Top 25: SS Joe Lefeged (No. 7)

Rutgers senior strong safety Joe Lefeged is a rock in the secondary and also a pivotal player on special teams. His experience, smarts and athletic talent make him an NFL prospect, and his responsibility within the 2010 team makes him's No. 7 player as we count down the Top 25 most important players to the upcoming season.

It wasn't that long ago a newcomer to Rutgers' secondary made a quick name for himself with a bone-jarring hit on Maryland quarterback Jordan Steffy, knocking him from the game as Joe Lefeged announced his presence in the Rutgers defense.

Remarkably, it was four seasons ago, and while Lefeged can still deliver a devastating hit coming on a blitz, his ability and importance to the Scarlet Knights is markedly different as the strong safety enters his senior season.

With Zaire Kitchen and Devin McCourty gone, Lefeged is the veteran of the secondary, one of the key veterans on defense, and in charge of teaching and maintaining a young and talented defensive backfield.

He also may be Rutgers' top play-maker on specials teams, which is why he is No. 7 in's countdown of the Top 25 most important players for the 2010 season.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Lefeged has been a fixture since the hit on Steffy early in the 2007 season, but his development goes far beyond his early reputation as someone who knocked quarterbacks from games.

Lefeged, who started the last 16 games and has 25 starts in the last two seasons, is strong in run support and against the pass. He doesn't mind burying his shoulder into a running back, dropping into coverage or sneaking up to the line of scrimmage and blitzing.

Add to it his natural leadership role and his ability to build a strong relationship with his teammates while serving as a mentor for the younger players, it is no wonder Rutgers will rely on him so heavily in a secondary replacing two starters.

Lefeged made 44 tackles last sea¬¬son, including four for loss and a sack. He added three quarterback hits and four pass break-ups, but his value didn't end on the defensive side.

While McCourty was Rutgers' best when it came to making big plays on special teams, Lefeged was no slouch. He blocked two kicks, returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown and average 32.4 yards per kick return.

One of the things Rutgers was careful with last season was trying to limit McCourty's play total, and the same will be said about Lefeged this season because of his value in so many areas.

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