National Signing Day 2014 results: What Missouri needs on defense from this recruiting class

We're not quite sure what happens at DE when Markus Golden leaves, but the 2013-14 classes have given Mizzou options. - Bill Carter

A major strength for the Missouri defense becomes a question mark in the future, while a question mark becomes a potential strength.

Defensive End

  • Returnees: Markus Golden (6'3, 260, Sr.), Shane Ray (6'3, 245, Jr.), Rickey Hatley (6'4, 270, So.), Marcus Loud (6'4, 270, RSFr.), Charles Harris (6'3, 235, RSFr.)
  • Newcomers: Rocel McWilliams (6'3, 245, Fr.), Spencer Williams (6'4, 220, Fr.), Walter Brady (6'3, 255, Fr.)
  • 2014 Needs: A second-stringer would be nice.
  • 2015 Needs: At least one contributor, maybe two (depending on 2014's redshirt freshmen).

Barring injury (an omnipresent disclaimer), Missouri's just fine at defensive end in 2014. Markus Golden made more tackles per loss per snap than any Mizzou end (including the two that will be in the pros next year), and Shane Ray was a strong situational pass rusher. It's conceivable that these two won't be as strong against the run as Kony Ealy and Michael Sam were, but this will still be one of the stronger duos in the SEC.

The problem, of course, is that we know absolutely nothing about the guys behind them. If Golden and Ray are replacing Ealy and Sam, who's replacing Golden and Ray? Mizzou will have two intriguing redshirt freshman and a sophomore (Hatley) who was seen as pretty intriguing himself not too long ago. It's conceivable that one or two of these three will take advantage of their opportunities and thrive in 2014 -- Craig Kuligowski's reputation precedes him -- but it would be a lot more heartening if at least one of the three incoming freshmen here had a lovely fall camp and made a case for immediate playing time, if only because Golden's gone after 2014, and someone will need to step up. Walter Brady is seemingly the most physically ready of the three signees, but Rocel McWilliams is close physically and is the most highly-regarded of the three. If he's ready from Day One, that will quell some anxiety here.

From MUtigers.com:

McWilliams

Florida Class 5A Second Team All-State defensive lineman for West Florida Tech High School and head coach Harry Lees as a senior in 2013 … high school teammate of current Mizzou DL Nate Crawford and PK Luke Jackson, as well as fellow 2014 signee Lawrence Lee … chose Mizzou over Florida, Memphis, Minnesota and SMU, among others … plans to major in business at the University of Missouri … mentioned how Mizzou’s coaching staff made him feel at home while he visited campus.

Williams

A quick, electric defensive line recruit that has Mizzou’s coaches excited about his big play ability … earned Florida Class 8A Second Team All-State recognition as a senior in 2013 for First Coast High School and head coach Marty Lee … made his presence known by opposing offensives in his senior season, recording 65 tackles with 15.0 sacks to help lead the Buccaneers to an 11-2 overall record … earned The Florida Times-Union All-First Coast Second Team recognition as a senior.

Brady

Speedy defender with a high ceiling, according to Mizzou’s coaching staff … made an immediate impact in his only season at Florence High School for head coach Jamey Dubose, totaling 85 tackles, 24.0 tackles-for-loss, 8.5 sacks and two interceptions … earned Commercial Appeal First Team All-District recognition after his junior campaign … mother – Mickie Renee Sada … chose Mizzou over Louisville, Middle Tennessee State, Ole Miss and Miami (Fla.), among others.

Defensive Tackle

Missouri always makes a big deal about "hitting its numbers," meaning the Tigers determine how many recruits they need from a given position and stick as closely to that as possible. With four defensive tackles in the 2013 class (including Josh Augusta, who broke into the rotation immediately) and every major contributor returning for 2014, tackle was a luxury for Mizzou in this class. Once their numbers had been "hit," so to speak, Mizzou did throw its hat in the ring for some pretty impressive players -- Daniel Cage (signed with Notre Dame), Poona Ford (Texas), Michael Sawyers (Tennessee). Any of these would have been welcome additions, but when you've got your top four returning, along with a sophomore (Winston) and three exciting redshirt freshmen, you've already cast your lot.

Mizzou has enough youth here that I really don't even expect tackle to be a major focus in the 2015 class, either, at least not unless some of the young players begin to disappoint this spring.

Linebacker

Mizzou must replace two starting linebackers this season, and while that isn't a concern in and of itself -- Michael Scherer got some playing time in 2013, Darvin Ruise and Clarence Green are veterans, and Donavin Newsome was this year's Kentrell Brothers on special teams -- moving second-stringers up to first string obviously thins out the backup ranks a bit. (Analysis!) Mizzou will be pretty green on the second string, and that will certainly open the door for a newcomer. Brandon Lee is the most obvious choice, both because he's playing his natural position (unlike, perhaps, Grant Jones, who might not actually have a natural position) and because he's pretty big already (unlike Roderick Winters).

Thanks to a pretty exciting batch of youngsters, Mizzou might only need one of these 2-3 signees to be ready to contribute within the next couple of years. But the Tigers will almost certainly need one.

From MUtigers.com:

Lee

One of the top linebacker prospects in the country who was ranked by ESPN as the No. 16 outside linebacker prospect in the nation, and as the No. 3 player overall in the state of Indiana at any position ... known as a versatile talent who could play on the outside, and has the frame to grow into an inside linebacker down the road ... had offers from numerous schools, and chose Mizzou over Michigan State, Oregon, Indiana, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, California, Iowa, Illinois, Penn State and North Carolina State, among many others ... older brother, Kenneth, plays football at Ball State.

Jones

Earned all-district and all-area recognition as a senior in 2013, making 52 tackles with 10.0 tackles-for-loss and 7.0 sacks … illustrated his nose for the ball with two blocked punts and one blocked PAT during his final high school season … totaled 41 tackles with an impressive 17.0 tackles-for-loss during his junior campaign, along with 10 pass breakups … parents – Brian and Mary Kay Jones … committed shortly after receiving his official offer from Mizzou, along with interest from Virginia.

Winters

Earned his second Texas Class 5A All-District 3 First Team recognition as a senior in 2013 for Bowie High School and head coach Danny DeArman … dominated the field with 150 tackles and 14.0 sacks as a senior … totaled 97 tackles as a junior in 2012 after switching to linebacker from wide receiver … former high school teammate of current Mizzou tailback Russell Hansbrough … also hails from the same high school as former standout cornerback Kip Edwards … noted how his decision to choose Mizzou was helped by how much he liked Missouri’s campus and the notoriety MU has in his planned field of study.

Cornerback

  • Returnees: John Gibson (6'0, 185, So.), Aarion Penton (5'10, 185, So.), David Johnson (5'11, 190, Jr.), Ernest Payton (6'2, 210, So.), Xavier Smith (5'11, 190, Sr.), Anthony Sherrils (6'0, 190, RSFr.)
  • Newcomers: Kenya Dennis (6'0, 200, Jr.), Raymond Wingo (6'0, 175, Fr.), Logan Cheadle (5'10, 170, Fr.), Thomas Wilson (5'11, 185, Fr.), Finis Stribling IV (5'11, 180, Fr.)
  • 2014 Needs: There are a lot of warm bodies here, but a freshman breakthrough would put some minds at ease.
  • 2015 Needs: There will still be a lot of warm bodies here, but the more breakthrough candidates, the merrier.

I'm really, really excited about Mizzou's cornerback corps in, say, 2015 and 2016. Gibson and Penton got valuable playing time this year and assured that Mizzou's defense didn't drop off much (at all?) when E.J. Gaines got hurt. Plus, Ernest Payton should be healthy in 2014 after a knee injury. That's three exciting sophomores combined with what might be the most exciting batch of cornerbacks Gary Pinkel has ever signed. As The Trib's David Morrison put it on Wednesday, you've got speed (Wingo, Stribling), physicality (Dennis, Wilson), and pure, sticky coverage ability (Cheadle) here. And if everybody (besides the JUCO transfer Dennis, anyway) redshirts, that might be just fine. But wow, would we all feel better about the cornerback position in 2014 if one of these guys pulled a Gaines and broke into the rotation right away. There are tons of options for 2014 and not a single sure thing; one more option adds to the margin for error.

From MUtigers.com:

Dennis

An NJCAA Honorable Mention All-American as a sophomore at Hinds Community College (Raymond, Miss.) in 2013 ... finished 2013 season with 31 tackles (25 solo), two fumble recoveries, two pass breakups, one tackle-for-loss and one interception ... earned All-Region XXIII and most valuable defensive back of the South Division for Hinds head coach Gene Murphy ... represented Leland High School in the Bernard Blackwell All-Star Game as a senior in 2011 ... chose Mizzou over offers from Arkansas, Auburn and Southern Miss.

Wingo

Recorded 24 tackles and two interceptions on the defensive side of the ball … stellar junior season in 2012 included 1,379 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns, as well as five interceptions … also participated in track and field for St. Louis University High School, claiming a 100m dash championship … parents – Ronnie and Tiffany Wingo … chose Mizzou over offers from many of the other top programs in the country, including Arkansas, Auburn, Iowa, Kansas State, Michigan State, Nebraska and Tennessee.

Cheadle

Helped Lee's Summit West and head coach Royce Boehm to the Missouri Class 5 State Championship in 2013 thanks to a dominating three-interception title game performance … finished senior season in 2013 with 42 tackles, including 30 solo stops ... continues pipeline of stellar athletes from Lee's Summit West, as he joins former teammate and current Mizzou starting center Evan Boehm … high school teammate of fellow 2014 Mizzou signee Kevin Pendleton ... cousin, Don Cheadle, is an actor who has starred in 'Ocean's 11', 'Iron Man 2' and 'Iron Man 3'.

Wilson

Helped Buford High School and head coach Jess Simpson to three Georgia Class AAA state championships during his four years with the Wolves, playing running back and cornerback … picked up Georgia Sportswriters Association First Team All-State honors as a returner as a senior in 2013 … earned all-area recognition from The Times of Gainesville following his senior season … rated as the No. 27 athlete in the nation by Rivals.com … chose Mizzou over Arizona, Illinois, Kansas State, Michigan State, Tennessee and Wisconsin, among others.

Stribling

Stout defender for Independence High School and head coach Scott Blade, totaling 51 tackles and two interceptions as a senior in 2013, as well as five blocked PATs and three blocked field goal attempts … picked up first team all-district honors after his final season for the Eagles … claimed the state title in the 400m dash with his school record-breaking run … also anchored Independence’s 4x400m relay to a state title … earned local recognition from Thompson’s Station for his Eagle Scout project, the construction of benches for a city park.

Safety

  • Returnees: Braylon Webb (6'0, 205, Sr.), Ian Simon (6'0, 195, Jr.), Duron Singleton (6'1, 210, Sr.), Cortland Browning (6'1, 205, Jr.), Daniel Easterly (6'4, 215, Sr.), Chaston Ward (6'1, 205, So.), Shaun Rupert (6'1, 185, RSFr.)
  • Newcomers: Greg Taylor (5'11, 185, Fr.), Tavon Ross (6'0, 200, Fr.)
  • 2014 Needs: There are a lot of warm bodies here, but a freshman breakthrough would put some minds at ease.
  • 2015 Needs: At least one major contributor.

If you asked me in July who I was most excited about among Mizzou's commitments, I'd have told you Greg Taylor. If you asked me last week, I'd have told you Tavon Ross. Mizzou has added two incredibly athletic prospects to the safeties unit, and again, I'm thrilled with what that means for 2015 and beyond. We just don't know what that means for 2014 yet. Ross' film just screams "Willy Mo Willy Mo Willy Mo," but even William Moore needed a redshirt year to get totally acclimated to the position and level of play. (He was also brutally raw as a redshirt freshman.) Taylor, meanwhile, might need to add a little bit more weight to become an every-down threat at the position.

Mizzou will have quite a bit of experience at safety in 2014, but the athletic upside might be lacking a bit. These two freshmen have wonderful ceilings, but they're obviously completely lacking in experience. We'll see how quickly they can come along.

From MUtigers.com:

Taylor

Made major contributions for East St. Louis High School and head coach Darren Sunkett on both defense and offense … recorded 94 tackles, 2.0 sacks and two interceptions as a senior in 2013, while also rushing for 1,814 yards and 22 touchdowns … chose Mizzou over interest from Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan … plans to major in communication at the University of Missouri … lists playing football, basketball and hanging out with his teammates as hobbies … noted that the Mizzou coaches and players made him feel like family when he visited campus.

Ross

Excelled going both ways on the field for Bleckley County High School and head coach Tracy White, playing both quarterback and safety … did his part to shut down opposing offensives with 87 tackles and six interceptions as a senior in 2013, returning four for touchdowns … racked up 734 passing yards and eight touchdown throws with 652 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground on the offensive side of the ball … powered the Royals to a school-record nine wins in 2013 … totaled 20 touchdowns through the air and on the ground as a junior in 2012, helping Bleckley County to an 8-3 record … chose Mizzou over Alabama, Georgia and Miami (Fla.), among others.


As things currently stand, Mizzou's 2014 recruiting class ranks only six spots higher than its 2013 class, but the difference in enthusiasm on our part is palpable. Part of that is because of the season we just witnessed; obviously Pinkel's go-to phrase, "We do what we do," sounds a lot more positive when you're not coming off of a 5-7 season. But a big part of our collective excitement for this class comes from the way Mizzou was able to fend off other schools. Rocel McWilliams turned down Florida. Tavon Ross turned down Georgia, Miami, and Alabama. Nate Brown turned down Georgia and South Carolina. Mizzou went into the South, identified (and landed) a few diamonds in the rough, then showed the recruiting chops necessary to keep these players when everybody else realized they were great, too. That Ross and McWilliams only ended up low-three-star recruits -- therefore almost hurting the Tigers' overall rankings -- almost becomes secondary.

The other reason for liking this class, though, is the way in which Mizzou "hit its numbers." The 2014 two-deep is set in most units, but Mizzou identified where it is going to need the most help in 2015-16 and loaded up. The receiving corps is going to need at least 2-3 contributors from this class in 2015, so Mizzou signed six receivers. Mizzou has to replace two offensive line starters this year and will replace at least two more next year; the Tigers just signed five linemen. And, of course, in the secondary, where Mizzou loses three starters and might lose another two after 2014, Mizzou signed seven players, including a quick-fix JUCO.

As a numbers guy, I know that recruiting rankings absolutely matter. But Gary Pinkel has shown the ability to not only develop players at a stronger level than others -- he's more likely to turn a two-star prospect into a three-star player or a three-star into a four-star -- but he's also been able to stay ahead of the game for the most part. He's not infallible in this regard (just look at Mizzou's 2012 midseason depth chart at quarterback and offensive line, for instance), but he and his staff are pretty damn good at locating future needs and landing less-heralded kids with time to build them into solid players.

We all want more four-star signees. It was disappointing not to sneak in and steal DE Dewayne Hendrix or DE Derek Barnett from Tennessee, or DT Poona Ford or WR Armanti Foreman from Texas, or any of the other blue-chippers giving Mizzou a late look. But there are exciting prospects at nearly every position, and there is more than one at most positions of 2015 need. In the absence of a top-10 class, you want timing and depth. Mizzou seems to have that.

Now we wait 2-3 years to see if our excitement is justified.

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