The SEC's 25 best players: No. 8

The next player in our countdown is someone who wasn't necessarily on the radar in the preseason, but put together a stellar 2013 campaign in which he earned several honors.

No. 8: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri

2013 summary: Sam was a unanimous first-team All-American after a stellar season. He finished the year with 48 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, two pass breakups, nine quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. That led to a long list of honors, including SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and he was a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy and the Lombardi Award.

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

Making the case for Sam: Throughout the season, Sam was a relentless pass rusher who was tough to block. At the end of a magnificent turnaround season for Missouri, he was voted as the Tigers' most valuable player for the 2013 season. He had a five-game stretch when he was nearly unstoppable, racking up 10 of his sacks. He made an impact in the AT&T Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State. After being kept quiet for most of the night, he made the sack and forced the fumble that led to a 73-yard touchdown return by Shane Ray to secure the victory late in the game. He also tied Aldon Smith's single-season record for sacks at Mizzou.

The rundown:

No. 9: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M, Sr.

No. 10: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia, Sr.

No. 11: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn, So.

No. 12: Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU, So.

No. 13: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn, Sr.

No. 14: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia, So.

No. 15: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina, Jr.

No. 16: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU, Jr.

No. 17: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri, Jr.

No. 18: T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama, So.

No. 19: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU, Jr.

No. 20: Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss, Jr.

No. 21: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn, Jr.

No. 22: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, Jr.

No. 23: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, Sr.

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

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