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Doc Five: Top five defensive players poised for a comeback in 2014 - No. 2 - Denzel Nkemdiche

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) drags Mississippi linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (4) as he breaks free for a five-yard touchdown run in the second half of their NCAA college football game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. No. 9 Texas A&M won 41-38
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Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) drags Mississippi linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (4) as he breaks free for a five-yard touchdown run in the second half of their NCAA college football game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. No. 9 Texas A&M won 41-38. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

This offseason we will count down various topics from Monday through Friday, bringing you the top five of the important and definitely some not so important issues in college football. It's the Doc Five, every week until we will thankfully have actual games to discuss.

Last week, in honor of the San Antonio Spurs rebounding from a crushing defeat in 2013 to win the 2014 NBA Finals in triumphant fashion, we decided to focus on the college football players who suffered setbacks last season who are prime candidates to come back strong.

We started with the offensive side of the ball for our countdown last week and included guys like Florida’s Jeff Driskel, Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton and Louisville’s Michael Dyer.

Now we will turn it over to the defensive side of the ball.

TOP FIVE DEFENSIVE PLAYERS POISED FOR A COMEBACK IN 2014

No. 2: Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss

The reasons for Nkemdiche's inclusion are different than the circumstances for the previous three players we've listed this week.

Unlike the players listed before him who had season-ending injuries, Nkemdiche missed three games at the beginning of the season with a knee injury but returned to play the rest of the season. And then he had a rough offseason.

In February, Nkemdiche was arrested for disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and failure to comply with a police officer. He was suspended for spring drills and Ole Miss' season opener against Boise State. Then he was videotaped in a (now deleted) rant on spring break that coach Hugh Freeze was unhappy about.

His brother, Robert, a former five-star Rivals recruit, gets the most attention, but Denzel Nkemdiche led the team in tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2012 with 82. He looked to be a budding star in the middle of the Rebel defense.

However, his tackle numbers declined precipitously in 2013. In 10 games he had just 35 tackles and made six starts. He forced seven turnovers in 2012 (four fumbles and three interceptions). In 2013, he forced just one.

If Ole Miss wants to have any chance of unseating Alabama, Auburn and LSU atop the SEC West, it needs Nkemdiche to have a season much closer to 2012 than to 2013.

With nine starters returning on defense it's not unreasonable to expect another step forward in 2014. With 10 starters back in 2013, Ole Miss allowed four fewer points per game and less yards per game than it did in 2012.

But any sustained progress will hinge largely on Nkemdiche's ability to anchor the middle of the defense. If he's healthy and plays well, Ole Miss looks very formidable, especially with Auburn and Alabama at home. If the defense regresses, Ole Miss will be fighting for no better than fourth in the West.

 

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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