Tyree Gillespie has probably never been given the credit he truly deserves. The former two-star prospect out of Florida has always been overshadowed on his own defense by another star.
Gillespie finished his true sophomore season in 2018 as the Tigers’ third leading tackler. He certainly caught the attention of Mizzou fans, but his season certainly didn’t register the way Terry Beckner Jr.’s final season did.
Last year was a similar story as Gillespie developed into one of the Tigers’ best defenders, but his performance was overshadowed by Nick Bolton becoming a star, Jordan Elliott and Kobie Whiteside dominating from the interior and Cale Garrett’s unbelievable opening five games of the season. Gillespie’s 50 tackles, four tackles-for-loss and seven passes defended just didn’t get the publicity it probably should have.
Pro Football Focus had Gillespie as the second highest graded safety returning in the SEC this season. His game has taken another step forward. He showed out in the first week against Alabama. He’s been steady ever since. He’s now viewed as a legitimate NFL Draft prospect. Dane Brugler of The Athletic is touting him as one of the best senior safety prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft class.
We would like to OFFICIALLY welcome @MizzouFootball DB Tyree Gillespie (@PutReekIn) to the 2021 @Reeses Senior Bowl! #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE #BestOfTheBest @JimNagy_SB @PaniniAmerica #RatedRookie pic.twitter.com/e4DdclfXUP— Reese's Senior Bowl (@seniorbowl) November 16, 2020
Gillespie is finally getting the attention he deserves, as earlier this week he officially accepted his invitation to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.
Being invited to the Senior Bowl is a big deal. There were 10 safeties invited last year. Eight of the 10 Senior Bowl safeties were selected in the draft, including two top 100 selections. Jim Nagy took over as the Senior Bowl Executive Director in 2018, and he’s put a renewed emphasis on getting as many top seniors as possible to commit to the game. Gillespie’s inclusion is a strong indicator that he’s getting some early buzz within NFL Draft circles, not just from media scouts, but also within the league.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. His performance in the first quarter against Alabama was a showcase of what teams are looking for from safeties in the modern NFL.
The first time he showed up on the screen was a big pass breakup across the middle. Mac Jones thought he had his favorite target, Devonta Smith, across the middle to pick up the first down on third and four. Gillespie drove on the ball from his deep safety position and broke up the pass by separating the ball from Smith’s hands. That’s something you don’t see very often against Smith.
Tyree Gillespie is getting some (much deserved) attention after he accepted his invite to the Senior Bowl. He's been a stud this season.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 16, 2020
This was one of his first big plays of the year; A pass breakup vs. Devonta Smith early in the first game of the season. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/Wh6HUZt8vl
He flashed another big-time play on Alabama’s second drive of the game when Jaylen Waddle took the ball on a jet sweep. Keep in mind Waddle is one of the fastest players in the country. He reportedly runs a 4.40 40-yard dash. Gillespie closed the gap in a hurry. He immediately recognized the push pass from Jones and beat Waddle to the edge. It was a textbook play. It’s the type of play I would imagine defensive coaches went back and watched over and over in film review to highlight exactly how a safety should run the alley. And, again, he did this against one of the most explosive players in the country.
Plays like that are why Gillespie is getting the NFL Draft hype he’s seeing. He’s extremely athletic, he’s a willing tackler and he’s not afraid to lay the wood across the middle. All of these are traits the league is looking for in a safety. But it’s his ability to do it consistently that will get him selected quickly in the draft.
Gillespie might have been overshadowed for much of his first few seasons at Missouri. That’s changed this year. Tigers fans recognize what kind of player he’s become, and the NFL is taking notice, too.