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Missouri’s Returning Production: Defense

Whereas the 2021 offense is youth and depth the 2021 defense is looking for some playmakers to replace three massive producers

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Last Tuesday we broke down Missouri’s returning offensive production and today we get to do the defensive side. As a reminder, here is where Missouri stands as far as returning production going in to 2021:

  • Overall Returning Production: 72% - 56th
  • Offensive Returning Production: 82% - 27th
  • Defensive Returning Production: 62% - 89th

So while the offensive version of this article had good news the defensive version is a little less rosy. You can probably guess why there’s such a drop in returning production (it rhymes with Shmick Shmolten) but we’ll get to that in a second.

Once again here is Missouri’s end-of-year two-deep based off of production and snap counts (gaps are where a player in 2020 was that won’t be back in 2021):

First String
Second String

Now, defensive returning production doesn’t really fit in by position since, depending on scheme, you could have three or four lineman, three or four linebackers, or any number of defensive backs on the field at any given time. Instead, the defensive returning production equation weights four categories that any defensive player can contribute to:

  • Returning Tackles: 56%
  • Returning Tackles for Loss: 6%
  • Returning Sacks: 7%
  • Returning Passes Defensed: 31%

Do those weights surprise you? In essence, making sure you bring back the guys who get stops and defend the pass is correlated much closer to overall defensive success than getting stops behind the line and bringing down the quarterback. Obviously it’s not saying that sacks and TFLs don’t matter, just simply that it’s easier to replace that sort of production than it is to replace a disruptive corner or a tackle-gobbling playmaker.

So let’s break down what’s coming back and from whom (italicized players are not on the 2021 roster):

Returning Tackles - 56% Weight - 66% Returning Production

Returning Tackles

The good news is that Missouri only loses three guys from the main defensive contributors of 2020. The bad news is that those three are Nick Bolton, Tyree Gillespie, and Joshuah Bledsoe who combined for 29 starts, 1,748 snaps, and 27% of the team’s tackles by themselves. However! You’ll also notice that there are a ton of underclassmen near the top of this list that have a few more years to develop and play. Plus, of course, the squad of super seniors on the defensive line who are running it back in ‘21. So the core of this unit will be a little more seasoned, which is a plus; now they need some playmakers to step up and fill in the shoes of the three best defenders on a pretty bad 2020 defense.

Returning Tackles for Loss - 6% Weight - 81% Returning Production

Returning Tackles for Loss

More good news/bad news: Missouri’s loses only 19% of its TFL production from 2020; bad news is that it doesn’t account for much as far as predicting overall defensive success for the next year. Nick Bolton was in a three-way-tie with Trajan Jeffcoat and Martez Manuel for TFLs but I was surprised to see Isaiah McGuire ended the year with five. It’ll be interesting to see how Coach Wilks uses the linebackers and defensive backs re: pressure. Missouri only had reliable pressure from Jeffcoat and needed to generate pressure from outside the line. If the Tigers can develop/scheme reliable defensive disruption from the line, that would work wonders for the rest of the defense— Ennis Rakestraw won’t be relied on to provide TFLs from the corner position!

Returning Sacks - 7% Weight - 79% Returning Production

Returning Sacks

The offense grades well in returning production because it returns a ton of production from the most important factors and returns nothing from the lightest weighted metrics. The defense has the inverse problem: lots of returning production from metrics that are easily replaced, big gaps in production that counts the most. But we knew that already and it is one of the reasons why Drinkwitz and his Recruiting Machine brought in so many defensive backs in this recruiting class— that type of production means more and having young playmakers in that position makes a defense’s life much easier. Jeffcoat and McGuire were the top two in sacks, with a surprise cameo from Martez Manuel at third overall. Again, it would be nice to see the top three be all defensive linemen at the end of next season but, if it works, it doesn’t really matter who is getting sacks or what position they play.

Returning Passes Defensed - 31% Weight - 62% Returning Production

Returning Passes Defensed

You all know I wasn’t a huge fan of David Gibbs the secondary coach, but I was a huge fan of David Gibbs the recruiter. So the fact that he’s leaving for UCF doesn’t mean much for this stat here. The Tiger secondary was not super active in defending passes or getting interceptions, but in fairness to Gibbs, our illustrious defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison also didn’t make a huge impact in year one of his tutelage. My hope is that the secondary’s hands are way more active and the coverage much more competent...but again, there will be a flood of freshmen rotating into the secondary so consistency is not something to reliably expect from this ‘21 group. Point is: it’s important to return those guys in a given year and Bledsoe, Bolton, and Gillespie accounted for 35% of Missouri’s defensed passes. I’m looking forward to see who steps up... either an incoming freshman or an incumbent youngster (Burdine, Rakestraw) making a leap in year two.

Conclusion

On our podcast I mentioned that there was a solid chance that Ryan Walters looked at the performance from the 2020 defense, saw the gaps in the ‘21 defense, and knew that - barring a miracle - he’d be fired at the end of the ‘21 season. In that light, I respect the fact that he jumped to a different job while he could still call his shot. I think this defense is going to go through some massive growing pains this year, and yes, while there are some seniors who could heroically carry this unit for stretches, it’s going to take some of the young talent to acclimate immediately to just match the production from last year, let alone improve. I’m excited to see what the new defensive staff can do with these new pieces. The bar is set fairly low so I expect creativity, a deep rotation, and a lot of acclimation from this unit as everyone gets used to the laundry list of “new stuff” that is on the roster.