As I mentioned in the cornerback preview, Missouri doesn’t have a rich history of elite secondary talent. Yes, there’s E.J. Gaines and William Moore and Pig Brown...but that’s really it from an “elite” view. Guys like Carl Gettis, Aarion Penton, Kenji Jackson, Braylon Webb, and Ian Simon were all good in their time at Mizzou, but certainly not game-changing.
Right now, Mizzou has a duo of good safeties, and they’ll have a chance to make it elite with this upcoming year.
That’s certainly not to add pressure to their performance, but two of the three starters have been part of this team for four years and have an opportunity to go out with the biggest bang possible: the strongest position on the strongest unit of the team. Let’s walk through the safety roster:
Joshuah Bledsoe, Tyree Gillespie, & Martez Manuel
Bledsoe and Gillespie both played as freshmen, both earned starting spots in 2018, and have eerily similar career stats over that time. Bledsoe is a little more active in pass defense and Gillespie has logged more tackles, but stat for stat, they are almost the same guy. Which is great to have in a safety tandem, mind you. Maybe you want more interceptions from these guys - like, more than zero, anyway - but they’re active and experienced and contribute to defending both aspects of the offense. It’s hard to imagine them giving much more than they already have but elite defenses are powered by competent safety valves which Missouri will definitely have in 2020.
As for the third, Martez Manuel had some good usage last year and probably has a bit of an edge on a starting spot in 2020. Now, “starting” isn’t the equivalent of “playing the entire game,” and there’s some guys behind him who might start here or there as well, but the youngsters will get plenty of opportunities to play third fiddle to the Bledsoe-Gillespie tandem. Manuel hasn’t stuffed the stats sheet quite yet, but he’s shown off-field leadership and trust early in his tenure at Mizzou. He’s definitely a player to watch with an eye on “future big name leader” on the defense.
Jalani Williams, Stacy Brown, & Aidan Harrison
All three of these guys saw playing time last year, but only Jalani preserved his redshirt while Stacy and Aidan were special teams fixtures. While going through my spring position breakdown for recruiting earlier this year, I pointed out that Harrison, then listed as a linebacker, was a good candidate for safety based off his height/weight. The coaches agreed and now he’s listed as a defensive back which seems like a better fit given his build.
Williams is the highest rated of this group from a recruiting standpoint and has had lots of good buzz around him in fall camp. My thought is that he and Manuel split time at the third safety spot and will have the highest usage rate; regardless, all three of these guys will end up on the field at some point given the schedule and COVID.
Ishmael Burdine & Tyler Jones
Burdine got his feet wet last year but didn’t contribute much to the stat sheet. Jones committed on the same day as his West Orange High School teammate J.C. Carlies, and was overlooked in this signing class, including by yours truly. However, based off of coaches and player chatter, it sounds like he could seriously push for some time as a safety for this year, which would be great. Bledsoe and Gillespie have the option of returning thanks to the eligibility freeze but if they do decide to go it’ll be nice to have a young corps of safeties with experience and talent to take their place.
What would dumb Nate do?
Bledsoe-Gillespie-Williams as starters, Manuel and Jones as rotational pieces.
What’s actually going to happen?
...ya know what, probably that.