Had Senior Bowl week been factored into the countdown, this next player could have made a case for the top five. Even still, he was one of the most dominant pass rushers in the SEC this season.
No. 13: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn, senior
2013 summary: After missing the first two games with a knee injury, Ford returned with a chip on his shoulder. He recorded seven sacks in his first seven games back and finished the season with 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He was a first-team All-SEC selection and a major reason why Auburn reached the VIZIO BCS National Championship game.
Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2013 preseason countdown
Making the case for Ford: As was the case for most of the Auburn players this season, Ford played his best games on the biggest stage. When the Tigers traveled to Kyle Field to take on No. 7 Texas A&M, Ford sacked quarterback Johnny Manziel twice in the final minute to preserve a victory. Against Georgia, he was in the backfield all night and forced a incompletion on the game’s final play with one of his six quarterback hurries. In the BCS title game, he led an inspired effort from the defensive line and finished with a pair of sacks. Talent-wise, Auburn’s defense was lacking. It would’ve been ranked toward the bottom of the SEC, but it was a unit that made just enough plays in big moments to keep the magical season alive. Ford was a prime example. He was never the most talked-about player. He wasn’t a high-profile recruit coming out of high school. Yet he always seemed to outperform his expectations. It should come as no surprise that he went to the Senior Bowl last week and put on a clinic against the top seniors. Now, the skinny, unranked defensive end from Odenville, Ala., is a potential first-round draft pick.