But 2011 is no different, the conference will feature some top defensive players come September and I will name my (personal) top 5 defensive players of 2011, and what kind of impact they could make.
1. Dont'a Hightower - Linebacker - Alabama Crimson Tide
Hightower has the size of a typical defensive lineman (6'4 260) but also has explosive speed of a running back. Injuries have slowed down this monster for the last two seasons, but 2011 should be the year where he will get to navigate a Bama defense on their quest for another National Championship. The middle linebacker is one of the most important positions on defense, and Hightower will bolster an already stout 'Bama defense.
Hightower will be key to how good 'Bama will be this year on defense. The Tide needs to try their hardest to keep this guy healthy the whole year.
2. Stephon Gilmore - Cornerback - South Carolina Gamecocks
In 2010, South Carolina struggled mightily against the pass, but Stephon Gilmore was a bright spot in a poor secondary. Gilmore has started every game for the Cocks ever since he got to Columbia and has performed at a high level ever since. The Cocks are looking to make a title run in 2011, and Gilmore will lead a secondary that will hope to improve along the way.
In 2011, the 6'1 190 pound prospect finished with three interceptions and 79 tackles and solidified himself as the best corner in the SEC.
3. Courtney Upshaw - Linebacker - Alabama Crimson Tide
There isn't a bigger Upshaw fan (who's also an Auburn fan) than me. The sky is the potential with this slugger who is a whopping 6'2 265 pounds. He has an NFL linebacker body already, and is currently playing at a high level, which should get him 1st round honors in the 2012 NFL draft.
Upshaw led Bama in sacks in 2011 with 7 and also notched 14.5 tackles to go with that. He has every trait you want in a linebacker. He can rush the passer, and penetrate the backfield better than most players in the SEC. Upshaw thrives in Saban's 3-4 defense, and will be another player key to Bama's national title run in 2011.
4. Danny Trevathan - Linebacker - Kentucky Wildcats
This is one guy that doesn't get much press, since he plays for basketball powerhouse Kentucky. But that doesn't make his impact any less stronger. Last year, Trevathan led the conference in tackles with a whopping 144. 16 of those tackles were for loss, and also had forced 4 fumbles.
Trevathan should be getting more press for his efforts regardless of what team he plays for. Never the less he will end up being a pretty high draft pick for whichever lucky NFL team gets this stud.
5. Mark Barron - Safety - Alabama Crimson Tide
Barron is the third defensive player from Bama on this list, how can this be? Well they have a talented bunch in Tuscaloosa I'm afraid.
Mark Barron is entering his 3rd year as a starter in the Tide secondary and after a solid last two years, he hopes to top it off with a final impact before he departs for the NFL. Barron could have entered the draft in 2011, but elected to stay after getting injured at the end of the season against Auburn.
Barron is 6'2 220 and has the frame to be a solid NFL safety. Barron (in fairness) is mistake prone but another season under Nick Saban can help correct this and turn him into a solid and consistent prospect for the 2012 NFL draft.
Barron is a hard-hitter in the secondary, and will lead the
same group of guys in 2011 on their quest for another crystal ball. If Barron can stay healthy, he can be the best safety in the country and a first-round pick in 2012.
The SEC will continue to feature some of the best defensive players in the country yet again and all of which are set up for stellar 2011 campaigns. The conference had 3 defensive players go in the first round of last years draft (Patrick Peterson, Marcel Dareus, Nick Fairley).
The tradition of SEC defensive players going in the first round every year won't come to a halt any time soon.