Top 25 player countdown: No. 17

No. 17. Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson

2011 stats: He had 41 knockdowns in a school-record 1,044 snaps over 14 starts. He was second on the team in knockdowns and led or tied for the team lead among offensive linemen in snaps every game.

Previous ranking: Not ranked

Making the case for Freeman: His durability, leadership and experience are unquestioned. He was one of six finalists for the Rimington Trophy last year, and a first-team All-ACC selection. Freeman has also played some of his best games against the best competition. He was in on all 94 snaps against Auburn last year and had four knockdowns. He was named the team’s offensive player of the game after the regular-season win over Virginia Tech, and he graded 89 percent against Georgia Tech. He graded 91 percent with five knockdowns against the Hokies in the ACC championship game. Freeman will play a vital role for the Tigers’ offensive line this year, as he is only one of two returning starters.