Winfield might be the most underrated defensive back in the history of all levels of football. The consensus All-American helped Ohio State win 43 games in four years and nearly (or should have) played in the first BCS National Championship game in 1998. He was given the Thorpe and Tatum honors as a senior as the nation’s top defensive back before being selected 23rd overall in the 1999 NFL Draft.
9. Champ Bailey, DB
From a versatility standpoint, few have ever been as explosive and dynamic as Champ Bailey. He was a lockdown cornerback, an elite return man and a dangerous wide receiver. His senior season — the only year he played during the BCS Era — Bailey posted 52 tackles and three interceptions on defense and caught 47 passes for 744 yards and five scores on offense. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC pick and won the Nagurski Trophy in 1998 as the nation’s top defensive player. The consensus All-American finished seventh in the Heisman voting in '98.
8. Morris Claiborne, CB
One of the best pure covermen in the history of the SEC, Claiborne was a lock-down corner for LSU in his two full seasons as the starter. He developed a reputation as a sophomore with five picks and 37 tackles en route to All-SEC honors. After that, no one threw at him. Claiborne was named the nation’s top defensive back in 2011 as the recipient of the Thorpe Award and was a unanimous All-American. He helped LSU to a perfect 13-0 regular-season mark, an SEC title, was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year as his Tigers earned a berth in the BCS national title game.
7. Troy Polamalu, S
The big-play machine was a three-year starter for the West Coast powerhouse. He was a two-time All-Pac-10 selection, a consensus All-American and stuffed the stat sheet his entire career. The big hitter finished with 278 tackles, 29.0 for loss, six interceptions and four blocked punts in 36 career starts for the Men of Troy. Polamalu led USC back to prominence with a league title and trip to the Orange Bowl before being taken in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
6. Patrick Peterson, CB
One of the most versatile, impactful athletes in the nation, Peterson scored on both defense and special teams throughout his career. He was a dynamic return man who brought a rare explosiveness to the game and led the SEC with 418 punt return yards. As a junior, Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year while being recognized as an All-American for a second time. He finished his career with 135 tackles, seven interceptions, four return touchdowns and 1,356 total return yards.
5. Terence Newman, CB
Kansas State, 1999-2002
Newman did a little bit of everything for Bill Snyder and Kansas State. He returned kicks and punts and even played some wide receiver. The lockdown cornerback was a two-time All-Big 12 pick, a unanimous All-American, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top DB and a first-round pick by the Cowboys in 2003. The 2002 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year also was a two-time Big 12 outdoor track champion in the 100 meters and the league champ in the indoor 60 meters.
4. Sean Taylor, S
The 2001 Miami national title team might be the best college team ever assembled and Taylor was one of just four true freshman to see playing time that year. He earned All-Big East honors as a sophomore en route to another national title game in 2002. His 2003 campaign, however, is one of the best in school history. Taylor led the nation with 10 interceptions and his rare blend of size and speed made him Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Miami was 35-3 during Taylor’s time at The U.
3. Eric Berry, DB
It didn’t take long for Berry to make his name known as an SEC defender. In 2007, he posted a school record with 222 INT return yards on five picks, led all SEC freshmen with 86 tackles and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. He then returned seven interceptions for 265 yards as a sophomore en route to his first of two unanimous All-American seasons. He also was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year that year. As a junior, Berry returned to win the Thorpe and Jack Tatum Awards and ended his collegiate career with the the most interception return yards in SEC history. Berry finished with 245 tackles, 17.5 for loss and 14 interceptions.
2. Roy Williams, S
He helped lead the Sooners to an unbeaten BCS National Championship in 2000 while setting the school record for tackles for a loss by a defensive back (12.0). The following year, he claimed the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back as well as the Nagurski and Jack Tatum Trophies and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was a unanimous All-American, first-round pick of the Cowboys in 2002 and will go down in Red River Shootout lore for this spectacular play in the Cotton Bowl.
1. Ed Reed, S
The star safety is one of the greatest to ever put on the pads. He led the team as a freshman in interceptions and forced fumbles en route to back-to-back All-American seasons in 2000 and '01. He led the nation as a senior with nine interceptions for 209 yards and three touchdowns. His leadership helped a stacked Miami team go unbeaten and claim the BCS National Championship in 2001. He was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Reed holds the school record for career interceptions (21), return yards (389) and defensive touchdowns (5).
Just missed the cut:
Dre Bly, North Carolina
Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin
Mark Barron, Alabama
Derrick Strait, Oklahoma
Mike Doss, Ohio State
Carlos Rogers, Auburn
Antoine Cason, Arizona
Anthony Poindexter, Virginia
LaRon Landry, LSU
Eric Weddle, Utah
Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
Bob Sanders, Iowa
College Football Many believe that the Big 12 is a two-horse race in 2014. While that is likely true, the rest of the conference is going to be extremely entertaining. Watch as Athlon Sports examines the upcoming...
College Football The SEC is still the nation’s best conference. No conference in the nation can match the week-in, week-out grind that the SEC offers from Aug. 28 through Championship Saturday on Dec. 6. ...
NFL, Fantasy, News Eddie Lacy led all rookies in fantasy points (Athlon Sports scoring) in 2013. He wasn't the only first-year player to shine either, as Keenan Allen topped all wide receivers and running...
College Football, News The trick to keeping your composure — and your lunch — on those mid-summer stair runs is a sturdy meal.Weeks before camp, Wisconsin offensive tackle Rob Havenstein watched as many of...
College Football, News Utah won just five games last season but somehow managed to topple mighty Stanford on a fourth quarter, goal-line stand in the waning minutes. It nearly cost the Cardinal a Pac-12 title and did cost...
NASCAR, News Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-...
College Football, News College football season is finally here and the guys preview the opening weekend of the season. Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan make picks, talk upsets, discuss Braxton Miller's...