Now we turn our attention to the defensive players in the SEC over the last five seasons who weren’t necessarily big names during the recruiting process, but wound up playing big where it counts – on the field:
DL Jamaal Anderson, Arkansas: Most recruiting services didn’t even rate him because he was a slow 205-pound receiver coming out of high school. He grew into a defensive end who led the SEC with 13.5 sacks in 2006 and was selected with the eighth overall pick of the 2007 NFL draft.
DL Antonio Coleman, Auburn: With all the sacks Coleman racked up during his career at Auburn, it’s hard to believe he was only a three-star prospect. However, he didn’t even weigh 220 pounds coming out of high school, which no doubt hurt his rating.
DL Malcolm Sheppard, Arkansas: A three-star prospect who chose among Arkansas, South Carolina and Southern Miss, Sheppard wasn’t ranked among the top prospects in the state of Georgia. All he did the last two seasons was lead SEC interior linemen with 24.5 tackles for loss.
DL Dan Williams Tennessee: Williams is another three-star prospect who may end up going in the first round of April’s NFL draft. When he came to Tennessee in 2005, he was considered by some to be the throw-in along with his higher-rated high school teammate, Malcolm Rawls.
LB DeMeco Ryans, Alabama: Ryans remains one of the top linebackers in the NFL and was the Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC as a senior at Alabama. But coming out of high school, he was a three-star prospect, and nearly 40 other linebackers were rated ahead of him nationally.
LB Patrick Willis, Ole Miss: Like Ryans, Willis is one of the top linebackers in the NFL. But he wasn't even seriously recruited by his home-state school, Tennessee, and instead went to Ole Miss, where he carved out a brilliant career. He was a two-time All-American and won the Butkus Award in 2006 as the nation's top linebacker.
LB Eric Norwood, South Carolina: He played high school football in Acworth, Ga., but wasn't recruited by Georgia. In fact, his only other visit besides South Carolina was to Oklahoma State. Norwood set the career sacks and tackles for loss record at South Carolina and earned All-SEC honors each of the last three seasons.
DB Javier Arenas, Alabama: Florida Atlantic and Florida International were battling it out for Arenas until Alabama decided to take him late. Not only did he become one of the most feared punt returners in college football history with seven taken back for touchdowns, but he developed into a first-team All-American at cornerback this past season.
DB Captain Munnerlyn, South Carolina: A two-star player whose finalists were Kansas State, West Virginia and South Carolina, Munnerlyn was both a productive cornerback and return specialist for South Carolina and just finished his rookie season in the NFL after turning pro early.
DB D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt: Clemson and South Carolina are both still wondering how they let Moore get out of state to the Commodores. Nobody questioned his athletic ability. They just questioned where he would play in college. It was an easy answer once he got to Vanderbilt. He developed into a two-time All-SEC selection at cornerback and is now in the NFL.
DB Rashad Johnson, Alabama: Johnson was such an unknown that he and his father sent out recruiting tapes to colleges just hoping to get a look. He ended up walking on at Alabama after turning down a scholarship offer to The Citadel and was a two-time All-SEC selection. Johnson intercepted 11 passes his last two seasons with the Crimson Tide.