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Missouri’s ceiling at defensive tackle is awfully high in 2017 and beyond

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Missouri getting a commitment from Texas transfer Jordan Elliott gave me a good starting point for this series.

EMU-Beckner
Terry Beckner Jr.
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

In just under 14 weeks, Dave Steckel’s Missouri State Bears will be visiting Columbia. I thought this was a good time, then, to take a broad view at the Missouri roster, both for 2017 and beyond. We’ll go unit by unit, and I felt like starting with DTs. What’s the future of the interior of #DLineZou?

Returnees

  • Terry Beckner Jr. (6’4, 290, Jr.) — 7 games, 20.0 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 QBH, 1 FR
  • A.J. Logan (6’2, 325, Sr.) — 12 games (12 starts), 10.0 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QBH
  • Markell Utsey (6’4, 310, So.) — 7 games, 3.5 tackles
  • Tyrell Jacobs (6’4, 280, So.) — 1 game, 1.0 tackles (1 TFL)

We all know the story by now: With injuries to Beckner and Utsey, Mizzou was drastically undermanned at defensive tackle this spring. End Jordan Harold played tackle quite a bit, as did walk-on offensive lineman Adam Roland.

Assuming decent health, Mizzou has four tackles with some semblance of experience. Jacobs barely played, and Utsey had just worked his way in the rotation when he went down with injury. But A.J. Logan is a fifth-year senior-to-be, and Beckner, the former all-world recruit, has at least put together one full season’s worth of experience between knee injuries.

EMU-Logan
A.J. Logan
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

Newcomers

  • Rashad Brandon (6’3, 305, Jr.) — 247Sports Composite rating: 0.8445 (***)
  • Malik Young (6’3, 280, Jr.) — 0.8601 (***)
  • Walter Palmore (6’4, 300, Jr.) — 0.8576 (***)
  • Akial Byers (6’4, 275, Fr.) — 0.8973 (****)
  • Caleb Sampson (6’4, 285, Fr.) — 0.8058 (***)
  • Kobie Whiteside (6’1, 304, Fr.) — 0.7917 (**)
  • Jordan Elliott (6’4, 318, So.) — 0.9440 (****)

Barry Odom has gone out of his way to find some new toys for defensive line coach Brick Haley. He signed three JUCOs, and after signing two freshmen in February, he added another one in late commit and four-star prospect Akial Byers. Plus, though Elliott won’t be eligible until 2018, he’ll obviously be able to practice this fall.

I really enjoy Sam’s scholarship breakdowns for basketball, and while the prevalence of redshirts makes it more difficult to do that for football, here’s a loose breakdown by class if we were to assume no redshirts. (There will be redshirts.)

Missouri defensive tackles

Mizzou has 10 scholarship DTs available to play this fall and will have either nine or 10 returning next year, depending on whether Beckner puts together a draft-worthy résumé this fall and declares early. That’s a lot for a position that basically makes up 18% of the defense. And that doesn’t even address the fact that Missouri is currently in on a lot of 2018 DT prospects.

Having a large quantity of options at a pretty vital position is fine, but quality is even better. So ... is there quality here? In theory! Beckner has shown flashes of five-star talent, recording 10 tackles for loss in 17 games. And after a slow start to 2016, he was starting to produce a bit more when he got hurt.

Logan, meanwhile, wasn’t very productive, even for a guy whose primary job is to occupy blockers. Missouri was dreadful against the run in 2016 and needed a bit more play-making up front. That leads one to believe that playing time — even first-string time — is available for any of the newcomers that show disruptive potential. Brandon was in for spring and did well. Young and Palmore will be playing catch-up this summer.

Who redshirts?

If Beckner were to return in 2017, and none of the JUCOs redshirt this fall, that would give Mizzou four senior tackles next fall. That makes you wonder if Odom and Haley will elect to perhaps redshirt one of the three JUCOs to balance things out a bit more. If they’re all productive and interesting, then hell, rip the redshirts off and worry later. But redshirts are an option here, since I believe all three are “three years to play two” guys.

(Utsey still has a redshirt available, too, if he isn’t 100 percent healthy once fall camp comes around, but it appears he will be fine.)

Who redshirts (Part II)?

Assuming Byers qualifies — and everyone involved appears optimistic at the moment — then Mizzou will also have three pretty interesting true freshmen appearing in Columbia this summer. Sampson and Whiteside were two of the lowest-rated signees in the class, but we heard when they signed that the staff was extremely high on both and that either could have the athletic upside to see the field early.

In theory, barring an outright “we can’t keep this guy off the field” breakout from a freshman, the redshirt situation here will be determined by how the JUCOs are doing.

Star freshmen on the way?

If Beckner stays healthy for an entire season, the odds are decent that he’ll prove himself enough to go pro in 2018 if he wants to. But even if he leaves, the odds are pretty good that Mizzou will have at least three four- or five-star DTs in uniform.

In addition to Byers and Elliott, Mizzou appears to be in good shape in the recruitment of both Parkway North’s Michael Thompson (currently the No. 48 prospect in the 2018 class, per the 247Sports Composite) and Chaminade’s Trevor Trout (currently No. 156). The 247 Crystal Ball currently predicts both will end up in Columbia, which at least makes the odds of landing one pretty good. Plus, the Tigers are still in the running for four-star Montomery (Ala.) tackle Alfred Thomas as well, even if the odds aren’t as good there.

You can find many a coach who says that defensive tackle is the most important position on a given defense. And from the perspective of recruiting rankings, the defensive tackle position appears to have just about the highest ceiling of any unit on the Mizzou team over the coming years, especially when you take the Haley hire into account.

Of course, things looked virtually identical a year ago — Beckner, a four-star freshman, a well-regarded new line coach — and we know how that panned out. Beckner got hurt, freshman Darvis Holmes wasn’t ready to see the field, and the team struggled under the direction of Jackie Shipp. A couple of the names have changed, but 2016 was a clear sign that potential isn’t everything.

Still, the latest coaching change, Beckner’s return to health (fingers crossed), and the potential of both newcomers and potential newcomers-to-be is exciting. And at the very least, there are more options this year thanks to the JUCOs. Mizzou could have used a couple more last fall.