In my piece on Missouri’s defensive ends, I noted that Tre Williams and Nate Howard might be among the Tigers’ most important players, the suggestion being that a breakout from either or both of them would have a massive impact on Mizzou’s fortunes.
By that line of logic, there are at least two players more important than Williams and Howard: DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes.
Here’s a look at the cornerback position for 2017-19.
That’s ... not a lot of names. Whereas Mizzou has pretty significant quantity at defensive tackle and linebacker, having only six cornerbacks is a pretty scary proposition.
Obviously others could move to CB if needed. Sophomore nickel TJ Warren has played there before, safeties like Thomas Wilson and Jerod Alton are on the smaller side, and in theory any of three incoming freshmen — Tyree Gillespie, Jordan Ulmer, or Joshuah Bledsoe — could end up there if duty calls. But if Mizzou can get by with these six players, that’s what will happen.
Logan Cheadle is a bit of a known quantity at this point; he’s never going to be a big corner, and we’ve seen opponents take advantage of size mismatches before. But he’s an aggressive piece that can be utilized in certain matchups; over the last two years, he’s recorded a tackle for loss, an interception, five pass breakups, and a forced fumble.
Still, sophomores Acy and Holmes spent a lot of time on the first string this spring. If they are ready to thrive, any particular issues at cornerback are solved for a while. They have length that Cheadle cannot boast — Acy is listed at 6’2, 195, Holmes 6’1, 195 — and they appear to be quickly earning the trust of defensive backs coach Ryan Walters.
But they’re sophomores. And true sophomores at that. They’ve made a combined 6.5 tackles in their careers. And while you can somewhat make up for lesser recruiting rankings with the proper level of experience, even in the SEC, Acy and Holmes have neither the requisite experience nor the standout recruiting rankings. They weren’t poorly rated, mind you — Acy was a mid-three star, at least — but for Mizzou to reach its ceiling in 2017, they’ll have to overachieve what is projected of them. And if they don’t, or if there’s an injury, then freshmen Terry Petry and Adam Sparks will be called upon sooner than later.
The good news is that if there’s a breakout player in this unit, odds are good that it will be a pretty young guy. (Sure, a star turn from Cheadle or junior Finis Stribling IV would be welcome, too.) So any solutions Mizzou finds will likely be solutions for a while. But counting on young guys can obviously backfire, and while Barry Odom and his staff have not yet sent out any offers to JUCO corners, that could change quickly this fall if the unit turns out to be a liability.
Mizzou recently landed a commitment from Bradenton (Fla.) corner Tyrone Collins and has thrown its hat in the ring for quite a few others. How many the Tigers end up taking in 2018 might depend on how the current crop of youngsters is performing.