The SEC's best 25 players: No. 25

It's that time again, time for our preseason countdown of the top 25 players in the SEC for the 2012 season.

Today, we kick it off with No. 25.

This is always one of the hardest things we do in the SEC, trying to squeeze 40 great players into 25 spots. It's a given that you're going to leave great players and deserving players off the list. This year, it only became more difficult with Missouri and Texas A&M joining the league.

In coming up with our list, we talked to coaches in the league, other media members, NFL draft analysts and even a few players.

A few things to remember: This is not a list of who we think will be the top 25 draft prospects in the league this coming year. At the same time, it's not a career achievement honor, either.

It's our attempt to identify who we think will be the 25 best college football players in the SEC in 2012. Past performance matters, but we're also doing some projecting. We've also taken into account how a player impacts his team both on and off the field.

We'll do a postseason top 25 countdown in January or February that's based purely on how the players fared during the 2012 season.

There will be some misses. As ESPN "College GameDay" colleagues Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso reminded the college football world last year, we only had one LSU player (cornerback Morris Claiborne) on our 2011 preseason list. At the same time, of the top 10 SEC players picked in the first round of the NFL draft this past April, we had seven of them in our preseason top 25.

Enough of what happened last year. Let's get to our 2012 countdown:

No. 25: Matt Elam, S, Florida, Jr.

2011 summary: One of five Gators to play in and start in all 13 games. Elam finished the 2011 season as the team leader in tackles for loss (11), pass breakups (seven) and forced fumbles (two). He finished second on the team with 78 total tackles.

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2011 postseason countdown.

Making the case for Elam: He's versatile enough that he's played the nickel position for the Gators during his career, and he's also equally productive when it comes to run support. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Elam has terrific football instincts and is one of those players who anticipates the play before it happens. Coach Will Muschamp says Elam has that knack for knowing when a receiver is going to break off a route or when a running back is going to make a cut. Elam also has excellent ball skills, which explains why he's one of the Gators' best playmakers on defense. Florida returns a wealth of talent on defense, but having Elam's experience and skills on the back end, not to mention his leadership, could be what takes this defense to another level in 2012.