Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Last week I highlighted the nation's best offensive players heading into the 2009 season, and where they rank in terms of Heisman potential. This week, we will look at the other side of the ball and touch on the top defenders in the country:
CARLOS DUNLAP, FLORIDA - The defending national champion Gators are stacked on the defensive side of the ball, and Dunlap is a big reason why. A complete down lineman, the 6-6, 290-pounder is a freak of nature who played in all 14 games for Florida last year, though he started just two. Still, Dunlap finished the season with 39 total tackles and led the Gators in both TFLs (13.5) and sacks (9.5). He was the Defensive MVP of the national title game and a Second-Team All-SEC selection in 2008, and that was as a sophomore.
GREG HARDY, OLE MISS - At 6-4, 265 pounds, this Rebel has created problems for the rest of the SEC for three years now. Heading into his senior season, Hardy is regarded as one of the top defensive lineman in the game, and has earned All-American accolades each of his first three years. Hardy has 32.5 TFLs and 21.5 sacks in his three-year career in Oxford, including 8.5 sacks a year ago, when he played in just nine games.
JERRY HUGHES, TCU - Yes, he plays in the Mountain West, but the 6-3, 260-pound Horned Frog dominated the competition in 2008 nonetheless, en route to being named a consensus All-American. The country's ultimate playmaker, Hughes led the nation in sacks (15.5) and forced fumbles (six), while ranking among the nation's best in TFLs (19.5). He added two interceptions and three fumble recoveries to his amazing stat line as well.
Carlos Dunlap is a freak of nature who played in all 14 games for Florida last year.|
GEORGE SELVIE, SOUTH FLORIDA - This Bull enters 2009 as the nation's active leader in career TFLs (61), and ranks second in career sacks (25.5). A consensus First-Team All-American in 2007 when he recorded a mind-boggling 31.5 TFLs and 14.5 sacks, Selvie had a down year in 2008, recording just 43 tackles, 13.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks. Expect a return to form for Selvie in 2009, as he will once again assert himself as one of the nation's premier pass rushers.
GERALD MCCOY, OKLAHOMA - This junior came into Norman a couple of years ago rated as perhaps the nation's top defensive prep star. He has not disappointed, earning All-American status (Second-Team) in 2008 as a sophomore. McCoy has good size for the interior of the line (6-4, 295) and led all Oklahoma interior lineman last year with 30 tackles, including 6.5 sacks. Expect even more opportunities for McCoy in 2009, as the Sooners will once again be among the nation's elite teams.
NDAMUKONG SUH, NEBRASKA - You may not be able to pronounce his name now, but if you watch Nebraska football next year, that will change. A rare athlete with plenty of size, power and speed, Suh (6-4, 305) will anchor the Cornhuskers' defensive front this season. He was named a Big 12 First-Team member in 2008, finishing his junior campaign with a whopping 76 tackles (first defensive lineman to lead the team in tackles since 1973), including 19 TFLs and 7.5 sacks.
TERRENCE CODY, ALABAMA - The 6-5, 365-pound monster came to Tuscaloosa last year from the juco ranks and made an immediate impact, despite having to work himself into the rotation along Alabama's defensive front. Cody played in 12 of the team's 14 games last year, finishing with 24 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. An immovable object in the middle, expect Nick Saban to utilize Cody much more in 2009.
BRANDON SPIKES, FLORIDA - Another of the nation's elite resides on the Florida roster in the form of Spikes. The 6-3, 245-pounder could have jumped ship for the NFL last season but decided to return to Gainesville for yet another national title run. Spikes is regarded as perhaps the top linebacker in the country and with good reason. He earned consensus First-Team All-American honors in 2008, finishing the year with 93 total tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks and four interceptions, returning two of them for TDs. This guy shows up every play and is one of the nation's top playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
SEAN WEATHERSPOON, MISSOURI - After posting 130 tackles in 2007, was it possible for this Tiger to improve on those numbers? Well, the answer is obviously yes, as Weatherspoon posted an eye-popping 155 tackles in 2008, with 18.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks, three INTs and two forced fumbles, en route to Third- Team All-American honors. Look for more of the same in 2009.
SERGIO KINDLE, TEXAS - A first-year starter in 2008, this Longhorn was impressive in a year that saw him earn All-American accolades after recording 53 tackles, 14 TFLs, 10.0 sacks and 15 QB pressures. At 6-4, 240 pounds, Kindle has prototypical size for the next level and his above-average pass rush ability makes him dangerous both with his hand on the ground or coming off the edge. He burst on the scene in 2008 and could see a rise in production this year.
ERIC BERRY, TENNESSEE - This Volunteer was named the SEC Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 and certainly didn't suffer a sophomore slump in 2008, leading the nation in interceptions (seven) and INT-return yards (265), picking up First-Team All-American honors along the way. A complete safety who is both a ball-hawk and aggressive tackler (72 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks in 2008), opposing offensive coordinators would be best served to steer clear from Berry.
TAYLOR MAYS, USC - A veteran in the USC defensive backfield, Mays is one of the nation's premier safeties. A two-time All-Amercan, he possesses great size (6-3, 230) and is one of the nation's hardest hitters. A First-Team All- American and Thorpe Award finalist in 2008, Mays finished the year with 53 tackles and a team-high nine PBUs. There isn't anything that the veteran Trojan hasn't seen, so expect big numbers in his senior campaign.
TREVARD LINDLEY, KENTUCKY - A two-time All-American, this Wildcat picked up Third-Team honors in 2008, leading the SEC with 11 PBUs, while recording four INTs. One of the nation's top cover corners, Lindley has great instincts and anticipation, jumping on routes and making big plays. Nothing should change in 2009.
JOE HADEN, FLORIDA - Yet another Gator on this list, Haden has evolved into one of the nation's elite cornerbacks. The 5-11, 190-pounder was the first true freshman to ever start at CB on opening day in Florida history back in 2007, and has placed a stranglehold on the job ever since, including 14 starts a year ago. Haden ranked second on the team in tackles in 2008 (87), with three INTs. A playmaker that thrives in big games (team-high 10 tackles in BCS title game, eight tackles, one INT in SEC Title game), the junior DB will once again pose problems for opposing QBs in 2009.
DEFENSIVE HONORABLE MENTION: Brandon Graham (DE, Michigan); Greg Romeus
(DE, Pitt); Everson Griffin (DE, USC); Antonio Coleman (LB, Auburn); Demarcus Granger (DT, Oklahoma); Jared Odrick (DT, Penn State); Sean Lee (LB, Penn State); Rolando McCain (LB, Alabama); Micah Johnson (LB, Kentucky); Navarro Bowman (LB, Penn State); Javier Arenas (CB, Alabama); Crezdon Butler (CB, Clemson); Kyle Wilson (CB, Boise State); Major Wright (S, Florida); Kam Chancelllor (S, Virginia Tech); Reshad Jones (S, Georgia); Ahmad Black (S, Florida).