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Mizzou Recruiting Roundtable: Secondary

Missouri has had success in recruiting cornerbacks and safeties lately. Does that bode well for the future of the Tiger secondary?

football recruiting 2019

One of the most exciting things about following recruiting is that instant hit of adrenaline you get when a coveted prospect commits to your school. Fans from schools like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and a small number of others get to experience it every year. There’s something that feels like pure, uncut hope that rushes through your system when a really talented football player says, “Hey, I like your school, I want to be a part of it.”

Unfortunately, schools like Missouri only get to experience that once or twice a cycle. I’d argue, though, that the rush is the same, if not bigger, because of the rarity of its happenstance. Not many players will scorn the bigger schools to don black and gold, and it feels a little sweeter when they do.

Interestingly, the last two classes have featured two such commitments, both in one of the football field’s more forgotten areas — the secondary. Generally, if you’re noticing a player back there it’s for a very good (turnover!) or very bad (blown coverage!) reason. Take DeMarkus Acy, the latest star back out of Missouri. In his senior season, Acy was heralded as one of the SEC’s better corners, but how often did you hear his name called out?

In our last recruiting roundtable, we’ll be examining the defensive backs on the 2020 roster and beyond, sorting through who will be the future stars of the secondary. We discuss recent recruiting victories like Rakestraw and Williams and discuss who we’d like to see Drinkwitz add in the 2021 class.

2020 Mizzou Football: Secondary

Seniors Juniors Sophomores Freshmen
Seniors Juniors Sophomores Freshmen
Tyree Gillespie (S) Jarvis Ware (DB) Chris Shearin (DB) Ennis Rakestraw (DB)
Adam Sparks (DB) Stacy Brown (DB) Tyler Jones (S)
Joshua Bledsoe (S) Aidan Harrison (DB) Jalani Williams (S - RS)
Martez Manuel (S) Ishmael Burdine (DB - RS)
Chris Mills (DB)

The secondary has been home to some of Missouri’s biggest recruiting wins over the past few years, most notably Jalani Williams and Ennis Rakestraw. Do you see these last few classes paying off a few years down the road?

jalani williams-missouri football-2018 early signing period @jalaniw9

Nate Edwards, Football Editor: They’d better! Missouri’s base scheme deploys five defensive backs, and there are only 13 currently on the roster. Of those 13, nine have at least three more years of eligibility. So the Tigers are in a full-blown youth movement. Adam Sparks, Jarvis Ware, Tyree Gillespie, and Joshuah Bledsoe all have starting experience and will need to be awesome: the best defenses have excellent secondaries and the best secondaries in the college game tend to have upperclassmen manning the starting spots. I’ve said this many times over, but I’m hoping Coach Drinkwitz embraces a youth movement and gets Ennis Rakestraw and Jalani Williams involved whenever the next season starts. They are both clearly talented, and the sooner you can get them on the field and learning against SEC action, the better. Martez Manuel and Chris Shearin are also good, younger candidates to see the field as well.

Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: They’d better. Both Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe are gone at the end of the year, vacating both starting safeties. Cornerbacks Christian Holmes and DeMarkus Acy are gone. Jarvis Ware is going to have to step up in a big way. Adam Sparks is going to need to re-appear after spending much of last season in witness protection — what happened there? And I frankly have no idea who the #3 CB is going to be next season.

As for down the road, recruiting is the lifeblood of your program. That’s the case at every position. The Tigers have won plenty of battles at safety in recent years. Rakestraw was a significant recruiting coup for a million reasons, but maybe most importantly because the Tigers have been missing on some of their top corner targets in recent years. That’s a spot that needed an influx of talent.

Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: You certainly hope so, but it’s hard to tell how players will develop when you introduce a new coaching staff into the mix. Granted, some of the same guys are in place (David Gibbs is still out here coaching turnovers, sorry Nate), but that’s also too simplistic of a viewpoint. These players will develop differently for different coaches who may be able to prioritize certain elements of their game that other coaches may not value.

All that to be said, you’d have to think the talent is in place for an uptick. Rakestraw and Williams are both NFL-type talents if they can put it together. I’m also high on Martez Manuel and Stacy Brown as guys who could become fearsome over the next few years. We addressed the recruiting vs. scheme question in the last roundtable, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that the recruiting part has been satisfied. Now it’s up to the players and coaches to make sure that promise is realized.

Missouri has prioritized length in the secondary over the past few years, with only one defensive back on the roster (along with one recruit) under six feet tall. Are you in favor of keeping this strategy, or does size not make the player?

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards: I don’t particularly care about how tall or heavy the secondary is. There are obvious pros and cons to each approach, and I’m sure all defensive coordinators have their philosophies on why their approach is the best. For me, I just care about speed. I don’t care if you’re 5’10” or 6’4”, if you can stay with an SEC receiver stride for stride and break up the pass, that’s all I care about for my corners. Maybe safeties can afford to be a little bigger and slower, especially the boundary safety that acts as a third linebacker. But overall, put as much speed on the field as you can and disrupt the hell out of the offense. Find me guys who can do that and you’ll make me happy.

Brandon Kiley: I like the idea of prioritizing size - especially at corner - but not at the expense of the better player. If a 5-foot-9 corner is a significantly better player than the 6-foot-1 corner, take the short guy. Where size comes into play is if the performance on the field is at least comparable, or if the projection suggests the taller player has a significantly higher ceiling.

Football is becoming more and more position-less as the years go on. We just saw former Clemson defensive back/linebacker/edge rusher Isaiah Simmons go in the top 10 of the NFL Draft. There was a reason for that. Teams value players like him. Now, Simmons is a unique talent, but those kinds of players are going to become more valuable in the coming years.

Look at basketball. Everyone is looking for that 6-foot-6 wing that can shoot and defend. It’s the holy grail. Players like Simmons who have the size to hold up against the run while also having the speed and athleticism to defend against the pass in the slot, against tight ends or sticking with running backs out of the back field are the future of the game. Drinkwitz had a guy like that in Akeem Davis-Gaither at Appalachian State. He needs to find more of them in his time at Missouri.

Josh Matejka: My favorite Mizzou cornerback team of the last 10 years featured two players under 6-feet-tall — E.J. Gaines and Aarion Penton. Neither had that traditional size you’ll see out of a typical NFL corner today, but they both shared a common trait — tenacity. In my opinion, six feet isn’t some magical number that makes you stand up to better wideouts. It may win you a jump ball here or there, but if you’ve got the speed and strength to stick with your guy, you’ll be able to have an influence on the play.

I don’t like to sound old-fashioned when I analyze anything, but there’s something about the cornerback position that brings it out in me. To play defensive back, you have to have some sort of “it” factor. While that’s decidedly harder to identify in a kid, I’d rather look for that then just grab some six-foot-two stiff who is going to get man-handled every time down the field.

Missouri has one addition to the secondary in the 2021 class, and appears to be looking for more. Looking at the offer sheet, name some candidates you’d like to see join the fold.

drinkwitz press conference

Nate Edwards: If I’m looking to add to the ‘21 class of DBs, I would of course take 5-star Tony Grimes out of Virginia, but I’m thinking the Tigers won’t be winning his services. Tyler Hibbler would be a nice additional in the #Lou2TheZou movement. And with Drink’s big social media push into Chicago, I’d like to see that pay off with a commit from 3-star Benjamin Perry.

Brandon Kiley: I have no idea how realistic it is (probably not very), but the top name I would love to see is Indianapolis 4-star CB Daylan Carnell. He’s long (6-foot-1) and seems to fit the criteria the staff has set at the position. That would probably be my top pick for the position.

Josh Matejka: With the knowledge that Jakailin Johnson probably isn’t backing off his Ohio State commitment, I’d love to see the staff pull Tyler Hibbler out of Trinity Catholic, if only to keep the St. Louis momentum strong (though I really like his tape). Dreyden Norwood down in Arkansas is also going to be tough to pull from the home state Hogs, but the staff seems to be high on him, and I’d love to pull the rug out from old Barry Boy, especially since Norwood seems to be pretty high on a lot of schools’ lists.