Ranking the Top 25 Big 12 players: No. 25

The official list of the Big 12's top 25 players is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we're revealing the list day by day here on the blog. Here's a refresher on my exact criteria.

No. 25: Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri

2010 numbers: Made 84 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He also broke up five passes and intercepted two.

Most recent ranking: Gooden was unranked in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Gooden: The Tigers linebacker quietly broke out last season in his first season as a major contributor. He's got an interesting balance of accomplishment and potential heading into 2011. He was second on the team in tackles last year, but figures to be one of the top playmakers on a solid Tiger defense this season.

Players like Gooden, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker with speed that ranges from 4.3 to 4.5 (depending on who you believe), are rare and extremely valuable in the Big 12, where speed is a must on defense. He can rush the passer but be equally effective in coverage. His technique is nowhere near that of a guy like Texas A&M's Von Miller, but his physical skill set is somewhat similar, and allows him to make plays a lot of other guys in this league just can't.

The Tigers defense pitched a pair of shutouts in conference play last season, and Gooden was a big reason why. He broke out on the field last year, but still enters 2011 as a relative unknown on the national stage or even the conference stage. That could change very fast, especially if Missouri racks up some wins early in the season.