The SEC's 25 best players: No. 9

The No. 9 guy on our countdown emerged as the SEC’s pre-eminent pass-rusher last season:

No. 9: Justin Houston, OLB, Jr., Georgia

2010 numbers/honors: Second in the SEC in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (18.5). Led Georgia with 44 quarterback hurries and was third on the team with 67 total tackles. A first-team All-America selection by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and a second-team All-America selection by the Associated Press and Walter Camp. A consensus first-team All-SEC selection:

Preseason ranking: Not ranked in the 2010 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Houston: He followed up his breakout sophomore season with an even better junior season and heads to the NFL a year early with 17.5 sacks over his past two seasons. The 6-3, 260-pound Houston was a natural as an outside linebacker coming off the edge in the Bulldogs’ 3-4 defense last season and made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. But he also became much more than just a pass-rusher, as evidenced by the fact that he was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is presented annually to the top defensive player in college football. Teams did their best to slow down Houston, whether it was putting an extra man on his side or double-teaming him, but he was a fixture in the opposing backfield all season long. He did his best work in SEC games, leading all league players with eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. And against arch-rival Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale, Houston had an interception and also returned a fumble 18 yards for a touchdown.

The rundown

No. 10: Arkansas RB Knile Davis

No. 11: Georgia WR A.J. Green

No. 12: LSU DT Drake Nevis

No. 13: Auburn OT Lee Ziemba

No. 14: LSU LB Kelvin Sheppard

No. 15: South Carolina DE Devin Taylor

No. 16: Florida S Ahmad Black

No. 17: Arkansas TE D.J. Williams

No. 18: Alabama S Mark Barron

No. 19: Florida CB Janoris Jenkins

No. 20: Mississippi State LB Chris White

No. 21: LSU RB Stevan Ridley

No. 22: Mississippi State OT Derek Sherrod

No. 23: Alabama DE Marcell Dareus

No. 24: Kentucky LB Danny Trevathan

No. 25: Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw