Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Football is a copy-cat sport and dominant play in the secondary has become a must these days, as teams try to emulate the Seattle Seahawks' famed "Legion of Boom."
Multi-faceted defensive backs have become essential in today's college game as well.
Here are the top playmakers at the FBS level heading into 2014:
IFO EKPRE-OLOMU - A two-time All-Pac-12 first-team selection, a 2013 second- team All-American and 2012 third-team All-American, this 5-foot-10, 195-pound Oregon Duck could have been a late-first or early second-day draft pick a few weeks ago after posting 84 total tackles, five tackles for loss and three interceptions as a junior. Ekpre-Olomu may be on the lean side, but he has all the other traits NFL scouts love. An instinctive athlete who attacks the ball, the veteran DB has no problem getting physical in run support. He is the only returning starter from the Oregon secondary and will be more of a leader this fall. Honing his craft, expect Ekpre-Olomu to solidify first-round status, provided he stays healthy in 2014.
VERNON HARGREAVES III - The 5-11, 192-pound Hargreaves burst on the scene as a true freshman for Florida in 2013, starting the last 10 games of the season, recording three interceptions, a school-record 11 pass breakups (freshman record) and earning third-team All-America status, first-team All-Freshman All-America and being tabbed the national defensive freshman of the year. Son of former UConn great Vernon Hargreaves II, who won a national title at Miami in 2001 as a coach, football is definitely in the UF standout's blood. A shutdown corner with adequate size and above-average instincts, the sky is the limit for Hargreaves. The pros won't come calling this season, but rest assured, Hargreaves' phone number is on speed dial with many an NFL franchise.
QUANDRE DIGGS - Diggs (5-10, 200) was an impact player since his first season at Texas, earning Freshman All-America honors in 2011, while being tabbed the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. A two-time All-Big 12 selection (2011, 2013) and the younger brother of NFL cornerback Quentin Jammer, Diggs has now played in 39 career games, with 36 starts. As a junior in 2013, he recorded 58 total tackles with four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He can do a little bit of everything and is a physical run defender who plays with a bit of a mean streak. He needs to work on his technique in this last season at UT, but it wouldn't be surprising to see a first-round grade on him come next spring.
TIM BENNETT - The 5-9, 186-pound Bennett made a smooth transition from safety to cornerback for Indiana in 2013 and delivered a strong campaign, posting 73 total tackles and one interception, while leading the nation in pass breakups (20) and passes defended (21). He was named an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection as a result and enters 2014 as one of the conference's top players to watch. A physical player with great coverage skills, Bennett's stock will continue to rise, as long as opposing quarterbacks are foolish enough to throw his way.
KENDALL FULLER - Another youngster with a very bright future is Virginia Tech's 5-11, 195-pound Fuller. Frank Beamer's prized recruit didn't disappoint as a freshman, earning 2013 first-team Freshman All-America accolades, a spot on the 2013 All-ACC second team and was named the 2013 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. Fuller, finished his first season in Blacksburg, Virginia, with 58 total tackles and an impressive six interceptions. His interception total may go down in 2014, but that will be because offensive coordinators will game plan away from the lockdown cover corner.
HONORABLE MENTION: Trae Waynes (Michigan State), P.J. Williams (Florida State), Josh Shaw (USC), Jalen Mills (LSU) and Jacoby Glenn (UCF).
LANDON COLLINS - After coming off the bench as a freshman in 2012, Collins (6-0, 215) made the most of his opportunity to get on the field at Alabama, with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri missing time in the secondary. Collins finished second on the Crimson Tide roster in total tackles (70), with four tackles for loss, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. That kind of play should carry over into 2014, where Collins will be expected to be a leader in the secondary. A rising star in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Collins could prove to be the top player at his position come season's end.
DERRON SMITH - The 5-11, 200-pound Smith enters 2014 as the nation's active leader in career interceptions with 14. An obvious ball-hawk at Fresno State, he earned his second All-Mountain West first-team honor as a junior in 2013, finishing with 87 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks and seven interceptions (tied for second nationally). Ranking among the top defensive playmakers in the nation, Smith has two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the his career and 275 interception return yards (most among active players in the FBS). With 30 career starts under his belt, Smith is a true leader in the Fresno State secondary and should once again flourish in coverage this season.
KURTIS DRUMMOND - Michigan State's defense was one of the nation's best last season, and an ultra-talented secondary is one of the main reasons. Drummond (6-1, 200) was certainly an integral part of that, as he earned All-Big Ten first-team honors in 2013, while finding his name on a few All-America squads as well. Drummond finished second on the Spartans roster with a career-high 91 tackles and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. Great instincts in coverage and a willingness to come up and provide support in run defense, Drummond's stock should continue to rise this season.
SU'A CRAVENS - An All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection as a freshman in 2013, Cravens (6-1, 215) was named to several Freshman All-America squads following his first season at USC, where he recorded 52 total tackles with four interceptions in 13 starts. Extremely athletic, Cravens excelled on both sides of the football in high school and probably could do a little bit of both in the college ranks as well. However, after a strong debut campaign with the Trojans, he is probably going to stay put in the secondary. He has the talent to top this list in the very near future, considering he hasn't even reached his full potential yet.
CODY PREWITT - The 6-2, 212-pound Prewitt was the first Ole Miss safety to earn AP first-team All-America honors since 1973. He led the SEC with six interceptions in 2013, finishing the year with 71 total tackles and two forced fumbles as well. He also gained Sophomore All-America honorable mention honors in 2012 In the best conference in the country, Prewitt is a star, with the ability to make plays against the run and the pass. Another stellar campaign in Oxford, Mississippi, this season should earn him serious consideration as one of the top safeties selected in next year's NFL Draft.
HONORABLE MENTION: Anthony Harris (Virginia), Deon Bush (Miami-FL), Karl Joseph (West Virginia), Durell Eskridge (Syracuse) and Jordan Richards (Stanford).