 3-9 last season, which made it difficult for some of the Beavers' top players to garner much attention outside of Corvallis in 2011. However, just because the team's top defender, CB Jordan Poyer, flew under the national radar last year, that doesn't mean that he didn't have a terrific season.

    In fact, Poyer managed to earn second-team All-Pac-12 honors for his performance in 2011, as he racked up 57 tackles, notched four interceptions and broke up 12 passes. 

    The 6'0'', 190-pound senior also proved to be one of the most explosive returners in the conference, as he averaged 22 yards per kick return and 14 yards on punt returns. 

    Poyer ran into a bit of trouble this offseason when he was arrested for sneaking into a night club that he had been previously banned from. 

    Still, if he can manage to put that incident behind him and stay focused in his final season this year, Poyer's got the chance to be one of the Pac-12's most talked about defenders in 2012. 

58. LB Jonathan Brown, Illinois

58 of 114

    DE Whitney Mercilus, who was a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft, may have been the face of Illinois' defense last season, but linebacker Jonathan Brown played just as big of a role in the unit's success as Mercilus did. 

    The 6'1'', 235-pound junior led the team with 108 tackles in 2011, and he finished the season with six sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. 

    Brown is one of the most athletic linebackers in the country, and last year, he showed that he's the type of natural playmaker that can change the complexion of an entire defense. 

    If Brown plays up to his potential this season, he's got the chance to be one of the Big Ten's biggest defensive stars of 2012. 

59. LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee

59 of 114

    There weren't many freshman defenders who could compare to Tennessee's A.J. Johnson last season.

    Johnson certainly proved his worth in 2011, and he made an immediate name for himself in Knoxville by racking up 80 tackles in his first year. 

    The former 4-star recruit will now be the undisputed leader of the Vols defense for the 2012 season. 

    The 6'3'', 245-pound sophomore should benefit from the return of fellow linebackers Herman Lathers and Curt Maggitt, as they should help give Tennessee one of the best linebacker trios in the conference this year. 

    Johnson seems like he's ready to become one of college football's top linebackers and he should be one of the biggest star defenders in the SEC in 2012. 

60. DT Jesse Williams, Alabama

60 of 114

    Alabama's defensive line has featured some truly terrific players in recent years such as Marcell Dareus, Josh Chapman and Terrence Cody. Now, nose tackle Jesse Williams will be the latest big run-stuffer who will be the featured player for the Tide's fierce front-three this season. 

    Last year, Williams arrived in Tuscaloosa as a highly touted JUCO recruit from Western Arizona Community College, and he managed to make an immediate impact as a starter for the Tide's ultra-talented defense. 

    The monstrous 6-4'', 320-pound former rugby player, who hails from Australia, played both end and nose tackle in 2011, and he helped Alabama finish first in the country in run defense, as the Tide allowed just 72.1 rushing yards per game. 

    Williams will now mostly man the middle spot for the team's 3-4 defense, and he should be a perfect fit, since he possesses the type of size and pure power to eat up double-teams and clog up running lanes on a routine basis in 2012.

61. LB A.J. Klein, Iowa State

61 of 114

    Like his teammate Jake Knott, A.J. Klein was not a very highly rated recruit coming out of Wisconsin's Kimberly High School. In fact, the only BCS scholarship offer he received was from Iowa State. 

    The former lightly recruited high school prospect has definitely made all of those big BCS schools that didn't give him a chance regret their decision.

    Last year, the 6'2'', 244-pound senior earned Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors after leading the Cyclones with 116 total tackles. 

    Klein and Knott belong in the discussion with every other top linebacker duo in college football, and the two tough, gritty defenders have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with any offense that the Big 12 has to offer. 

62. LB Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech

62 of 114

    Virginia Tech has always seemed to put out a powerful defense during Frank Beamer's tenure and this season should be no different. The Hokies bring back plenty of playmakers, including defensive ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, linebacker Tariq Edwards and cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum. 

    There's no question, however, about who the true leader of the unit will be in 2012, and that's linebacker Bruce Taylor. 

    Taylor enjoyed a breakout season in 2010, notching 91 tackles and six sacks, and he was having another strong year last season before a foot injury knocked him out in late October. 

    The 6'2'', 253-pound senior is the type of athlete who seems like he was born to play inside linebacker, as he possesses the type of agility, recognition skills, toughness and tackling ability that you want to see at the position. 

    If the Hokies want to contend for an ACC championship in 2012, Taylor is going to have to play a key role as the team's defensive centerpiece. If he's back to full health by the time the season starts, there's no reason that he shouldn't be up to the task. 

63. DE Stansly Maponga, TCU

63 of 114

    TCU has consistently had one of the strongest defenses in the country in recent years, but now the Horned Frogs will really be put to the test when they join the Big 12 this season. 

    The unit will be without three of its top four tacklers from last year, but the good news is, the most talented player from the 2011 defense, DE Stansly Maponga, will be back to help with the transition to the new conference in 2012.

    The 6'2'', 265-pound junior earned first-team All-Mountain West honors last season after racking up nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, and he'll now be looking to make a name for himself in the Big 12 this year.

    Maponga is an athletic, instinctive and skilled pass-rusher who's capable of overwhelming blockers and making key plays in the opposition's backfield, and he's probably looking forward to introducing himself to some of the top quarterbacks in the conference in 2012. 

64. LB Tom Wort, Oklahoma

64 of 114

    The bad news is that Oklahoma lost linebacker Travis Lewis, who was one of the Sooners' most steady defensive leaders for the past few seasons.

    The good news, though, is that Tom Wort seems like he's capable of stepping up and becoming the new focal point of the linebacker corps this season.

    Last year, Wort finished fourth on the team with 71 tackles and he also notched 3.5 sacks, picked off two passes and returned a fumble for a touchdown. 

    The 6'0'', 229-pound junior has all the traits and physical tools to be a standout middle linebacker and he could end up being one of the biggest breakout defensive stars in the Big 12 this season. 

65. LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State

65 of 114

    One of the big offseason storylines at Kansas State last year was the arrival of the highly touted Brown brothers—Arthur, a transfer from Miami, and Bryce, a transfer from Tennessee. 

    Many Wildcats fans were hoping that both players would make a big impact in Manhattan in 2011, however, Bryce never made it out onto the field 

    Still, with the way Arthur played on defense, most fans seemed to forget all about not having Bryce in the backfield last year. 

    After sitting out a year, Brown stepped into the lineup and immediately surpassed high expectations, as he ended up finishing eighth in the Big 12 with 101 total tackles. 

    The 6'1'', 228-pound senior finally lived up to the hype that was thrust on him when he initially came out of Kansas' Wichita East High School.

    Unlike his brother Bryce, Arthur made the most of his second chance and he'll now be one of the most coveted senior linebacker prospects available for the 2013 NFL draft

66. DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

66 of 114

    Texas A&M's offense will have some re-tooling to do this offseason after losing key weapons such as QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray and WR Jeff Fuller. However, the Aggies defense is still in great shape, and the front-seven especially seems like its ready for the tougher tests that await in the SEC.

    Not only does the team bring back one of the best linebacker tandems in the country with Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, A&M will also have a dangerous presence on the edge of its four-man defensive line with hybrid "Joker" defensive end Damontre Moore.

    Last year, Moore was the team-leader with 17.5 tackles for loss and he also notched 8.5 sacks.

    It should be interesting to see if he can match that production now that he's made the full-time switch to end.

    The 6'4'', 245-pound junior has been very impressive in his first two seasons in College Station, and now Moore will have the chance to prove himself against some of the best competition that college football has to offer in the SEC in 2012.

67. DT Akeem Spence, Illinois

67 of 114

    Illinois' defense didn't receive a whole lot of recognition last season, given the fact that the Illini went just 7-6 in 2011. However, statistically, the unit ranked as one of the best in the country, finishing seventh nationally in total defense and 15th in scoring defense. 

    With seven starters returning from last year, Illinois will likely once again have one of the top overall defenses in college football in 2012, and one of the key defenders to watch is DT Akeem Spence.

    After a Freshman All-American campaign in 2010, Spence really stepped his game up this past season, finishing fourth on the team with 69 total tackles, including 5.5. tackles for loss. 

    The 6'1'', 305-pound junior is one of the strongest and most athletic interior defensive lineman in the country, and he's got all of the makings of a future NFL starter. 

    Spence returns to a defensive line, which also includes fellow tackle Glenn Foster and standout end Michael Buchanan, that should be one of the nation's strongest fronts, and he'll once again be a vital part of Illinois' overall defensive success in 2012. 

68. CB Carrington Byndom, Texas

68 of 114

    Texas is a school that's had five defensive backs selected in the first round of the NFL draft over the last decade, so the Longhorns are obviously used to having a lot of top-level talent in their defensive backfield.

    This year, the team will once again boast one of the strongest and most stacked secondaries in the country with the return of three talented starters—cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom and safety Kenny Vaccaro.  

    Diggs and Vaccaro have already popped up on this list, so now it's time to show a little love to Byndom. 

    Last season, the 6'0'', 180-pound junior jumped into the starting lineup and played like a seasoned veteran, as he finished the year with 57 tackles, 14 pass break-ups and two interceptions. 

    Physically, Byndom is cut from the same mold as other former Longhorn corners such as Aaron Williams and Aaron Ross, as he's got the size, speed and coverage ability to match up with any receiver the Big 12 has to offer. 

    With Byndon and Diggs both returning for 2012, Texas will have one of the best cornerback duos in the country yet again this season. 

69. LB Kenny Demens, Michigan

69 of 114

    The play of Michigan's linebacker unit in 2011 was one of the main reasons that the Wolverines defense was able to make such a marked improved last season.

    The MVP of the group was Kenny Demens, who led the team with 94 tackles and also racked up three sacks last year. 

    Demens emerged as the team's most reliable defender after the departure of Jonas Mouton, and he now appears ready to step out and become one of the Big Ten's true showcase star defenders in 2012. 

    The 6'1'', 248-pound senior will be the leader of a linebacker unit that'll be one of the deepest and most talented in the country this year.

    With Demens, Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan and Brandin Hawthorne all returning, Michigan will have the type of linebackers it needs to once again have one of the strongest defenses in the Big Ten in 2012. 

70. LB Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas

70 of 114

    Arkansas won't have an easy time replacing LB Jerry Franklin, who was a second-team All-SEC performer in 2011. However, Alonzo Highsmith should be perfectly capable of stepping in for Franklin and becoming the leader of the Razorbacks linebacker corps. 

    Last year, Highsmith finished third on the team with 80 tackles and he also notched 4.5 sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown. 

    The 6'1'', 229-pound senior excelled in his first season after transferring from Phoenix College and he should perform at an even higher level in 2012. 

    While his former teammate Franklin may have gone undrafted in this year's draft, NFL teams will likely be much more interested in Highsmith when he's available in 2013.

71. CB Nickell Robey, USC

71 of 114

    Senior safety T.J. McDonald will be the undisputed leader of the USC secondary this season, but McDonald isn't the only Trojan defensive back that will be capable of contending for All-American honors in 2012.

    CB Nickell Robey will also be a major impact player for USC's defense this season, and he's got the chance to become a true breakout star in the Pac-12. 

    Robey arrived in Los Angeles back in 2010 as a heralded 4-star recruit out of Florida's Frostproof High School, and it didn't take long for him to live up to his high school hype. 

    The 5'8'', 165-pound junior has started all 24 games of his college career, and he's been a valuable contributor, racking up a combined 111 total tackles and picking off six passes in his first two years. 

    Robey may be a bit small, but he's a feisty and tough corner who definitely isn't afraid to mix it up with some of the bigger receivers he has to face in the Pac-12. 

    The USC offense will get most of the publicity this offseason. However, if the Trojans want to make a legitimate run at a national championship this year, they're going to need a big effort out of their defense as well, and Robey will be one of the most vital pieces to the unit's success in 2012. 

72. CB Marcus Roberson, Florida

72 of 114

    Florida was forced to deal with the sudden and unexpected departure of star cornerback Janoris Jenkins last spring. However, luckily for the Gators, they had some talented young corners that were capable of stepping up in his absence, and the one who really stood out the most in 2011 was Marcus Roberson.

    Roberson stepped into the starting lineup as a freshman and looked like a seasoned veteran as he showed the type of confidence and fearlessness that it takes to go toe-to-toe with some of the SEC's most skilled receivers.

    The 6'0", 180-pound sophomore has the same type of size, speed and swagger that we saw from former Florida great Joe Haden, and he looks like he could be the school's next star cornerback.

73. S Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

73 of 114

    After making the move from cornerback to safety in 2011, Lamarcus Joyner was finally able to utilize his full array of abilities last season. 

    The former 5-star recruit emerged as one of the top defensive backs in the ACC, and he turned out to be a valuable member of Florida State's talented secondary, as he finished fourth on the Seminoles with 54 tackles while also picking off four passes and notching three sacks. 

    The 5'8'', 193-pound junior may not have the desired size you look for in a safety, but he makes up for his lack of prototypical height with his speed, range and his terrific recognition skills and coverage ability. 

    After helping Florida State finish first in the ACC in pass defense last year, Joyner will now once again join the highly capable cornerback duo of Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid to give  the Seminoles one of the most stacked secondaries in the country for 2012. 

74. CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

74 of 114

    Virginia Tech has produced many notable defensive backs in recent years such as Jayron Hosley, Brandon Flowers, Victor Harris, DeAngelo Hall and Jimmy Williams.

    Now, the latest Hokie defensive back who appears ready to soak up the spotlight in the ACC is cornerback Kyle Fuller.

    Last year, Fuller was a bit overshadowed by his more heralded counterpart Hosley, but he still notched 65 tackles, including a team-high 14.5 tackles for loss, racked up 4.5 sacks and picked off two passes while breaking up another seven throws.

    The 6’0’’, 181-pound junior is an extremely active and versatile corner who can make plays all over the field, and he’s got the type of speed, instincts, tackling ability, toughness and coverage skills to be a major factor against both the run and the pass.

    With Fuller and fellow corner Antone Exum both returning to Blacksburg this season, Virginia Tech’s secondary may not miss Jayron Hosley at all in 2012.

75. LB Alec Ogletree, Georgia

75 of 114

    Jarvis Jones isn't the only Georgia linebacker that SEC teams better beware of this season.

    Jones' teammate Alec Ogletree also seems like he's ready to have a huge 2012 campaign as well. 

    Last year, Ogletree was limited to just eight games due to an early-season foot injury, but he still managed to finish with 52 tackles and three sacks. 

    The versatile 6'3'', 236-pound junior is one of the most athletic linebackers in the country, and he has a chance to reach star status in 2012. 

    Jones will get most of the preseason publicity and attention this summer, but Ogletree will probably end up playing just as big of a role in Georgia's defensive success in 2012. 

76. DT Dominique Easley, Florida

76 of 114

    Florida's defensive line has the chance to be one of the strongest fronts in college football this season, and the real player to watch will be DT Dominique Easley. 

    If Easley is fully rehabilitated from the torn ACL he experienced last November by the time the season starts, he should be able to put together a breakthrough campaign in 2012. 

    The former 5-star recruit came to Florida as part of the team's much-ballyhooed 2010 recruiting class, but like the rest of the prospects from that year's group, it's taken some time for him to get his feet under him at the college level. 

    Still, it's clear that the 6'2'', 286-pound junior possesses a great deal of natural ability, and if his knee is back to full strength by the time the fall rolls around, there's no telling just how good he could be this season. 

    Easley is a strong, physical and athletic lineman who has begun to learn what it takes to battle it out in the SEC trenches on a weekly basis over the first two years of his college career. 

    With Easley, Sharrif Floyd and linebackers such as Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Bostic all returning, Florida should have one of the strongest defensive front-sevens in college football in 2012. 

77. CB Micah Hyde, Iowa

77 of 114

    Iowa's defensive backfield was not exactly stellar last season, as the Hawkeyes ranked next to last in the Big Ten in pass defense in 2011, giving up 223 yards through the air per game.

    It's tough, however, to blame the secondary's struggles on CB Micah Hyde, who performed at a high level throughout the season last year. 

    Hyde earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2011 after notching 72 tackles, picking off three passes and breaking up another eight throws. 

    The 6'1'', 190-pound senior combines the size of a safety with the speed and coverage skills of a corner into one unique physical package. 

    Hyde is the type of intelligent, tough and confident corner who should have no trouble handling a leadership role in Iowa's secondary this season.

    If he plays up to his potential, the Hawkeyes' pass defense should definitely improve in 2012. 

78. CB Nigel Malone, Kansas State

78 of 114

    Arthur Brown may be the face of Kansas State's defense once again this season, but Brown won't be the only Wildcat defender who will be looking to earn All-Big 12 honors in 2012. 

    CB Nigel Malone will enter his senior year in Manhattan with a lot of momentum after a huge introductory campaign, for which he earned All-American honors last season. 

    The former JUCO transfer from City College of San Francisco didn't wait very long to make a huge impact for the Wildcats, as he stepped in and proved to be the secondary's most stable player in 2011. 

    The 5'10'', 185-pound corner notched 58 tackles, picked off seven passes and broke up another 10 throws last season, and he often made quarterbacks look foolish for trying to throw to his side of the field. 

    Malone is an athletic and instinctive corner who possesses top-notch ball-skills, and he should once again be one of the Big 12's most steady secondary stars in 2012. 

79. DE Malliciah Goodman, Clemson

79 of 114

    Clemson has had its fair share of quality defensive ends in recent years such as Andre Branch, Da'Quan Bowers, Gaines Adams, Ricky Sapp and Phillip Merling. 

    Now, the next in line appears to be Mallicah Goodman. 

    Goodman was a bit overshadowed by Branch's breakout performance in 2011, but he still managed to rack up 2.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries. 

    The 6'4'', 280-pound senior has continually improved in all three seasons out on the field and he now appears ready to step up and become the leader of Clemson's defensive line this year. 

    After losing Branch, who was taken in the second round of this year's NFL draft, and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who was selected in the third round; the Tigers are going to need Goodman to become a true impact pass-rusher in 2012, and he should be ready to handle the pressure.

80. CB Tharold Simon, LSU

80 of 114

    LSU seems like it's becoming college football's cornerback capital, given that the Tigers have produced consecutive top-10 NFL draft picks at the position with Morris Claiborne going sixth overall in this year's draft and Patrick Peterson going fifth overall in 2011. 

    Now it looks like Tyrann Mathieu will be the next coveted cornerback in Baton Rouge after his superlative sophomore campaign last season. However, the question remains, can Claiborne, who was arguably the LSU defense's most talented player last year, be properly replaced this season?

    Well, the only person who can actually answer that is Tharold Simon, who will be asked to take over for Claiborne as the starter across from Mathieu in 2012. 

    Even though he hasn't had a chance to really prove himself yet, make no mistake about it, Simon is one of the most physically gifted cornerbacks in college football. He just happened to be playing behind two first-team All-Americans last season. 

    The big, speedy 6'3'', 187-pound junior would have started for just about any other team in the country in 2011. Now, after a year spent refining his craft as LSU's No. 3 corner, he'll have the chance to show off his talents to the college football world this season. 

    Simon finished third in the SEC with 10 pass break-ups last year, so you know he's got the type of ball-skills to compete with the best receivers in the conference. Plus, with his freakish size-speed combination, he could really turn some heads and even steal some of the spotlight away from the Honey Badger in 2012. 

81. LB Trevardo Williams, Connecticut

81 of 114

    Connecticut's defensive line has lost both of its starting defensive tackles from 2011, including Kendall Reyes, who was a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. 

    Reyes' presence on the inside is certainly going to be missed, there's no question about that.

    The good news is the Huskies are lucky enough to bring back one of the best defensive lineman in the Big East with the return of defensive end Trevardo Williams. 

    Last year, Williams finished first in the conference with 12.5 sacks and he also notched 15 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles. 

    The 6'2'', 233-pound senior certainly won't overwhelm any offensive tackle with his size, but he's got the type of strength, explosive burst and relentless non-stop motor that it takes to break into the backfield on a regular basis. 

    If Williams can build on his fabulous junior season, he should once again be one of the top defensive playmakers in the Big East in 2012, and he also has the skill-set to intrigue NFL scouts as a 3-4 rush linebacker prospect.

82. LB Jonathan Bostic, Florida

82 of 114

    Jonathan Bostic may not be the same caliber of NFL prospect as fellow Gators linebacker Jelani Jenkins, but Bostic is just as important to Florida's defensive success as Jenkins is.

    Last year, Bostic finished eighth in the SEC with 94 tackles and he also notched three sacks.

    The 6'1'', 243-pound senior is a strong and stout inside linebacker, who really loves to get physical and bang around inside the box. 

    With Bostic and Jenkins both returning for 2012, Florida will have a top-notch linebacker tandem to lead what should be one of the strongest defensive front-sevens in the country this season.

83. CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State

83 of 114

    In recent years, Ohio State has produced plenty of notable cornerbacks such as Malcolm Jenkins, Ashton Youboty, Chris Gamble and Nate Clements, and it looks like Bradley Roby will now be the next corner to join that esteemed group.

    Roby enjoyed a terrific season last year, as he notched 47 tackles, picked off three passes and broke up another six throws.

    The 5'11", 185-pound redshirt sophomore possesses the size, athleticism, toughness and ball-skills to man up with any receiver in the country.

    With Roby, fellow corner Travis Howard and safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant all returning to the defensive backfield this season, Ohio State should have one of the most stable secondaries in college football in 2012.

84. LB Kyle Van Noy, BYU

84 of 114

    If you want to watch a quick highlight video of the most underrated linebacker in college football, then spend the next two and a half minutes checking out the link to BYU's Kyle Van Noy's 2011 highlights.

    The Cougars defense was one of the most underrated units in college football last season, and a big reason for the unit's success was the play of Van Noy, who proved to be just too much to handle on the edge, as he racked up seven sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries last season. 

    The 6'3'', 235-pound junior has the type of rare combination of size, athleticism and football instincts to be an unstoppable 3-4 outside rusher, and he's got the chance to develop into a national defensive star in 2012 if BYU wins enough games.

    The former 4-star recruit from Reno, Nevada could have played for Pac-12 schools such as Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Stanford or UCLA, but it seems that Van Noy made the right decision to come to Provo, as he's proven to be a perfect fit for BYU's defense.

85. LB Travis Long, Washington State

85 of 114

    With Mike Leach arriving in Pullman this offseason, the focus around Washington State will most definitely be on the offensive side of the ball for 2012.

    If the Cougars actually want to make a run at a bowl game this year, though, they're going to need the defense to play an integral part as well. 

    That's why the Washington State defense is so lucky to have a versatile player such as defensive end-linebacker tweener Travis Long to lead the way. 

    Long has been a starter since his freshman year in the program, and he's managed to keep improving and developing each and every season. 

    Last year, the 6'4'', 256-pound senior led the team with four sacks and 12 tackles for loss, and he should once again be a valuable presence coming off the edge of Washington State's four-man front in 2012. 

    The second-team All-Pac-12 performer should be one of the top 3-4 outside linebacker prospects for the 2013 NFL draft, and it will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Mike Breske chooses to utilize Long in the Cougars' new-look defense in 2012. 

86. CB Greg Reid, Florida State

86 of 114

    Greg Reid is the other member of Florida State's talented cornerback duo. 

    While he may not be as big as his counterpart Xavier Rhodes, Reid possesses as much physical ability and natural talent as his highly touted teammate. 

    The former 5-star recruit out of Georgia's Lowndes High School arrived in Tallahassee with a lot of hype surrounding him, but he had no trouble living up to the pressure and expectations. 

    After making his presence felt in a reserve role as a freshman in 2009, Reid became a reliable and dependable stalwart starter on the outside the following season. 

    The 5'8'', 185-pound senior may be undersized, but he makes up for his small stature with his tremendous speed and athleticism and his knack for making big plays, and he also adds tremendous value in the return game. 

87. S Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami

87 of 114

    You could make the argument that as far as pure talent is concerned,  Ray-Ray Armstrong ranks right up there with college football's top safeties. 

    Armstrong arrived at Miami as a highly touted 5-star recruit out of Florida's Seminole High School, but his first three seasons in Coral Gables have been an inconsistent affair. 

    Last year, the 6'4'', 215-pound senior only played in seven games due to two separate suspensions, but he did show some intriguing flashes on occasions. 

    Still, there's no question that Armstrong obviously hasn't come close to reaching his full potential yet. 

    Armstrong is a big, athletic and physical safety who has the ability to be a standout defender, but he has to do a better job of putting all of his skills to good use.

    He now has just one year left to finally prove that he belongs in the conversation with the rest of college football's best safeties, but to do that, Armstrong's going to have to show better instincts and coverage awareness on the field and better judgement off of it in 2012. 

88. CB Desmond Trufant, Washington

88 of 114

    Last year, Washington's defense was one of the worst in all of college football. The Huskies ranked 106th nationally in total defense and 108th in scoring defense, as they gave up an average of 453 yards and 36 points per game. 

    What made the disappointing defensive effort so surprising was that Washington actually had some quality talent on the defensive side of the ball last season. However, they could just never seem to play as a complete unit, which is why coordinator Nick Holt was promptly let go after the season. 

    The good news for Washington is that there is some intriguing defensive talent returning to Seattle for the 2012 season, and one of the unit's key playmakers will be CB Desmond Trufant. 

    Trufant, who is the younger brother of Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant, has been a starter since his freshman season and during his three years at Washington he has racked up 159 tackles and five interceptions. 

    Physically, the athletic 6'0'', 185-pound senior has everything that you look for in a No. 1 corner, but he has to work on playing with more consistency, just like the rest of the players on Washington's defense will have to do in 2012. 

89. LB Brandon Magee, Arizona State

89 of 114

    Arizona State certainly didn't get the performance out of linebacker Vontaze Burfict that the team was expecting last season, and what made things even worse for the Sun Devils defense was the fact that fellow linebacker Brandon Magee missed the entire season with an Achilles tear. 

    After rehabbing for a year, Magee will be looking to return with a vengeance in 2012, and now that Burfict's moved on to the NFL, he'll be asked to be Arizona State's key defensive leader this season. 

    The 5'11'', 230-pound senior is an experienced two-year starter who showed that he could be a defensive difference-maker in 2009 and 2010 when he combined to rack up 107 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions. 

    Magee has a perfect weak side linebacker's build and he's the type of instinctive, athletic and physical defender that will really add a lot to Arizona State's defensive front-seven when he returns to the lineup in 2012. 

90. CB Antone Exum, Virginia Tech

90 of 114

    The strength of Virginia Tech's defense this year will be its defensive end duo of James Gayle and J.R. Collins and cornerback combo of Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum. 

    With corner Jayron Hosley having declared early for the NFL, Exum will now make the move from safety to corner to join up with Fuller to give the Hokies one of the best sets of cornerbacks in the nation for 2012. 

    Exum earned honorable mention All-ACC honors last season when he notched 89 tackles, broke up 10 passes and added an interception and 1.5 sacks. 

    The 6'0'', 219-pound junior is a big, physical defender who possesses great speed and agility for his size. 

    Exum is a versatile member of the Hokies' secondary and it should be interesting to see how he handles his new role after switching from safety to cornerback for the 2012 season. 

91. LB Sio Moore, Connecticut

91 of 114

    Sio Moore managed to cause quite a stir with his breakout performance in 2010, when he finished fourth in the Big East with 110 tackles. 

    Moore wasn't quite that productive last season, but he still averaged 7.1 tackles per game, which was the ninth highest average in the conference in 2011. 

    The 6'2'', 229-pound senior is without question one of the most talented defenders in the Big East.

    Now that he has the proper supporting cast surrounding him with fellow linebackers Yawin Smallwood and Jory Johnson, Moore will get to be the centerpiece of one of college football's top linebacker units for the 2012 season. 

92. CB Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech

92 of 114

    Georgia Tech’s defense should be one of the strongest units in the ACC in 2012, and one of the defensive leaders who will be counted on to step up this year is CB Rod Sweeting. 

    Last year, Sweeting flourished in his first year as a starter, compiling 56 tackles, making three interceptions and breaking up 10 passes. 

    The 6’0’’, 184-pound senior has a big frame and he possesses outstanding speed and athleticism for his size. 

    Sweeting really made some great strides in 2011, and now that he has begun to come into his own and gain confidence after a year as a starter, he should be ready to shut down any receiver that lines up in front of him this season. 

93. S Hakeem Smith, Louisville

93 of 114

    With a ton of key players returning to a defense that ranked in the Top 25 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense last season, the Louisville Cardinals will once again be putting the the Big East's strongest defense out on the field in 2012. 

    The leader of that unit will be veteran safety Hakeem Smith.

    Smith is a former Big East Rookie of the Year who appears to have an NFL future ahead of him. 

    After finishing tied for second on the team with 84 tackles in 2011, the 6'1'', 183-pound junior will return to lead a Louisville secondary that has the chance to surprise a lot of people next season.

    Smith is arguably the top overall defensive back in the Big East, and he'll be the key leader for a Cardinals defense that should be one of the strongest units in the country in 2012. 

94. DE J.R. Collins, Virginia Tech

94 of 114

    James Gayle may have been Virginia Tech's best defensive end last season, but counterpart J.R. Collins put together an eye-opening performance of his own in 2011. 

    Like Gayle, last year was Collins' first as a full-time starter, but his lack of experience certainly didn't show.

    The 6'2'', 252-pound junior had six sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and 29 quarterback hurries, which helped earn him Honorable Mention All-ACC accolades. 

    Collins may not be the biggest defensive end in the country, but he's got an impressive burst off the edge, and he's capable of flying right by any offensive tackle that doesn't get off the ball quick enough. 

    With Gayle occupying plenty of attention on the opposite side of the line again this season, it's going be tough for offenses to figure out how to slow down both him and Collins in 2012. 

95. LB Kevin Minter, LSU

95 of 114

    Linebacker was considered the weak spot of LSU's dominant defense last season, but that's understandable, given that the team had the best defensive line and the best secondary in the country. 

    Even though the Tigers have lost some key veteran linebackers such as Ryan Baker, Karnell Hatcher and Stefoin Francois; they do bring back a potential standout in Kevin Minter. 

    Minter finished fifth on the team with 56 tackles last year, and he really proved to be an anchor in the middle of LSU's defense. 

    The 6'2", 242-pound junior is a smart, strong and athletic middle linebacker who gives the Tigers a proven run-stuffer to rely on inside. 

    While he'll likely be overshadowed by his more notable teammates such as Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery before the season starts, Minter should really be able to carve out a name for himself in the SEC in 2012. 

96. DE Walter Stewart, Cincinnati

96 of 114

    Cincinnati won't have an easy time replacing long-time defensive stalwarts like LB J.K. Schaffer and DT Derek Wolfe, two players that were the lifeblood of Cincinnati's defense for the past few years.

    With both of them gone, there will need to be some new faces that step up, and one of the leaders of the Bearcats' defense for 2012 will be DE Walter Stewart. 

    Last year, Stewart really turned some heads in the Big East, racking up six sacks and 11 tackles for a loss, but this season could be the campaign that really earns him some major publicity and respect.

    The 6'4'', 248-pound senior will feast on offensive tackles that can't keep up with his combination of quickness and power. 

    With Stewart and fellow end Dan Giordano both returning, the Cincinnati defensive line should be one of the strongest in the Big East once again, even without Wolfe in the middle. 

97. Terrance Mitchell, Oregon

97 of 114

    Cliff Harris was supposed to be Oregon's star cornerback last season, but his multiple run-ins with the law and eventual dismissal from the team opened the door for Terrance Mitchell to step in and prove his worth in 2011.

    Mitchell may not have offered the same type of dynamic return ability that Harris did, but he proved to be a solid and dependable starting cornerback as a freshman, as he notched 45 tackles, picked off two passes and led the team with 10 pass breakups.

    The 6'0", 185-pound sophomore has great size, speed and instincts for the position, and he's only going to get better over time.

    The Pac-12 really doesn't have a true bona fide star cornerback going into the season, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Mitchell emerge as one of the conference's premier players at the position in 2012.

98. DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame

98 of 114

    Say what you will about Notre Dame's mediocre performances during coach Brian Kelly's first two seasons in South Bend, but at the very least give him credit for the success that he's had on the recruiting trail during his time with the Irish.

    Kelly has brought in some very highly touted prospects, and one of the biggest recruits he was able to land was DE Stephon Tuitt, a blue-chip 5-star talent out of Monroe, Georgia. Tuitt became an instant factor in Notre Dame's defensive end rotation last season, and he finished his first year with a respectable 30 total tackles, five quarterback hurries and two sacks.

    Now that fellow DE Aaron Lynch has decided to transfer to South Florida, Tuitt is set to take over the starting end spot opposite senior Kapron Lewis-Moore in 2012.

    While the Irish will undoubtedly miss Lynch, who led the team in sacks last season, it may not take long for Tuitt to help them get over the loss.

99. CB Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee

99 of 114

    It will probably be a long time before Tennessee fans see another Volunteer defensive back that can compare to former All-American safety Eric Berry. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't a few very skilled secondary players in Knoxville right now. 

    This year, Tennessee returns two talented defensive backs, cornerback Prentiss Waggner and safety Brian Randolph, who will compete for All-SEC honors. 

    After two solid seasons as a starter, Waggner will enter 2012 as the Tennessee secondary's true showcase player. 

    The 6'2'', 180-pound senior possesses the type of rare size-speed combination that will be sure to catch the attention of NFL scouts, and he's got the proven production out on the field to back up his intriguing measurables. 

    Over the past two years, Waggner has combined to rack up 105 stops, seven interceptions and 11 pass break-ups. 

    While he may not be the same elite caliber difference-maker that Berry was during his time at Tennessee, Waggner is clearly one of the top defensive backs in not just the SEC, but the entire country. 

100. S D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina

100 of 114

    South Carolina' defense will have to replace its leading tackler, safety Antonio Allen, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was the No. 10 overall pick in this year's NFL draft. However, the Gamecocks should still be in good shape in the secondary this year, especially with the return of safety D.J. Swearinger, who unlike Gilmore, put off jumping to the NFL to return to Columbia for one more season. 

    After recording 80 total stops in 2011, Swearinger is the team's leading returning tackler this year, and he should be right in the hunt to earn first-team All-SEC honors if he plays the way he's capable of. 

    The 6'0'', 210-pound senior will start at the free safety spot for the third year in a row for South Carolina's defense in 2012, and he should be ready to have his best season yet in his final campaign. 

    Swearinger is a true playmaker who has no trouble tracking the ball, and he's the type of steady and reliable presence that any secondary would be lucky to have. 

The Top 300: 101-125

101 of 114

    101. LB Daren Bates, Auburn

    102. DT Joe Vellano, Maryland

    103. CB Branden Smith, Georgia

    104. LB Max Bullough, Michigan State

    105. DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida

    106. S Tre Boston, North Carolina

    107. CB Tevin Mitchell, Arkansas

    108. DE Wes Horton, USC

    109. DT John Jenkins, Georgia

    110. CB Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma

    111. LB Jeremy Grove, East Carolina

    112. CB Ricardo Allen, Purdue

    113. DT Tim Jernigan, Florida State

    114. DE Damion Square, Alabama

    115. LB Demetrius Hartsfield, Maryland

    116. DT Anthony Johnson, LSU

    117. LB Will Compton, Nebraska

    118. DE Margus Hunt, SMU

    119. S Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern

    120. LB Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State

    121. DE Ryne Giddins, South Florida

    122. LB Ronald Powell, Florida

    123. DT Bruce Gaston, Purdue

    124. DE Nosa Eguae, Auburn

    125. DT Ashton Dorsey, Texas

The Top 300: 126-150

102 of 114

    126. LB Michael Clay, Oregon

    127. LB DeDe Lattimore, South Florida

    128. DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

    129. DE Anthony Chickillo, Miami

    130. LB Christian Jones, Florida State

    131. DE Marcus Rush, Michigan State

    132. DT Roosevelt Nix, Kent State

    133. LB James Morris, Iowa

    134. DT Jeffrey Whitaker, Auburn

    135. LB Zaviar Gooden, Missouri

    136. DT Vai Lutui, Kansas State

    137. LB Kenny Tate, Maryland

    138. DE Kareem Martin, North Carolina

    139. DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

    140. LB Jake Ryan, Michigan

    141. S Tevin McDonald, UCLA

    142. DT Beau Allen, Wisconsin

    143. S Terence Garvin, West Virginia

    144. LB Kenny Cain, TCU

    145. LB Jamie Collins, Southern Miss

    146. DT Jamarkus McFarland, Oklahoma

    147. LB Tariq Edwards, Virginia Tech

    148. DT Jordan Hill, Penn State

    149. S C.J. Barnett, Ohio State

    150. CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers

The Top 300: 151-176

103 of 114

    151. LB DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina

    152. S Eric Bennett, Arkansas

    153. LB Steve Greer, Virginia

    154. DT Baker Steinkuhler, Nebraska

    155. LB Jonathan Stewart, Texas A&M

    156. DT Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech

    157. LB Denzel Perryman, Miami

    158. DT Anthony Rashad White, Michigan State 

    159. DE Meshak Williams, Kansas State

    160. DE David King, Oklahoma

    161. CB Ciante Evans, Nebraska

    162. DE Josh Shirley, Washington

    163. CB Blake Countess, Michigan

    164. DT Taylor Hart, Oregon

    165. DT Scott Vallone, Rutgers

    166. LB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech

    167. DE Datone Jones, UCLA

    168. LB Derrick Matthews, Houston

    169. DT Adam Replogle, Indiana

    170. S Craig Loston, LSU

    171. DE Brad Madison, Missouri

    172. CB Terry Hawthorne, Illinois

    173. S Vaughn Telemaque, Miami

    174. LB Kiko Alonso, Oregon

    175. LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College

The Top 300: 176-200

104 of 114

    176. CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut

    177. S Terrance Bullitt, Texas Tech

    178. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State

    179. DE Devon Kennard, USC

    180. CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma

    181. LB Jordan Hicks, Texas

    182. CB Ryan Lacy, Utah

    183. DT Byran Jones, Arkansas

    184. S Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State

    185. LB Curt Maggitt, Tennessee

    186. DT Josh Boyd, Mississippi State

    187. DE Dominic Alvis, Iowa

    188. LB Patrick Larimore, UCLA

    189. DE Spencer Nealy, Texas A&M

    190. DE Abry Jones, Georgia

    191. LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

    192. DE Ben Gardner, Stanford

    193. DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina

    194. LB Mike Marry, Ole Miss

    195. LB Cornelius Washington, Georgia

    196. DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State

    197. S Tra’Mayne Bondurant, Arizona

    198. S Drew Frey, Cincinnati

    199. DT Aaron Tipoti, California

    200. DT Chris Jones, Bowling Green

The Top 300: 201-225

105 of 114

    201. LB Sam Barrington, South Florida

    202. S Eric Rowe, Utah

    203. DT Everett Dawkins, Florida State

    204. CB Aaron Hester, UCLA

    205. DE Justin Washington, Arizona

    206. DE Sean Progar, Northern Illinois

    207. LB Andrew Wilson, Missouri

    208. DT Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest

    209. DT Dominic Appiah, Boston College

    210. S Jahleel Addae, Central Michigan

    211. LB Glenn Carson, Penn State

    212. DT Khyri Thornton, Southern Miss

    213. LB Serderius Bryant, Ole Miss

    214. LB Corey Nelson, Oklahoma

    215. DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame

    216. LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson

    217. LB Tre Walker, Kansas State

    218. DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, North Carolina State

    219. DT Tyler Hoover, Michigan State

    220. LB Christian Kirksey, Iowa

    221. DT Elkino Watson, South Florida

    222. LB Shaun Lewis Oklahoma State

    223. DE Cameron Meredith, Nebraska

    224. CB Corey Broomfield, Mississippi State

    225. DT Dave Kruger, Utah

The Top 300: 225-250

106 of 114

    226. DE Toben Opurum, Kansas

    227. CB Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota

    228. CB Akeem Auguste, South Carolina

    229. LB Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers

    230. S Daimon Stafford, Nebraska

    231. LB Dwayne Beckford, Purdue

    232. LB Trevor Reilly, Utah

    233. LB Jonathan Willard, Clemson

    234. DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame

    235. S Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State

    236. CB Demetrious Nicholson, Virginia

    237. CB Jason Verrett, TCU

    238. S Jordan Kovacs, Michigan

    239. LB David Nwabuisi, Northwestern

    240. DE Quinton Dial, Alabama

    241. LB Josh Francis, West Virginia

    242. CB Tim Scott, North Carolina

    243. DT Omar Hunter, Florida

    244. CB Steve Williams, California

    245. LB Cameron Lawrence, Mississippi State

    246. S Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama

    247. DE Nigel Nicholas, Oklahoma State

    248. DT Maurice Couch, Tennessee

    249. LB Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut

    250. S Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

The Top 300: 251-275

107 of 114

    251. S Rashard Hall, Clemson

    252. CB J.T. Floyd, Michigan 

    253. DE Samuel Ukwuachu, Boise State

    254. S Sean Parker, Washington

    255. S Brian Blechen, Utah

    256. DE Collins Ukwu, Kentucky

    257. S Earl Wolff, North Carolina State

    258. CB Bryce Callahan, Rice

    259. DE Travis Johnson, San Jose State

    260. DT Terrence Stephens, Stanford

    261. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

    262. S Kemal Ishmael, Central Florida

    263. CB E.J. Gaines, Missouri

    264. LB Dyshawn Davis, Syracuse

    265. S Thomas Gordon, Michigan

    266. S Jon Lejiste, South Florida

    267. CB Bashaud Breeland, Clemson

    268. LB Jon Major, Colorado

    269. LB Trent Mackey, Tulane

    270. DT William Campbell, Michigan

    271. DE Deandre Coleman, California 

    272. LB Maalik Bomar, Cincinnati

    273. CB Travis Howard, Ohio State

    274. CB Marlon Pollard, Eastern Michigan

    275. LB Mike Rallis, Minnesota

The Top 300: 276-300

108 of 114

    276. S Anthony Watkins, Oregon State

    277. DT George Uko, USC

    278. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado

    279. CB D.J. Hayden, Houston 

    280. S Ross Rasner, Arkansas

    281. LB Junior Onyeali, Arizona State

    282. S Charles Sawyer, Ole Miss

    283. DT Casey Walker, Oklahoma

    284. CB Shaquille Richardson, Arizona 

    285. S Brian Randolph, Tennessee

    286. DE Ross Forrest, TCU

    287. S Jarred Holley, Pittsburgh

    288. S Cody Davis, Texas Tech

    289. LB Jake Holland, Auburn

    290. LB Alex Elkins, Oklahoma State

    291. S Calvin Pryor, Louisville

    292. CB Kayvon Webster, South Florida

    293. DT Jake McDonough, Iowa State

    294. DE Cassius Marsh, UCLA

    295. S Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State

    296. LB Preston Brown, Louisville

    297. LB Ja’Gared Davis, SMU

    298. S Ray Polk, Colorado

    299. DT Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State

    300. LB Jory Johnson, Connecticut

Other Defensive Tackles to Watch

109 of 114

    A.J. Francis, Maryland

    Anthony McCloud, Florida State

    Anthony Rogers, Oklahoma State

    Brandon Willis, UCLA

    Byron Bennett, Ole Miss

    Chase Rome, Nebraska

    Cortez Woods, Nevada

    Cory Grissom, South Florida

    Curtis Porter, Miami

    David Johnson, TCU

    Davon Coleman, Arizona State

    Donovan Carter, UCLA

    Donte Rumph, Kentucky

    Gabe Wright, Auburn

    Garrett Goebel, Ohio State

    Glenn Foster, Illinois

    Lucas Vincent, Missouri 

    Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech

    Jibreel Black, Michigan

    Jonathan Davis, Texas A&M

    Jordan Kohout, Wisconsin

    Jordan Stepp, Cincinnati

    Jorge Wright, West Virginia

    Josh Downs, LSU

    Kaleb Ramsey, Boston College

    Kenneth Carter, Auburn

    Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech

    Larry Black Jr., Indiana

    Levi Brown, Temple

    Michael Brooks, East Carolina

    Mike Purcell, Wyoming

    Ricky Heimuli, Oregon 

    Rob Lohr, Vanderbilt

    Roy Philon, Louisville

    Ryan Wirth, Connecticut

    Shawn Underwood, North Carolina 

    Sione Potoa’e, Washington

    Sione Tuihalamaka, Arizona 

    Stacy McGee, Oklahoma

    Steve Bigach, Iowa

    T.J. Barnes, Georgia Tech

    Victory Gray, Central Florida 

    Wade Keliikipi, Oregon

    Walton Taumoepeau, New Mexico State

    Will Hill, Virginia

    Will Pericak, Colorado

Other Defensive Ends to Watch

110 of 114

    Bobby Richardson, Indiana

    C.J. Johnson, Ole Miss

    Chris Smith, Arkansas

    Cooper Bassett, Oklahoma State

    Cornelius Carradine, Florida State

    Cory Dorris, Tulsa

    D.L. Wilhite, Minnesota

    Dan Giordano, Cincinnati

    Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech

    David Gilbert, Wisconsin

    Deion Barnes, Penn State

    Denico Autry, Mississippi State

    Desmond Floyd, Wake Forest

    Dylan Wynn, Oregon State

    Eric Martin, Nebraska

    Gary Mason Jr., Baylor

    Gerald Rivers, Ole Miss

    Izaan Cross, Georgia Tech

    Jake Dooley, Kent State

    Jake Snyder, Virginia 

    Jason Ankrah, Nebraska

    Jason Semmes, Miami (Ohio)

    Jeremiah Taylor, Marshall

    Jermauria Rasco, LSU

    Jesse Joseph, Connecticut

    Joe Kruger, Utah

    Kaleb Eulls, Mississippi State

    Kendrick Adams, LSU

    Kentarius Caldwell, Louisiana-Monroe

    Marcus Smith, Louisville

    Nathan Williams, Ohio State

    Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA

    Paipai Falemalu, Hawaii

    Pat Muldoon, Wisconsin

    Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky

    Quentin Williams, Northwestern

    Ryan Russell, Purdue

    Sean Stanley, Penn State

    Terrance Lloyd, Baylor

    Tourek Williams, FIU

    Troy Davis, Central Florida 

    Walker May, Vanderbilt

    Will Clarke, West Virginia

    Zach Thompson, Wake Forest

Other Linebackers to Watch

111 of 114

    A.J. Tarpley, Stanford

    Aaron Morris, Ball State

    Alvin Dupree, Kentucky

    Adrian Hubbard, Alabama

    Alex Means, Air Force 

    Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky

    Archibald Barnes, Vanderbilt

    Art Laurel, Hawaii

    Avery Williamson, Kentucky

    Brandin Hawthorne, Michigan 

    Brandon Ogletree, BYU

    Brandon Pittman, North Carolina State

    Bryce Hager, Baylor

    C.J. Malauulu, Kent State

    Cameron Nwosu, Rice

    Chase Hoobler, Indiana

    Chase Vasser, Georgia 

    Chris McCain, California

    Chris Norman, Michigan State

    Corico Hawkins, Clemson

    Dallas Bollema, New Mexico

    Dan Camporeale, California

    Dan Molls, Toledo

    Daniel Brown, Louisville

    Daniel Cobb, Texas Tech

    Deontae Skinner, Mississippi State

    Desmond Morgan, Michigan

    Doug Rigg, West Virginia

    Douglas Rippy, Colorado

    Dwayne Woods, Bowling Green

    Eric Kendricks, UCLA

    Etienne Sabino, Ohio State

    Feti Unga, Oregon State

    Geoffrey Bacon, Army

    J.C. Percy, Boise State

    Jacques Smith, Tennessee

    Jake Fely, San Diego State

    Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, Virginia Tech

    Jewone Snow, West Virginia

    John Timu, Washington

    Jonathan Davis, Central Florida

    Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA

    Justin Cudworth, Eastern Michigan

    Keanon Cooper, Minnesota

    Keith Smith, San Jose State

    Kelby Brown, Duke

    Khalil Mack, Buffalo

    Lamar Dawson, USC

    Lamin Barrow, LSU

    LaRoy Reynolds, Virginia

    Leighton Gasque, Middle Tennessee State

    Lerentee McCray, Florida 

    Lorne Goree, Maryland

    Marquis Spruill, Syracuse

    Matt Brewer, Navy

    Matt Marshall, Arkansas

    Matt Warrick, Navy

    Michael Doctor, Oregon State

    Michael Lanaris, South Florida

    Michael Mauti, Penn State

    Mike Gilliard, Georgia

    Nathan Herrold, Arkansas State

    Nick Moody, Florida State

    Nick Temple, Cincinnati 

    Pat Hinkel, Miami (Ohio)

    Perry McIntyre, Massachusetts 

    Phillip Steward, Houston

    Prince Shembo, Notre Dame

    Princeton Fuimaono, Washington

    Quandon Christian, Clemson

    Quayshawn Nealy, Georgia Tech

    Ramon Buchanan, Miami

    Randell Johnson, Florida Atlantic

    Rickey Dowdy, North Carolina State

    Rodney Chadwick, Baylor

    Scott Betros, Wake Forest

    Sean Fisher, Nebraska

    Shaq Wilson, South Carolina

    Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State

    Shawn Jackson, Tulsa

    Steele Divitto, Boston College

    Steve Edmond, Texas

    Steven Jenkins, Texas A&M

    Storm Klein, Ohio State

    Tajh Jones, LSU

    Tavaris McMillian, Utah State

    Taylor Reed, SMU

    Telvin Smith, Florida State

    Tenarius Wright, Arkansas

    Todd Thomas, Pittsburgh 

    Tony Steward, Clemson

    Travis Brown, Fresno State

    Travis Freeman, Ball State

    Trent Murphy, Stanford

    Trey Depriest, Alabama

    Tunde Bukare, Kansas

    Uona Kaveinga, BYU

    Vince Williams, Florida State

    Will Lucas, Purdue

    Winston Fraser, FIU

    Xzavier Dixon, Alabama

    Zach Orr, North Texas

Other Cornerbacks to Watch

112 of 114

    A.J. Bouye, Central Florida 

    Adrian Bushell, Louisville

    Andrew Green, Nebraska

    Antonio Marshall, Indiana

    Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame

    Brandon McGee, Miami

    Brodrick Jenkins, West Virginia

    C.J. Wilson, North Carolina State

    Camerron Cheatham, Cincinnati  

    Chris Davis, Auburn

    Darius Winston, Arkansas

    Dayonne Nunley, Miami (Ohio)

    Deion Belue, Alabama 

    Deron Wilson, Southern Miss

    Dexter McDougle, Maryland

    Duke Williams, Nevada

    Dustin Harris, Texas A&M

    Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut

    Floyd Raven, Texas A&M

    Ifo Ekpre- Olomu, Oregon

    Isiah Wiley, USC

    Jamar Taylor, Boise State

    Jaylen Watkins, Florida

    Jemarlous Moten, Louisiana-Lafayette

    Josh Johnson, Purdue

    K.J. Morton, Baylor

    K’Waun Williams, Pittsburgh

    Kenny Okoro, Wake Forest

    Leon McFadden, San Diego State

    Louchiez Purifoy, Florida

    Marc Anthony, California

    Marcus Cromartie, Wisconsin

    Melvin White, Louisiana-Lafayette 

    Osahon Irabor, Arizona State

    Pat Miller, West Virginia

    Sanders Commings, Georgia

    Sheldon Price, UCLA

    Stephon Morris, Penn State

    T'Sharvan Bell, Auburn

    Terrence Brown, Stanford

    Travis Carrie, Ohio

    Trey Wilson, Vanderbilt

    Tyree Toomer, Washington State

    Victor Hampton, South Carolina

    Xavier Brewer, Clemson

Other Safeties to Watch

113 of 114

    Ahmad Dixon, Baylor

    Alden Darby, Arizona State

    Avery Patterson, Oregon

    Bradley McDougald, Kansas

    Brandon Bishop, North Carolina State

    Brynden Trawick, Troy

    Chad Boyd, Louisiana Tech

    Christian Bryant, Ohio State

    D.J. Johnson, Texas Tech

    Darwin Cook, West Virginia 

    Demetruce McNeal, Auburn

    Deone Bucannon, Washington State

    Devon Carrington, Stanford

    Devonte Morgan, Akron

    Dexter McCoil, Tulsa

    Duron Harmon, Rutgers

    Eric Franklin, Maryland

    Gary Walker, Idaho

    Isaiah Johnson, Georgia Tech

    Jacques Washington, Iowa State

    Jamoris Slaughter, Notre Dame

    Javon Harris, Oklahoma 

    Jawanza Starling, USC

    Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech

    Jerry Gates, Bowling Green

    Jim Noel, Boston College

    Johnnie Simon, Western Michigan

    Jonathan Anderson, TCU

    Jonathan Meeks, Clemson

    Jonathan Cyprien, FIU

    Josh Evans, Florida

    Josh Hill, California

    Justin Gildea, Temple

    Karlos Williams, Florida State

    Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt

    Luke Ruff, Wyoming

    Marco Nelson, Tulsa

    Mark Murphy, Indiana

    Marquis Flowers, Arizona

    Martavius Neloms, Kentucky

    Orhian Johnson, Ohio State

    Sam Holl, Baylor

    Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

    Shelton Johnson, Wisconsin

    Supo Sanni, Illinois

    Tanner Miller, Iowa

    Thomas Holloway, Army

    Titus Till, Maryland

    Walt Canty, Duke

    Xavier Daniels, Texas State

    Zeke Motta, Notre Dame 

The Top 50 Impact Freshman Defenders

114 of 114

    Here’s a look at 50 incoming true freshman defenders who have a great chance to immediately make a name for themselves during the 2012 season. 

    DT Carlos Watkins, Clemson

    DT Donald Hopkins, Houston

    DT Eddie Goldman, Florida State

    DT Ellis McCarthy, UCLA

    DT Korren Kirven, Alabama

    DT Malcom Brown, Texas

    DT Sheldon Day, Notre Dame

    DT Jaleel Johnson, Iowa

    DE Arik Armstead, Oregon

    DE Aziz Shittu, Stanford

    DE Channing Ward, Ole Miss

    DE Darius Hamilton, Rutgers

    DE Devonte Fields, TCU

    DE Eli Harold, Virginia

    DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, Northwestern

    DE Javonte Magee, Baylor

    DE Kyle Kelley, Arizona

    DE Quay Evans, Mississippi State

    DE Mario Edwards, Florida State

    DE Noah Spence, Ohio State

    LB Darreon Herring, Vanderbilt

    LB Jonathan Bullard, Florida

    LB Keith Brown, Louisville

    LB Kwon Alexander, LSU

    LB Michael Barton, California

    LB Peter Jinkens, Texas

    LB Ronnie Feist, LSU

    LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, Michigan

    LB Schyler Miles, Kansas

    LB Scott Starr, USC

    LB Shakeel Rashad, North Carolina

    LB Torshiro Davis, Texas

    LB Vince Biegel, Wisconsin

    CB Amos Leggett, Marshall

    CB DeVante Harris, Texas A&M

    CB Ishmael Adams, UCLA

    CB Jeremy Davis, Central Florida

    CB Josh Holsey, Auburn

    CB Terry Richardson, Michigan

    CB Tracy Howard, Miami

    CB Yuri Wright, Colorado

    S Alex Carter, Stanford

    S Chaz Elder, South Carolina

    S Chris Santini, Boise State

    S Elijah Shumate, Notre Dame

    S Landon Collins, Alabama

    S Lucas Thompson, East Carolina

    S Nate Smith, Temple

    S Shaq Thompson, Washington

    S Travis Blanks, Clemson