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They are the last line of defense. Their job is to keep the ball in front of them and never allow a playmaker to get behind them. They can control the ebb and flow of the game by limiting the playing field for opposing QBs.
Here are the top defensive backs heading into the 2010 FBS season:
PATRICK PETERSON, LSU
Peterson comes into 2010 on most preseason All-American lists and could very well be the best defensive player in the SEC overall. As a sophomore in 2009, the 6-1, 211-pounder picked up Second-Team All-American honors, racking up 52 total tackles. A freak of nature, with superior size, speed and athletic ability, this Tiger will earn plenty of postseason awards when 2010 comes to a close. LSU will once again be in the thick of the SEC race this year and Peterson will have a lot to do with that.
PRINCE AMUKAMARA, NEBRASKA
On everyone's short list when it comes to naming the favorites for this year's Thorpe Award, Amukamara is the complete package. As a junior in 2009, the 6-1, 205-pounder emerged as one of the nation's best cornerbacks, tallying 64 tackles, two sacks, five INTs and a team-high 11 PBUs, en route to First-Team All-Big 12 honors. With above-average athleticism as a shutdown cover guy, Amukamara is poised for a huge senior campaign. The Cornhuskers will close out their stay in the Big 12 this year and although they may not take home the conference crown, Amukamara is sure to pile up the awards.
RAS-I DOWLING, VIRGINIA
This Cavalier has evolved into one of the more reliable cover corners in the FBS. The 6-2, 200-pound Dowling is a two-time Second-Team All-ACC selection, after earning Freshman-All-American honors in 2007. He finished his junior campaign in 2009 with 58 total tackles, with one sack, one fumble recovery, three INTs and eight PBUs. His size and athleticism certainly have him projected as a first-round NFL draft pick. Virginia isn't ready to contend for an ACC title this year, but opposing QBs certainly know enough to stay away from Dowling's side of the field.
KENDRIC BURNEY, NORTH CAROLINA
Burney is not the biggest cornerback (5-9, 190), but more than makes up for it with athleticism and the ability to always be in the right place. This Tar Heel has started all 38 games in his collegiate career. On one of the most talented defenses in the country, Burney stands out in the secondary. A First-Team All- ACC selection in 2009, he finished the year with 52 total tackles, five INTs and one fumble recovery. North Carolina won't give up a whole lot of points this year and Burney will definitely be a big reason why.
RASHAD CARMICHAEL, VIRGINIA TECH
The ACC seems to be chock-full of top-notch defensive backs, and this Hokie certainly must be mentioned among them. After tallying just 20 total tackles his first two seasons in Blacksburg, the 5-11, 195-pound Carmichael burst on the scene as a junior, amassing 55 tackles, with four TFLs, one sack and a team-high six INTs, en route to All-ACC Honorable Mention. A hard-worker who understands his position and where he needs to be at all times, Carmichael may not match his interception total from last year, but that will be because opposing QBs are sure to look the other way when going down the field.
OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Omar Bolden (Arizona State), Aaron Williams (Texas), Curtis Brown (Texas), Brandon Harris (Miami-Florida), Shareece Wright (USC).
DEANDRE MCDANIEL, CLEMSON
The 6-1, 210-pound McDaniel made the move from linebacker to safety this past season and it paid off, as he finished fourth on the team in tackles (102), with an astounding eight INTs, en route to All-American honors. With a linebacker's mentality in the secondary, McDaniel always finds himself around the ball. He should mature into more of a vocal leader in 2010 and while the sky is perhaps too high a limit for the Tigers as a whole, there is no ceiling for this ultra-talented playmaker.
MARK BARRON, ALABAMA
The defending national champions were fueled by the Heisman Trophy campaign of Mark Ingram last year as well as a stout defense. The secondary played a big part in the latter's success, highlighted by a sophomore in Barron. The 6-2, 210-pounder was a First-Team All-SEC member and Third-Team All-American, who finished the year with 76 total tackles, seven INTs and 18 PBUs. The Crimson Tide may just roll to a second straight national title, with Barron once again putting himself front and center.
RAHIM MOORE, UCLA
A First-Team All-American and First-Team All-Pac-10 selection in 2009, the 6-1, 195-pound Moore had a monster sophomore season, leading the nation in interceptions with 10, while piling up 49 tackles. With superior size, speed and athleticism, Moore is a complete safety, with the chance of getting even better in 2010 - a scary thought for the teams scheduled to play the Bruins.
DEUNTA WILLIAMS, NORTH CAROLINA
A former wide receiver who has made the full transition to safety and has flourished in Chapel Hill. One of the crown jewels of a star-studded defense, the 6-2, 215-pound Williams is a top-notch playmaker with great ball skills. Last season, he was a First-Team All-ACC selection, finishing the year with 47 tackles, six INTs and eight PBUs. If he becomes a bit more physical as a senior, he is worthy of being named among the top safeties at the FBS level.
QUINTON CARTER, OKLAHOMA
Carter took over the starting spot at free safety in 2009 and flourished in the role, collecting 88 tackles (second on the team) and four INTs, en route to All-Big 12 Second-Team honors. A sure tackler with good size (6-1, 200), expect big things once again from this talented Sooner.
OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Ahmad Black (Florida), Jermale Hines (Ohio State), Eric Hagg (Nebraska), Chris Culliver (South Carolina), Tejay Johnson (TCU).