The SEC's 25 best players: No. 3

The next player in our Top 25 countdown was thought to be undersized early in his career, but that knock proved insignificant as he developed into one of the best linebackers in the country.

No. 3: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama, Sr.

2013 summary: Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw. None of them did it. Mosley became the first linebacker in the Nick Saban era at Alabama to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons in 2013. He was a unanimous All-American with his team-leading 108 tackles, to go along with nine tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hurries and five pass breakups.

Most recent ranking: Ranked No. 8 in the 2013 preseason countdown

Making the case for Mosley: When he decided to come back for his senior season, it was a curious choice. Mosley was already a first-round talent, and his most obvious weakness -- his size at 238 pounds -- wasn’t something he was looking to fix. He’d return, he said, to prove that he could be an every-down linebacker.

And prove it he did. Mosley took his game to another level in 2013, matching his already consistent production with an unexpectedly fiery leadership style. The previously low-key linebacker morphed into a loud and flamboyant centerpiece of the defense, rallying his teammates late in games.

Mosley called all the plays and made all the checks for a defense that continued to rank among the best in the country. Despite losing five key starters from the season before, Alabama ranked in the top-15 nationally in all four major statistical categories: passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, points per game and total yards per game.

The rundown:

No. 4: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M, RS Soph.

No. 5: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama, Sr.

No. 6: Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina, Sr.

No. 7: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt, Sr.

No. 8: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri, Sr.

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.