Big Ten rankings: No. 9, Jonathan Brown

Our Big Ten Top 25 player countdown has reached the single digits, bringing us closer to the top each day.

Remember, these rankings reflect past performance and potential for the 2012 season. The next guy went from under-the-radar this time a year ago to one of the preseason favorites for 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors:

No. 9: Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois, junior, 6-foot-1, 235 pounds

2011 postseason rank: Not ranked

2011 numbers: Led Illinois with 108 tackles, ranked sixth nationally in tackles for loss with 19.5 and registered six sacks. Named second-team All-Big Ten by the media.

Why he's here: A high motor, speed and a little bit of recklessness helped Brown achieve a breakout season as a sophomore. He had some huge performances, including the Arizona State (3.5 tackle for loss, interception) and Ohio State (17 tackles, 1.5 sacks) games. Only teammate and Hendricks Award winner Whitney Mercilus had more tackles for loss in the Big Ten, and Mercilus got to line up a whole lot closer to the line of scrimmage. But Brown covers a whole lot of ground in a hurry.

Brown incurred a one-game suspension for an unsportsmanlike hit against Northwestern last year, but that was early in his first year as a starter. Expect a more mature player this season, and one who understands the game even better. Add that to his motor, speed and recklessness, and it could be a devastating combination.

The countdown

No. 25: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska

No. 24: MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota

No. 23: Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue

No. 22: Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin

No. 21: Jared Abbrederis, WR/KR, Wisconsin

No. 20: Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State

No. 19: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

No. 18: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State

No. 17: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State

No. 16: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois

No. 15: Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB, Michigan

No. 14: Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State

No. 13: James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa

No. 12: Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

No. 11: Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State

No. 10: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan