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Hightower picked as SEC's top defender

Some of Dont'a Hightower's stiffest competition for SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2011 might come from his Alabama teammates.

Fellow linebacker Courtney Upshaw is primed for a big season and so are safety Mark Barron and cornerback DeQuan Menzie. The fans, however, see Hightower as the overwhelming favorite for top defensive honors next season as voted on in our SportsNation poll.

The 6-4, 260-pound Hightower will again move around some in the Crimson Tide's 3-4 scheme and will be used as a pass-rusher on passing downs. He's also an entire season removed from a knee injury that forced him to miss all but four games in 2009. He'll be more explosive, more confident and more instinctive on his surgically repaired left knee after tearing ligaments two seasons ago.

In just about every case, players see the biggest jump in that second season following major knee surgery.

Hightower, who was second on Alabama's team last season with 69 total tackles, received 46 percent of the vote, and that's with more than 17,000 votes cast by fans. In second place was Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette with 16 percent of the vote, and right behind him was South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore with 15 percent. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne picked up 12 percent and Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan 11 percent.

Who was missing from the list of candidates in our poll? Several players who could easily emerge as the top defensive player in the league next season.

Some of those names, as forwarded along by the fans, include South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, Arkansas linebacker Jerry Franklin, Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and the three other Alabama players mentioned above.