Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The SEC's best 25 players: No. 24
By Chris Low
Day 2 of our countdown focuses on another talented defensive back.
No. 24: Matt Elam, S, Florida, Jr.
2012 summary: A first-team All-America selection by the Associated Press, Elam finished second on Florida's team with 76 total tackles and was also second on the team with 11 tackles for loss. He had four interceptions, tying for the second most in the SEC, and broke up five passes. Elam is giving up his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
Most recent ranking: Ranked No. 25 in our 2012 preseason countdown.
Making the case for Elam: As fierce tacklers go, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Elam was one of the best in the league. He was truly an enforcer back there in that Florida secondary, and had a knack for making big plays. In a lot of ways, the Gators leaned on him as much as they did any player on defense, a unit that finished the season ranked No. 5 nationally in both scoring and total defense. Elam was one of those players who could blow up a play before it ever really had a chance to materialize. He was one of five SEC defensive backs to finish with at least 58 unassisted tackles, and even though he wasn't great in coverage, he improved those skills from his sophomore season. He was at his best in some of the Gators' biggest wins. He had a key interception early to thwart a Florida State drive in the Gators' 37-26 win against the Seminoles, but it was his forced fumble against LSU late in the third quarter that might have been the most important play of the season. LSU connected on a deep pass to Odell Beckham, who looked like he might score and give the Tigers a two-touchdown lead. But Elam was able to strip Beckham of the ball on the sideline. Florida recovered and went on to win the game 14-6. Elam was that kind of game-changer for the Gators all season long.
No. 25: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State, Sr.