So I did something exactly like this last year and ended up with about a 50-50 success rate.
Larry Rountree and Christian Holmes? Pretty important for the 2018 Tigers’ fortunes.
Nate Brown and Tre Williams? Maybe not so much.
This year, though, in my continuing efficiency efforts, I’m paring down my list of sneaky important players from eight to six – three on each side of the ball.
So, without further ado, here are the six kind of maybe under-the-radar players that could be sneaky important for the 2019 Missouri Tigers.
RB Tyler Badie, Soph.
2018 stats: 89 rushes, 437 yards, 2 TD; 19 targets, 12 catches, 130 yards; 19.6 snaps/game
Yes, Rountree is going to be the feature back. And his production and dependability from the past two seasons, not to mention his durable frame, should lead you to believe that he will be a consistently good one.
But that doesn’t lessen the importance of Badie as the Tigers’ change-of-pace option. Even in Rountree’s most feature-y games last year, he topped out at around 75 percent of the team’s snaps. In a 70-snap game, that leaves 15-20 up for grabs. And Badie can do a lot with 15-20 snaps, whether it’s toting the rock, catching passes – he was targeted once every 12.4 snaps, Rountree once every 26.3 – or sticking in for pass protection…which he’s surprisingly good at, given that he’s only 5-9, 190. Badie is a different enough back from Rountree that not only can he give the starter a breather, but he can give opposing defenses something entirely new to think about when he’s in.
G Larry Borom, Soph.
2018 stats: 5 games on the line, 9.8 snaps/game
I could’ve gone the Hyrin White at tackle route here, but I feel like Borom’s effectiveness will have more bearing on the health of the Missouri offense. Even with Derek Dooley weaving a little more intricacy into the attack last year, it’s still fundamentally a quick-release passing attack. That is, if Kelly Bryant doesn’t have the ball out of his hand in two seconds, something is going wrong, more often than not.
So a pulling guard that can help the Tigers maintain those 202.4 rushing yards a game from last year will be key. Kevin Pendleton was a three-year starter and a really solid counterbalance to Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms. Borom is gigantic like Simms and, if he proves to be as comparatively nimble, could be a devastating blocker at the second level. He separated himself from the continuity candidate, Case Cook, in the spring, so he’s got a firmly upward trajectory at this point in his career as well. He only got mop-up duty last year, but he’ll be seeing a lot more of the field this season.
WR Kam Scott, Soph.
2018 stats: 14 targets, 8 catches, 214 yards, 2 TD; 24.0 snaps/game
Again, Jalen Knox might have been the more obvious “who is the next Emanuel Hall?” candidate here, but I actually think Scott may be a better answer to that question. He’s got the same low-efficiency, high-reward pedigree as Hall, hitting on only 57.1 percent of his targets but logging 26.8 yards a catch. And, among receivers with more than 10 targets to their names, he actually had the team’s highest passer rating when thrown to last year, at 218.40. Hall’s 210.77 was second.
Scott is tall, lanky and quick like Hall, but without the acumen for separation that Hall showed over the past two seasons. That can come with time, experience and more strength to be physical at the line, though. As a freshman, Scott had a tendency to disappear, but he also delivered big catches against Kentucky and Tennessee and a knockout punch against Florida. Definitely something to build on.
LB Nick Bolton, Soph.
2018 stats: 22 tackles (12 solo, 10 assisted), sack; 7 games on defense, 13.9 snaps/game
Andrew Wilson needed his Kentrell Brothers. Michael Scherer needed his…also Kentrell Brothers. Cale Garrett needed his Terez Hall. And now Cale Garrett needs the next Terez Hall. The point is, in order for a Missouri middle linebacker to function, he needs somebody on the outside who can get his back. Bolton can be that guy for Garrett this season.
Bolton was pretty active as a true freshman, recording at least an assisted tackle once every 6.06 snaps. Garrett’s team-leading 112 stops came once every 6.64 snaps, for reference. And, if we’re to believe coaches when they go on gushing about how important special teams play is, then Bolton should be one of the staff’s favorites: he recorded five solos and an assist on special teams last year. He also saw extensive action against Alabama and got into the regular flow of substitutions against Tennessee and Oklahoma State, so he’s at least a little bit battle-tested.
DE Akial Byers, Jr.
2018 stats: 20 tackles (14 solo, 6 assisted), 1.5 TFL; 27.4 snaps/game
Missouri needs more out of its ends. Has to have it. Jordan Elliott can do a little to mitigate inaction from the edges if he’s as active as he showed in flashes last year, and Garrett and (perhaps) Bolton can do a little on the second level as well, but the Tigers just need much more production from their edge rushers. Byers, Chris Turner, Tre Williams and Nate Anderson combined to manage only 85 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last year. That’s less impressive than Markus Golden by himself (78 tackles, 20.0 TFL, 10 sacks) in 2014. Coming from four dudes.
Byers passed up Williams during the season last year and with Williams suspended? Still? I guess? Coming out of the spring, Byers and Turner are the incumbents off the edge. Byers seems like a more likely breakout candidate to me because his size allows him to play outside or inside – which is enticing – and he was a more highly sought recruit out of high school than Turner. But somebody’s got to show something soon.
S Ronnell Perkins, Sr.
2018 stats: 18 tackles (12 solo, 6 assisted), 2.0 TFL, sack; 20.1 snaps/game
Perkins is, again, the trajectory play. And he’s a bit of a strange one, seeing as how he emerged as a redshirt freshman, then receded a bit for the better part of two years only to re-emerge toward the end of his junior season last year. Even last year was a bit of a rollercoaster: 16.5 snaps a game over his first four, 15.0 over his middle four and 38.3 over his last three.
He’ll be playing the safety/linebacker hybrid slot like he did last year, which also could translate to more time on the field if whoever inhabits the nominal third linebacker slot (Gerald Nathan? Aubrey Miller? Jacob Trump? Jamal Brooks?) needs some weaning in before he’s ready to play 50-60 snaps a game. The bottom line is somebody has to shake the safety corps awake. Cam Hilton showed glimpses of that last year, but now he’s gone. Joshuah Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie did as well but, if they’re not getting pushed by somebody, then it’s bad news for the Tigers’ back end. Perkins, in his final year on campus looking to prove something on his way out, could be that pusher, especially if Jalani Williams needs easing back in after his foot surgery.