August 16, 2005

Big hitters, cover specialists are back

Defensive back is one of the deepest and most talented positions in the nation this season. Some of the most feared hitters and best one-on-one cover men turned down a chance to play in the pros to create some victims at the college level for one more year.

Cornerbacks and safeties from the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Conference USA, Pac-10 and the SEC all were selected to Rivals.com's list of the top 10 defensive backs.

1. Charles Gordon (Kansas)

Cornerbacks who play on losing teams rarely get much recognition. But this 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior was a lock for the All-Big 12 first team and even received votes for the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award despite the Jayhawks' 4-7 record last season.

Gordon simply made too many big plays to get ignored. He hauled in seven interceptions, a number that tied for most in the nation and the most by any Jayhawk since 1951. He also kept several receivers from making any yards after the catch and proved to be a dangerous punt returner and valuable receiver for the second consecutive season.

A similar performance in 2005 and some improvement from his teammates might just transform the dynamic playmaker into a household name this fall.

2004 stats: Seven interceptions, eight pass breakups, 57 tackles (32 solo), 15 catches, 150 receiving yards, blocked punt.

2. Jimmy Williams (Virginia Tech)

Meet the nation's biggest cornerback. At 6-3, 216 pounds, Williams resembles a linebacker and is bigger than most NFL receivers.

An imposing physical specimen, the senior is remarkably agile and athletic. That was most evident last season when he made the move from free safety to corner and excelled, leading the ACC with five interceptions and tying for third on his team in tackles.

With Williams being the only returnee in the Hokies secondary, quarterbacks will throw less to his side of the field, but he still will find a way to make an impact and be a first-round pick.

2004 stats: Five interceptions, 37 tackles (23 solo).

3. Darnell Bing (USC)

No defensive back may have more NFL appeal than this 6-2, 220-pound junior who was ranked as Rivals.com's No. 3 safety from the class of 2002. Blessed with the prototypical build to play on the back line of a pro defense, he hits hard and moves extraordinary well for someone with his size.

He started as a true freshman and after undergoing shoulder surgery in the spring will have his first chance at being the leader of the Trojans defense this fall.

2004 stats: 63 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, two interceptions, seven passes defended.

4. Jason Allen (Tennessee)

Receivers from around SEC were hit with two bad pieces of news from Allen just days after the end of last season. Not only did he change his mind and choose to return for his senior season, but he also announced he would be moving back to cornerback.

Playing out of position as a safety in 2004, he was the first non-linebacker to lead the Volunteers in tackles since 1970, and he is poised to make an even bigger impact. At 6-2, 202 pounds, he will be among the biggest corners in the league and has the size and athleticism to match up with anyone.

2004 stats: 123 tackles (88 solo), two interceptions, seven pass breakups, three tackles for loss, two sacks.

5. Michael Huff (Texas)

It seems as if this 6-1, 205-pound senior has been in Austin since the start of the Mack Brown era in 1998. The most experienced player in an extremely talented Texas defense, he has started 37 games - mostly at safety - and has collected at least 66 tackles in each of the last three seasons.

Huff, who may play corner in the NFL, excels in coverage and has returned four interceptions for touchdowns, needing to return just one more to tie the NCAA record. If he can become a better tackler, he will increase his draft status and keep the Longhorns in the hunt for a national title.

2004 stats: 73 tackles (50 solo), 14 pass breakups, two interceptions.

6. Anthony Reddick (Miami)

This is most likely the biggest surprise on the list, but Reddick will show why he will be compared to Miami's great safeties of the past soon.

As a true freshman in 2004, the 6-foot, 197-pounder beat out a handful of veterans to crack the starting lineup of one of the nation's most talented secondaries by midseason and made some big plays down the stretch.

With a full season of starts looming ahead and a collection of physical gifts, he has a chance to make an impact similar to what Ed Reed and Sean Taylor did for the Hurricanes.

2004 stats: 73 tackles (27 solo), nine tackles for loss, one interception.

7. John Eubanks (Southern Miss)

Haven't heard of Eubanks yet? That will change soon, especially for fans in the South. With four Golden Eagles games on national television and trips to Alabama and North Carolina State, several college football fans will be introduced to the electrifying senior.

A shutdown corner, the 5-11, 175-pounder often takes the opponent's top receiver out of the game. He is also one of the nation's top kick returners.

2004 stats: 47 tackles (31 solo), three interceptions, nine pass breakups.

8. Nate Salley (Ohio State)

The return of this veteran answers several of Jim Tressel's defensive concerns. The 6-3, 220-pound senior will be a three-year starter this fall and gives the coach one of the biggest and most experienced safeties in the nation.

More importantly, the vicious hitter has fully recovered from a shoulder injury that kept him out of two games and limited his effectiveness down the stretch last season. He will allow the Buckeyes to take more risks and provide an extra weapon if ball-carriers can manage to get past A.J. Hawk and company up front.

2004 stats: 55 tackles (26 solo), two interceptions.

9. Ashton Youboty (Ohio State)

If coaches were facing a big-name receiver for one game and could pick anyone to cover him this 6-1, 188-pound junior would get some votes, especially in the Big Ten.

A former understudy to Chris Gamble, the speedy star tied for the league lead with four picks in his first season in the starting lineup in 2004, and proven receivers struggled to create much separation when matched up against him.

2004 stats: 61 tackles (47 solo), four interceptions.

10. LaRon Landry (LSU)

Believe the hype when it comes to this 6-2, 187-pound junior. Ranked the No. 5 prospect in Louisiana from the class of 2003 according to Rivals.com, he has already reached, if not exceeded the big expectations that surrounded him when he arrived on campus.

Landry started immediately and has put together two solid seasons. He has developed a reputation as one of the most feared hitters in the SEC. With the loss of Corey Webster and Travis Daniels, his ability will be tested more than ever now.

2004 stats: 92 tackles (53 solo), four interceptions, five tackles for a loss, three sacks.


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