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Missouri is stocked at safety for the foreseeable future

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Three sophomores vie for a spot in the Mizzou safety rotation.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Hilton

6’0, 180, So.

St. Louis, MO
2015: 2.0 tackles; 12 targets, 9 catches, 129 yards (10.8 per target)

davidcmorrison: At this time last year, we thought Hilton was going to be the next big thing at safety. Then, about two months later, we thought he was going to be the next big thing at slot receiver. Now he’s back. Is he still the next big thing?

His skillset says “yes.” He’s the type of versatile, fluid athlete that (while not as fast) calls to mind Anthony Sherrils. As we discussed with Thomas Wilson, though, Hilton’s highs will be higher and his lows will be lower manning the defensive backfield for the Tigers, so his biggest utility while Sherrils is still on campus may come in playing designed series to spell Wilson as well as subbing in for extra-defensive back packages. Plus, he could still get some run at punt return after showing some ability (amidst a couple major hiccups) there last year.

And is the door really, truly closed on him ever playing receiver again?

Sam Snelling: I’m way to partial to this kid because he’s a Statesman, but Hilton is developing a great mind for where he needs to be and what he needs to get done on any given play.

The safety position is likely where Hilton is going to end up but he was one of the top playmakers in high school, and showed he can convert that playmaking ability as a true freshman in the SEC. So it’s hard to see Missouri not finding multiple ways for Hilton to see the field. Hilton is a high character kid who will eventually become a leader regardless of how many snaps he gets, but I think he’ll find a way to make a difference on the defense this season.

Bill C.: Hilton seems like a natural football player, capable of contributing and understanding the game in a lot of ways. I do feel like last year ended up a bit of a waste for him, though; you tear a redshirt off so guys get extra development and are prepared to make contributions as sophomores, but I fear that changing Hilton’s position midseason, then changing back after the season, hampered his development at both safety and receiver.

Maybe that’s an unfounded concern ... we’ll see soon enough. But he has a chance to contribute in nickel situations and on special teams. Then, in theory, he could start as a junior if Sherrils indeed plays so well that he leaves early.

Cam Hilton vs. South Carolina Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

Tavon Ross

6’0, 200, So.

Cochran, GA
2015: 1.5 tackles

davidcmorrison: Poor Tavon Ross. A magnet that attracts crutches and braces.

A shoulder and an ACL set him back during his redshirt season. Then, just as he was gaining some traction as a valuable special teams player last year, another ACL put an end to all that.

His stock was rising meteorically heading up to Signing Day 2014, and it was easy to see why. Nimble, good size, fast, hard-hitting. If he got into a college team’s camp and started putting theory to practice, he was going to be something special.

And then the injury bug kept biting. He’s still got three more years of eligibility and, once Sherrils clears out, things open up a little. If he can stay healthy.

Sam Snelling: Ross was a guy I was really high on when he signed. Then just a few years later I vaguely remember that excitement. Too many injuries have sapped my excitement, but Ross still has the same size and ability. The only question is if those injuries have set him back behind other guys coming up and the reality is it’s pretty likely.

Bill C.: Man oh man, Ross was my favorite player in the 2014 signing class. I was thrilled when he late efforts by Georgia and others to flip him were unsuccessful. But some guys are just snake-bitten, and he has been just that so far.

The good news is, he indeed still has three years of eligibility left. I can’t imagine he sees the field a ton in 2016 (beyond special teams, anyway), but if he gets 100% healthy and stays that way, he could still turn potential into production.

But for now, I’m just going to marvel at his high school film one more time.

Greg Taylor

5’10, 200, So.

East St. Louis, IL

davidcmorrison: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Missouri doesn’t recruit junior-college guys to sit. It especially doesn’t recruit guys who signed with the Tigers out of high school and then had to go through junior college to sit. It especially doesn’t recruit guys out of junior college who have already used their redshirt years to sit.

You know, because that’s basically wasting a scholarship.

Taylor showed a lot of material in his one year playing at Hinds, posting a majority of his 53 tackles in the solo variety and leading the team with three picks. He may not be a starter this year, but he should be a valuable piece on special teams and filling out the depth and in situational sets on defense. Physically, he’s ready to contribute at the SEC level.

Sam Snelling: I’d love for Taylor to end up being a major player for this defense. The more East St. Louis guys turn into stars, the more that pipeline opens up, and it’s been exciting watching the pipeline open up.

Taylor is a stout presence and he’s more of the physical strong safety Missouri really hasn’t had since William Moore roamed the defensive backfield. It’d be nice to see a few more punishing hits from a guy like Taylor on guys going over the middle, but he’ll have to get on the field first.

Bill C.: If Sherrils and Wilson are as steady and strong as we are beginning to suspect, then there might not be too many snaps available in 2016. But Taylor could be one hell of a nickel if he beats Hilton and/or some corners out for that role. He is all sorts of physical and seems fast enough that speed is in no way a liability.

Unless T.J. Warren indeed has a breakout season, you could say that the cornerback position is at least a little bit of an unknown moving forward, once Aarion Penton and John Gibson have graduated. Safety, however, is in no way a concern to me. So many high-ceiling guys.