The SEC's 25 best players: No. 7

If this next guy in our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best players hadn’t been injured last season, he might be even higher on this list.

No. 7: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Jr., Alabama

2009 numbers: Recorded 16 tackles, including four for loss, in his first four games before being injured. Also had a sack.

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in preseason or postseason countdown for 2009.

Making the case for Hightower: Because he played in only four games last season, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Hightower might be off the radar for some people. But he rehabilitated like a mad man from a left knee injury that cut short his sophomore season and was back out there going through contact this spring. Alabama coach Nick Saban thought Hightower was the best linebacker prospect in the country when he signed him, and if he stays healthy next season, Hightower will prove just how good he really is. A first-team Freshman All-American two years ago, Hightower became one of only 11 true freshmen in Alabama history since 1972 to start the season opener. He’ll move over to the middle linebacker position in 2010 to take over for Rolando McClain, but is also one of the Crimson Tide’s best pass-rushers. He’ll play the Jack linebacker rush position on passing downs and is one of those players offensive coordinators want to know where he is on every down. Hightower’s knee injury was a serious one. He tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus, but looked like his old explosive self in the spring. The real test will be this fall. If he is indeed all the way back, the Crimson Tide could be looking at their second consecutive Butkus Award winner.

The rundown

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

No. 12: Stephon Gilmore, CB, So., South Carolina

No. 13: Kelvin Sheppard, LB, Sr., LSU

No. 14: Randall Cobb, WR/QB, Jr., Kentucky

No. 15: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Jr., Florida

No. 16: Mark Barron, S, Jr., Alabama

No.17: Darvin Adams, WR, Jr., Auburn

No. 18: Alshon Jeffery, WR, So., South Carolina

No. 19: D.J. Williams, TE, Sr., Arkansas

No. 20: Cliff Matthews, DE, Sr., South Carolina

No. 21: Clint Boling, OT, Sr., Georgia

No. 22: Greg Childs, WR, Jr., Arkansas

No. 23: Washaun Ealey, RB, So., Georgia

No. 24: Chris Marve, LB, Jr., Vanderbilt

No. 25: Luke Stocker, TE, Sr., Tennessee