George Iloka, Boise State (6-3, 213): Even without an interception, Iloka was first-team all-conference and an honorable mention on the AP All-American team as a senior. Iloka moved into the starting lineup in the third game of his true freshman season and was the Broncos' starting free safety for the next 48 games until filling in at cornerback late in his senior season. He finished with seven career interceptions.
Janzen Jackson, McNeese State (6-1, 190): Jackson, one of the nation's top recruits, was an all-SEC defensive back with Tennessee before being kicked off the team, allegedly for substance-abuse issues. He landed at McNeese for his junior season and declared himself eligible for the draft, even with just two interceptions in seven games. His father, Lance Guidry, played at McNeese and was an assistant coach there; he's now the defensive coordinator at Western Kentucky.
Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State (6-1, 198): Martin won first-team honors on the all-Big 12 team as a senior. He was a frequent winner of the team's "Big Stick Award" following games. All three career interceptions came as a junior, including a pick-six in the Alamo Bowl against Arizona to cap the season. Martin was going to quit the program after an academic suspension barred him from playing in the Holiday Bowl as a freshman. Sticking around was a good choice. Not only is headed to the NFL, but he won the school's Nate Fleming Award for academic excellence.
Trenton Robinson, Michigan State (5-10, 195): Robinson started 46 games, tallying nine interceptions — good for 12th in school history. He was a first-team all-Big Ten selection as a senior with four interceptions. Robinson was anything but a hot prospect out of Bay City, Mich. However, the two-star recruit helped the Spartans to their first bowl win since 2001 and is part of the first graduating class to go 4-0 against Michigan since 1962.
Harrison Smith, Notre Dame (6-2, 214): Smith is the only player in school history to record at least 200 tackles (309), 15 tackles for losses (18.5) and 15 pass breakups (28). Smith led the secondary and ranked second on the team with 90 tackles and paced the Irish with 10 pass breakups. All seven interceptions came as a junior, when he ranked fourth in the nation. Smith chose Notre Dame over hometown Tennessee. He bounced back and forth between linebacker and safety as a freshman and sophomore before moving full-time to the secondary for his big junior season. Smith is one of four lone team captains at Notre Dame in the last 40 years, even though defensive coordinator Bob Diaco compared Smith to E.F. Hutton because of his quiet leadership. "When Harrison talks, everybody listens," Diaco said.
Johnny Thomas, Oklahoma State (5-11, 205): Thomas broke into the starting lineup as a junior, picking off three passes and finishing fourth on the team in tackles. However, he was ruled ineligible for his senior season by the NCAA for academic issues. Rather than try to play for the school in 2012, he elected to turn pro. At Texas City (Texas) High School, Thomas rushed for 1,803 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior and had nine interceptions as a junior.
Phillip Thomas, Syracuse (5-11, 190): This Thomas also left school a year early, in part because of off-the-field issues. In November, he was suspended for one year for an undisclosed violation of team rules. At the time of his suspension, he led the team in tackles (82). Even while playing in only 10 games, he led the Big East with six interceptions.
Christian Thompson, South Carolina State (6-1, 220): Thompson started his career at Auburn, playing one season on special teams before being kicked off the team for missing too many classes. Thompson landed at South Carolina State in 2009. He started for his final two seasons, and he tallied 66 tackles and two interceptions as a senior.
Antonio Allen, South Carolina (6-2, 202): Allen was a second-team all-SEC selection and the only player in the conference to rank in the top 10 in tackles (88), interceptions (three), forced fumbles (four) and fumble recoveries (three). Playing the "spur" position, which is a hybrid safety-linebacker, he added 9.5 tackles for losses and one sack on the season. He made 31 career starts and finished with four interceptions. He was coached at Trinity Catholic in Ocala, Fla., by former former Florida quarterback Kerwin Bell.
Mark Barron, Alabama (6-2, 218): Barron, the top safety in the 2011 draft, had a big junior season but elected to come back as a senior. Even while slowed late in the season by torn cartilage in his ribs, Barron helped the Crimson Tide win the national championship and was a first-team All-American. Barron, a first-team all-SEC pick in each of his final three seasons, ranked eighth in the nation with seven interceptions as a sophomore. He added three as a junior and two as a senior. Barron recently had surgery for a double hernia and will not test at the Combine. Barron, a terrific all-around athlete, was recruited by Auburn to play running back, and Scout.com listed Barron as it's No. 1-ranked weakside linebacker. And how's this: As a senior at St. Paul Episcopal in Mobile, Ala., Barron won state track and field titles in the long jump, triple jump, shot put and discus.
Justin Bethel, Presbyterian (6-0, 190): An All-American at the FCC level and a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award as the FCS defensive player of the year, Bethel rewrote the Blue Hose record book. He's the school's career leader in solo tackles and the Big South's career leader with a whopping nine blocked kicks. Of his four interceptions as a senior, one came against California, which he returned for a touchdown. He also scored against Cal on a blocked punt.
Bethel scored twice against Cal
Jason O. Watson/US Presswire
Sean Cattouse, California (6-3, 218): As a senior, Cattouse was third on the team with 71 tackles and had team-leading totals of two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He picked off seven passes for his career, earning honorable mention all-conference honors his final three seasons. From Pop Warner through a standout high school career in Chicago, Cattouse played quarterback, an experience that helped him read the quarterback while lining up in the defensive backfield. His father, Michael, grew up in Belize and his mother, Sally, is from Wisconsin.
Winston Guy, Kentucky (6-1, 216): Guy, a three-year starter at his hometown school, finished his career with 297 tackles. He finished with back-to-back seasons of 100 tackles, including 120 as a senior, which ranked second in the SEC. Guy, who played a hybrid safety-outside linebacker position in the Wildcats' new 3-4 scheme in 2011, had eight games of double-figure tackles, including highs of 14 at South Carolina and against Tennessee. He was named National Defensive Back of the Week for the Western Kentucky game, when he had 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses and two interceptions. Guy can fly — he won the 100 meters at Lexington Catholic High School.
Delano Howell, Stanford (5-11, 198): Howell, who rushed for 2,249 yards as a senior at Hart High School in Newhall, Calif., played running back as a freshman before spending his final three seasons at safety. He's a three-time all-conference performer, including first-team honors as a senior. He missed three games due to injury in 2011 and didn't record an interception. Five of his six career thefts came in 2010. His older brothers played football at Harvard and Washington. His father died in 2006. Rather than attend the wake, he honored his father by returning the kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, one of a Hart-record five touchdowns for the game.
Duke Ihenacho, San Jose State (6-1, 205): San Jose State joined the WAC in 1996 but never had a player be a three-time, first-team all-conference selection until Ihenacho. As a senior, he tallied 73 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. In 2008, Ihenacho was an all-conference linebacker. In 2009, he was an all-conference safety. He missed most of 2010 with a foot injury. His older brother, Carl, signed a futures contract with the Raiders last month. He spent training camp with the Chargers last year as an undrafted free agent.
Kelcie McCray, Arkansas State (6-2, 195): McCray, a three-year starter, finished his career with 10 interceptions. Four of those came during a senior season in which he was named first-team all-Sun Belt. He tied for the team lead with 70 tackles and tallied 220 stops for his career. McCray played quarterback at Hardaway High School in Columbus, Ga.
Jerron McMillian, Maine (5-11, 215): McMillian was a three-year starter, closing his career by being first-team in the Colonial Athletic Association and earning some FCS All-American honors. McMillian was second on the team and fifth in the conference among defensive backs with 88 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for losses. He also had five passes defensed and an interception.
Charles Mitchell, Mississippi State (5-11, 205): The three-year starter finished with a senior season of 95 tackles, including three for losses, one sack and a forced fumble. He had a pick-six against Houston star quarterback Case Keenum in 2009. He was named Mississippi's Gatorade High School Player of the Year at Clarksdale High School as a two-way star at running back and defensive back.
Eddie Pleasant, Oregon (5-11, 210): Pleasant was a three-year starter, including the final two years at safety after opening his career at linebacker. He was first-team all-Pac-12 as a senior with 61 tackles and three of his four career interceptions. Pleasant was recruited as a linebacker and even spent some time at running back early in his career when the Ducks were hit by injuries. Pleasant had a memorable play in the BCS title game against Auburn. He tackled Auburn running back Michael Dyer but Dyer landed on top of Pleasant, got free and ran 37 yards to set up the winning field goal.
Cyhl Quarles, Wake Forest (6-3, 210): Quarles led the team with 101 tackles, playing mostly in the box. He started two-and-a-half seasons — he was benched midway through 2010 — and finished with two interceptions. He did not earn ACC honors.
Sean Richardson, Vanderbilt (6-2, 220): Richardson considered entering the draft following a junior season of 98 tackles but elected to come back for his senior campaign. The three-year starter bagged 63 tackles and finally grabbed his first interception in 2011. His aggressive nature was evident early, when coaches wouldn't let him play flag football as a 10-year-old. Richardson is the answer to a trivia question: Before getting back to a bowl game this season, he was the only Commodore to score a touchdown in a bowl game in 28 years. In the 2008 Music City Bowl, he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone to key a 16-14 win over Boston College.
Brandon Taylor, LSU (6-0, 194): Taylor played in 49 games with 33 starts, and was one of five permanent captains on this year's team, which played for the national title. He capped his career with 160 tackles, 11.5 tackles for losses, 15 pass breakups and four interceptions. Under coach Les Miles, the player that best represents what it means to be a Tiger, both on and off the field, are given jersey No. 18. That was Taylor as a senior. His brother, Curtis, was a running back for LSU's national championship team in 2007 and was drafted by the 49ers.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. Discuss this story on our subscriber message board.