The top two guys in our countdown ought to be pretty obvious by now.
No. 2: Morris Claiborne, CB/RS, LSU, Jr.
Preseason rank: No. 15
2011 summary: Claiborne, who decided to give up his final season to enter the NFL draft, finished third in the SEC with six interceptions and tied for the team lead with 12 passes defended. He had 51 total tackles and was fourth on LSU's team with 32 solo stops. Among those players with 20 or more kickoff returns, Claiborne was second in the SEC with a 25.1-yard average. He returned one 99 yards for a touchdown against West Virginia. He also had a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown against Georgia in the SEC championship game. Claiborne won the Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football and was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches. He was a consensus first-team All-American.
Why he's here: Patrick Peterson set the college football world on fire two years ago with his play at cornerback and returning punts. Claiborne followed in Peterson's footsteps and might have had an even better season. It remains to be seen who ends up being the better player, but the fact that Claiborne is even in the conversation tells you what kind of season he had in 2011. He was one of those corners that few teams challenged. And when teams did challenge him, they usually came away sorry that they did. His ability to lock down on receivers and take away one side of the field gave LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis the green light to bring the heat just about any time he wanted. Like all great players, Claiborne made big plays in big games. His 33-yard interception return in the first Alabama game was a huge turning point, and his 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against West Virginia came at a time when it looked like the Tigers might be on the ropes. Claiborne led the nation with 173 yards in interception returns. He was as electric with the ball in his hands as he was blanketing opposing receivers. Sound familiar? In short, it will be a long time before two cornerbacks as explosive and polished as Peterson and Claiborne come through the same school again in back-to-back years.
No. 3: Tyrann Mathieu, CB/RS, LSU
No. 4: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
No. 5: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
No. 6: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
No. 7: Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
No. 8: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
No. 9: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
No. 10: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
No. 11: Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky
No. 12: William Vlachos, C, Alabama
No. 13: Joe Adams, WR/RS, Arkansas
No. 14: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
No. 15: Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
No. 16: Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
No. 17: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
No. 18: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
No. 19: Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
No. 20: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
No. 21: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
No. 22: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
No. 23: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
No. 24: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
No. 25: Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn