Defensive back is one of the toughest positions in college football. A poor one can cause headaches for the team’s fans and highlights for one’s opponents. A good one can lock down a segment of the field, shut down an elite receiver, wreak havoc on a quarterback’s psyche, deliver devastating blows, make big plays, and create nightmares
This list is a breakdown of the top five in the country heading into 2013, and it is no coincidence that four of the top five are playing for the top four teams in the nation, according to the 2013 USA Today Coaches Poll. Moreover, not a single player on this list plays for team outside the top 25. These elite defenders will go a long way toward making sure their team ends the season where they started: at the top of the college football world.
1. S Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix 6’1″ 208 lbs. Alabama, Junior – Clinton-Dix, who goes by “Ha Ha,” is the quarterback of Alabama’s elite secondary. With five interceptions last season, and a monster game against Notre Dame (was there anyone for the Crimson Tide where that statement doesn’t apply?), the junior is coming off a stellar sophomore campaign. He is a sound tackler, and has an exceptional understanding of pass coverage, seeming to always be in the right place at the right time. The Tide’s free safety may not be the most explosive athlete on this list, but he covers a lot of ground and does not have any significant weaknesses. As he enters his junior season and an enhanced role in the defense, I expect rapid development from the safety under Nick Saban’s wing. Look for Clinton-Dix to be a standout for Alabama this season and a cornerstone of their three-peat hopes.
2. CB Bradley Roby, 5’11” 190 lbs. Ohio State, Junior – As a sophomore last season, Roby was a first team All-American according to ESPN.com and a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award. Exceptionally fast, the Buckeye may make more of an impact for what does not versus what actually does show up in the stat book as very few passes are likely to go in his direction. A smart player and a student of the game, Roby was arrested this off-season and will be suspended. Nevertheless, he is arguably the best defensive back based on pure talent and will likely be a first round pick next year.
3. CB Jason Verrett 5’10” 180 lbs. TCU, Senior– Last season Verrett was a first team All-American according to SI.com, reeled in six interceptions, and was second in the nation as he defended twenty-two passes. The Horned Frogs’ defender is always around the ball and plays with a competitive fire. He also plays with a physicality and knowledge of the game befitting an upperclassman who has been forced to find ways of compensating for a lack of size.
4. CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu 5’10” 190 lbs. Oregon, Junior– Perhaps the most dynamic defensive back on the list, Ekpre-Olomu recorded four interceptions and an incredible six forced fumbles last season for Oregon. Although his height is limited and his tackling needs some work, Ekpre-Olomu is physical and extremely athletic. A little on the raw side, the speedy Duck is the most likely of the five defenders to make a mistake but may also be the most likely to make something spectacular happen.
5. S Ed Reynolds 6’2″ 205 Stanford, Junior- Reynolds came one yard shy of breaking the NCAA record for interception return yards at 301 coming on six interceptions with three returned for touchdowns. Reynolds is not quite as stout against the run, but has a well earned reputation in coverage. His skills will be put to the test early and often as the Cardinals’ schedule features some top quarterbacks and offenses. If Stanford is to reach its national title goals, Reynolds will need to have a repeat of last season.
Honorable Mention: CB Aaron Colvin (Oklahoma), CB Marcus Roberson (Florida), S Lamarcus Joyner (Florida State), S Craig Loston (LSU), CB Loucheiz Purifoy (Florida)
Follow Cole Muzio on Twitter @ColeMuzio for more college football analysis.