The SEC's 25 best players: No. 5

For those of you keeping count, and I’m sure a few of you are, the No. 5 guy on our list of the SEC’s 25 best players is the third straight from defending national champion Alabama.

No. 5: Marcell Dareus, DE, Jr., Alabama

2009 numbers: Recorded 33 total tackles, including nine for loss, and led Alabama with 6.5 sacks.

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in preseason or postseason countdown for 2009.

Making the case for Dareus: Even though he’s started in only four games during his Alabama career, Dareus returns for the 2010 season as the top defensive lineman in the SEC. Per snap, he was the most productive defensive lineman on Alabama’s team last season and just seemed to have that knack for coming up with the big play. A defensive end in the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 scheme, the 6-foot-3, 306-pound Dareus is versatile enough to get to the quarterback whether he lines up outside or collapses the pocket from an inside position. He’s extremely athletic for his size, and the college football world saw just how athletic in the BCS National Championship Game last season. His 28-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first half included a nifty stiff arm and pirouette on his way to the end zone. And then earlier in the first half, he knocked out Texas quarterback Colt McCoy on his way to being named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player for the game. Those kind of performances will be routine for Dareus next season. He’ll get even more chances and will be a lot more instinctive in the Crimson Tide’s system. He has everything it takes to dominate games and is on a fast track to being a top-10 pick in the NFL draft.

The rundown

No. 6: Julio Jones, WR, Jr., Alabama

No. 7: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Jr., Alabama

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

No. 12: Stephon Gilmore, CB, So., South Carolina

No. 13: Kelvin Sheppard, LB, Sr., LSU

No. 14: Randall Cobb, WR/QB, Jr., Kentucky

No. 15: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Jr., Florida

No. 16: Mark Barron, S, Jr., Alabama

No.17: Darvin Adams, WR, Jr., Auburn

No. 18: Alshon Jeffery, WR, So., South Carolina

No. 19: D.J. Williams, TE, Sr., Arkansas

No. 20: Cliff Matthews, DE, Sr., South Carolina

No. 21: Clint Boling, OT, Sr., Georgia

No. 22: Greg Childs, WR, Jr., Arkansas

No. 23: Washaun Ealey, RB, So., Georgia

No. 24: Chris Marve, LB, Jr., Vanderbilt

No. 25: Luke Stocker, TE, Sr., Tennessee