As part of a new series, we're taking power rankings from macro to micro. Instead of looking at the best teams that are dominating the college football landscape, we're focusing on something more specific in this series.
This week, we're looking at the country's top ball-hawking defensive backs, who are as adept at covering star receivers as they are going up like one when the ball is in the air. Quite simply, these are the players that quarterbacks have circled in their notes after watching film.
This isn't a look at the top NFL draft prospects nor a preview of safety/cornerback rankings you'll see from scouts. It's simply a look at the best at the position in CFB. Without further ado, here are the rankings:
1. Gerod Holliman, Louisville
It's hard to go with anyone other than Holliman atop this list, considering he has tied the FBS record for interceptions in a season with 14 heading into the Cardinals' bowl game. A redshirt sophomore, he most recently helped seal the win against archrival Kentucky in the final few minutes and has a remarkable four games with more than one interception this season. If you want to ask anybody how savvy Holliman is at finding the ball, put in a call to Boston College's Tyler Murphy, whom Holliman intercepted three times in their Nov. 8 matchup.
2. Senquez Golson, Ole Miss
What Golson lacks in size (he's listed at 5-foot-9), he more than makes up for in his ability to find the ball and shut down opposing wideouts. He limited Alabama's Amari Cooper to just 91 yards and no touchdowns in October and came through with the game-sealing interception to boot. He's second in the country in interceptions (nine) and would be considered a shoo-in for the Thorpe Award were it not for Holliman's banner season.
3. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Just a sophomore, Ramsey (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) might be the most complete defensive back in the country this season and has played a big role in helping the Seminoles remain (just barely) undefeated. You won't find a ton of interceptions on his resume (he has two this season), but he floats effortlessly around the back end of the defense and always seems to be in the right place to make a play. Just ask Miami. He put on a show against the Hurricanes by snagging an interception and officially batting down four other passes.
4. Chris Hackett, TCU
Teammate Sam Carter garners most of the press for the Horned Frogs' secondary, but Hackett is the one who is finding the ball a bit more for head coach Gary Patterson in 2014. Hackett is one of only a handful of players in the FBS to have more than 50 tackles (he has 68) and six interceptions. Add in a forced fumble and the ability to cause pressure off the edge as a blitzer, and Big 12 quarterbacks can tell you they've all had an encounter with Hackett.
5. Frankie Sutera, Utah State
Despite health issues on offense, Utah State recorded yet another great season, thanks in part to Sutera and other players that have stepped up on defense. Teammate Zach Vigil overshadows him a bit, but Sutera has 83 tackles along with seven interceptions, which ranks third in the country. Throw in a forced fumble or two, and Sutera might just be the best defensive back whom fans outside the Mountain West haven't heard of.
6. Landon Collins, Alabama
Sure, Collins is better known for his huge hits while playing safety for the Crimson Tide, but that's often because he knows exactly where the ball is going to be thrown. His three interceptions on the season belie his huge effect on the passing game while playing center field in the secondary. His play in the final month of the season has been quite good in Alabama's run to the SEC title game, and he has a knack for tracking down running backs that might have the ball, too.
7. Weston Steelhammer, Air Force
With a name like that, the Falcons' sophomore safety had to land on this list in some form or fashion. He delivered in the team's upset of division powers Colorado State and Boise State; he had three interceptions against the Broncos and has six this season, sixth-most in the country. Add in more than 50 tackles and an impact that goes beyond the box score, and the future is bright for the Louisiana native, who has a knack for making a big play when it matters.
8. Will Likely, Maryland
Small (5-foot-7, 175 pounds) but effective is one way to describe Likely, a ball-hawking cornerback who has six interceptions on the season, including two he returned for a touchdown. He plays the ball as well as anybody and does his damage in the run-heavy Big Ten, but is still able to make opponents look to the other side of the field.
9. Jonathan Jones, Auburn
The Tigers have had some defensive issues this season, but Jones has done his best to help the unit with his ability to snag the football when opposing signal-callers put it up for grabs. He's recorded six interceptions and 11 pass breakups this season and even forced a fumble. Jermaine Whitehead gets most of the attention in the Tigers' secondary, but it's Jones who has found the ball more often this season.
10. Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
Injuries have hampered the Sooners' corner this year, but Sanchez has still managed to remain productive and is someone quarterbacks are going away from more and more as the season enters its final stages. Still, he's managed to make five interceptions and returned one of them for a key score in a 31-26 win over Texas on Oct. 11.