The SEC's 25 best players: No. 24

Vanderbilt has been a breeding ground the last few years for outstanding defensive backs, and this next guy was one of the top safeties in the league.

No. 24: Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt, Sr.

2013 summary: Ladler finished second among SEC defensive backs with 91 total tackles. He also tied for second in the league with five interceptions, and his five forced fumbles tied for second nationally. Ladler was a first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press and a second-team All-SEC selection by the coaches.

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2013 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Ladler: A starter in the Commodores' secondary since his freshman season, Ladler blossomed this season into one of the more well-rounded safeties in college football. He'd always been a sure tackler, but improved tremendously as a pass defender this season. In fact, Ladler was the only player in the country (in the FBS ranks) with at least five interceptions and five forced fumbles. He developed a knack for stripping the ball and raking it loose. During a three-game stretch against Missouri, Georgia and Texas A&M, Ladler forced at least one fumble in each game. And then starting with the Texas A&M game, he had interceptions in four straight games. His consistency was what set him apart and was a big reason the Commodores finished in the top 25 nationally in total defense for the third straight season. Ladler owns the distinction of being the first Vanderbilt defensive back in history to lead the team in total and solo tackles for two seasons.

The rundown

No. 25: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Sr.