The SEC's top 25 players: No. 3

Not only did this next guy have a catchy nickname, but he was a master at taking the ball away from foes and coming up big on special teams.

No. 3: Tyrann Mathieu, CB/RS, LSU, So.

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2011 summary: Mathieu tied for the team lead with 76 total tackles and led all LSU players with 59 solo tackles. He had 7.5 tackles for loss and also intercepted two passes. Mathieu's six forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries led the SEC. He scored four touchdowns -- two on fumble returns and two on punt returns -- and averaged 15.6 yards on punt returns. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, and won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player. Mathieu was also selected as the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press, and earned consensus All-America honors.

Why he's here: Talk about the ultimate stat stuffer on defense. For that matter, talk about the ultimate playmaker on defense. Mathieu was always around the ball and always in position to make plays at key times in the game. He wasn't a premier cover cornerback, and there were some who knocked him for that. But as the nickel/rover in LSU's defense, he was as good as it gets. He was able to roam and make plays, which is what he does best. Showing his versatility, he even played safety in one game. And on special teams, he was a force no matter which unit he was on. He turned both the Arkansas and SEC championship games around with electrifying punt returns for touchdowns, and also scored a defensive touchdown against Oregon in the opener. It was a memorable season for the Honey Badger, who was only playing his second year of college football. Had he played better in the two games against Alabama and not been suspended for the Auburn game, he could have easily been No. 1 in our countdown.