Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - They are tasked with shutting down the top offensive weapons in the game and relish in the fact that they are often the only thing standing in the way of an opponent and the end zone.
Here are the top defensive backs heading into the 2013 season.
BRADLEY ROBY (Ohio State): It wasn't the national champion Crimson Tide, but rather the Buckeyes that went through their 2012 season undefeated. The defense had a role in that, highlighted by the play of 5-foot-11, 192-pound Roby. As a sophomore in 2012, Roby led the nation in passes defended (19), setting the OSU single-season record with 17 pass breakups. He finished the season with 63 total tackles, two interceptions and one sack. Roby was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, was tabbed a Second-Team All-American and a First-Team All-Big Ten honoree. He is great in man-to-man coverage with speed to burn (4.3 in the 40) and is an instinctual player with great timing. Another productive year in Columbus could separate him from the rest of the field.
JASON VERRETT (TCU): The former junior college cornerback has solidified himself as one of the top performers at the FBS level, as the 5-10, 176-pound Verrett found himself on numerous All-America lists in 2012, including Third- Team honors from the AP. As a junior in 2012, Verrett was the only player in the nation to finish in the top 10 in both interceptions (6) and pass breakups (16), adding 63 total tackles, earning a spot on the All-Big 12 First-Team. An extremely confident player, Verrett reads and reacts as good asany cornerback in the nation. Impeccable footwork and timing help in terms of his ball- hawking skills. He certainly showed off NFL potential as a junior. Continued production will only enhance his draft stock.
IFO EKPRE-OLOMU (Oregon): The 5-10, 190-pound Ekpre-Olomu burst on the scene in 2012 as a first-year starter, posting 63 tackles, four interceptions, six forced fumbles and 16 PBU as a sophomore, earning All-Pac-12 First-Team honors. This Oregon Duck won't blow you away with blinding speed, but he does possess great ball-hawking skills and isn't afraid to play physical. Consistency is the key with Ekpre-Olomu, who needs to play within himself (avoid careless penalties). He should be more comfortable in his second season as a starter and will need to elevate his game even higher, as he will be called upon to be more of a leader on defense for an Oregon unit that will need it.
LOUCHEIZ PURIFOY (Florida): One of the top athletes in the entire country, the 6-1, 185-pound Purifoy will get the opportunity to showcase his versatility in 2013, as he could very well see playing time in every phase of the game. He will start at cornerback for the Gators, but could play a little wide receiver if the Gators need him to, as well as remain a special teams star. Last season, Purifoy finished with 51 total tackles, five pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. A terrific athlete with above-average speed, Purifoy could elevate himself to the top of the cornerback list come draft time.
AARON COLVIN (Oklahoma): The 6-0, 181-pound Colvin has played both cornerback and safety at Oklahoma during his career in Norman. After playing cornerback in 2010, he moved to free safety in 2011, leading the Sooners in tackles with 84 stops. He moved back to cornerback in 2012 and finished his junior season with 52 total tackles, two sacks and four interceptions, en route to All-Big 12 First-Team honors. With solid man-coverage skills, Colvin could find himself among the 32 first-round selections in next year's NFL draft, provided he continues to produce for the Sooners in 2013.
HONORABLE MENTION: Bennett Jackson (Notre Dame), Marcus Roberson (Florida), Deshavor Everett (Texas A&M).
ED REYNOLDS (Stanford): The 6-2, 205-pound Reynolds stood out on a very good Stanford defense a year ago, earning Third-Team All-America honors after recording 37 tackles and six interceptions, the most by a Stanford player since Jim Kaffen (7) in 1973. He also returned three of those picks for touchdowns and set the school record for interception return yards (301), just one yard shy of the NCAA record, set in 1974 (USC's Charles Phillips). With good size and speed and a penchant for big plays, along with Stanford's potential in the front seven, Reynolds could be in for another huge season on the Farm.
HAHA CLINTON-DIX (Alabama): Plenty of hype surrounded the arrival of Clinton- Dix in Tuscaloosa, as the top safety coming out of high school in 2011, showed flashes of brilliant play in the Crimson Tide secondary in 2012. As a sophomore, the 6-1, 208-pounder was a platoon player in the defensive backfield, but still posted 37 tackles, with five interceptions and one forced fumble. His last interception came in the national title game against Notre Dame, as Clinton-Dix was as instrumental in Alabama's defensive dominance against the Irish as anyone. Carrying that momentum into 2013 shouldn't be a problem, as Clinton-Dix has the size, speed and big play ability to become Alabama's next star defensive back, following in a long list of first-round draft picks.
KENNY LADLER (Vanderbilt): The 6-1, 205-pound Ladler has gotten better with each passing season in Nashville and is regarded as one of the top defensive backs in the SEC heading into 2013 as a result. As a junior in 2012, Ladler led Vanderbilt in tackles with 90, with 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack and two interceptions. A hard-nosed player with a knack for being around the ball, expect more of the same for Ladler this season, which in turn, should find him extremely attractive to would-be NFL suitors come next spring.
CRAIG LOSTON (LSU): A preseason-First-Team All-SEC selection in 2013, The 6-2, 205-pound Loston earned All-SEC Second-Team honors a year ago, finishing with 55 total tackles and three interceptions. LSU will be seeking defensive leaders this year, and Loston seems tailor-made to fill the void. The Tigers have continually turned out top NFL prospects in the secondary recently and Loston may just be the next in line. A seasoned veteran with a great grasp of the defensive scheme in Baton Rouge, Loston's ability to anticipate and make plays could garner him plenty of accolades come season's end.
DION BAILEY (USC): The 6-0, 200-pound Bailey will make a position change in 2013 as USC switches its defensive scheme. A starter at linebacker this last two seasons, Bailey finished third on the team in tackles in 2012 (80), while showing great anticipation and ball-hawking skills in pass coverage, recording a team-high four interceptions. He was a 2011 Freshman All-American in his first season with the Trojans and hasn't looked back. A terrific player in space, Bailey could find his niche at safety in 2013, elevating the entire USC defense along the way.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ty Zimmerman (Kansas State), Tre Boston (North Carolina), Vinnie Sunseri (Alabama).