If it feels like half the Missouri football starters of 2020 have all left and gone to Arkansas, I certainly would understand.
But let’s actually take stock of the roster...and what the 2020 depth chart looks like now minus the transfers (so far) to get a better grasp of where the team stands.
Here’s the end of 2020 two-deep with the players removed who are gone:
You’ll remember in my returning defensive production piece that a.) this defense was already going to take a step back, because b.) experience in the secondary is one of the best predictors of overall defensive performance and the Tigers didn’t have much when I wrote that piece on February 22nd.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go position by position and reassess any holes that appeared after the most recent transfer portal happenings:
Nothing to report here. Three quarterbacks plus one commit before, same situation currently.
Six scholarship running backs, five that count towards the total. Again, no change.
Here’s the first big change. For those who listen to our Before the Boxscore Podcast, BK and I have discussed at length at the excess of slot-receiver types that make up the Tiger wide receiver room. With Jalen Knox leaving the program that’s one less slot guy, taking the number of receivers down to 10 (and 8 counting towards 2021 scholarships). While it’s never a good thing to lose an upperclassmen contributor, the fact of the matter is that Knox was almost certainly passed up by multiple guys and - at a bare minimum - Mookie Cooper was going to siphon 90% of the snaps at the slot receiver position. Jalen saw what Mookie could do and his positioning on the depth chart and decided to try and make it work elsewhere. I won’t speak for everyone on the site, but I personally think this is the best move for him and hope he can catch on somewhere, maybe even as a running back since that’s what he played in high school.
Between Wilson, Banister, Cooper, Lovett, Luper and Maclin, that still leaves six guys who are more suited to a slot receiver role. What that means as far as future roster management goes, I certainly can’t/won’t speak to that, but there is still a glut of smaller guys that will be vying for playing time.
Six tight ends at the end of spring ball, six still on the roster. All good.
Dave Matter mentioned that he hadn’t caught this so it’s worth repeating: Mike Ruth is no longer on the team. Again, BK and I spoke about this on the podcast but Ruth was another guy who was seemingly passed up by younger guys and opted to stop playing football for the Tigers. That still leaves 13 scholarship linemen (12 that count for ‘21) and half are underclassmen so this position is stocked, and balanced, about as optimally as you could get.
Ten total, nine that count towards ‘21’s scholarship count. Hansford and Jeffcoat are the guys that need to really perform consistently this year. Turner has shown to be nothing but a depth piece, and the big-name athletic talent were all commits from this past December. While snap-counts and usage is a big question with this group, attrition is not much of an issue... even with Tre Williams defecting to Arkansas.
Defensive tackle is another near-perfectly balanced position. Newcomer Wingo has time to learn while Byers, Whiteside, and Robinson get most of the snaps, and even with Markell Utsey joining Barry Odom in Arkansas this position group is good to go for ‘21.
The linebacking corps took a massive hit once the 2020 season ended. Yes, it had to deal with Aubrey Miller, Jr and Jamal Brooks transferring, but Nick Bolton becoming a Kansas City Chief is the biggest loss here. Blaze Alldredge transferred in to help stymie the leaking production but the guys left are Devin Nicholson - who played all of last year but is no Nick Bolton - and a grab bag of Chad Bailey/Cameron Wilkins/Gerald Nathan career backups who haven’t seen the field much or only contributed on special teams. Everyone is hoping Alldredge can step up and be a solid outside backer but the experience is lacking. Look to a Will Norris or special teams thumper Jamie Pettway to work into the rotation. If Zachary Lovett and/or Dameon Wilson want to be awesome from Day 1, that is also encouraged.
Look at that depth chart.
Look. At. That. ****ing. Cornerback depth chart.
Jarvis Ware and Chris Mills are gone, which leaves the Tigers with seven cornerbacks. Seven guys, seven versions of freshmen. One third-year player (Burdine), one second-year player (Rakestraw), one converted receiver (Abrams-Draine), and EVERY OTHER GUY WAS PLAYING HIGH SCHOOL BALL LAST YEAR.
The good news, as it were, was that Jarvis Ware missed a ton of games last year and Chris Mills didn’t really provide much for the stat sheet, so the returning production number doesn’t change a whole lot. Still, losing two guys at one of the youngest and most inexperienced positions on the team isn’t great.
Again, experience in the secondary is the best predictor of overall defensive competency and Missouri is not going to have much of it. Burdine and Rakestraw were thrown into the fire last year, but hoping that getting burned in man coverage for ten games equates to heightened performance seven months later is not something that can be relied on.
BK has raved about the potential Zxaequan Reeves and Davion Sistrunk have. I’ve been mesmerized about a cornerback tandem of Rakestraw and Daylan Carnell terrorizing SEC receivers for the next four years. Well, one of those things better happen next year or else this Tiger secondary is going to get roasted in perpetuity. Hang on to your butts.
No changes here. Just a reminder that, in addition to our young, tiny, six pound eight ounce baby cornerback brigade, the Tigers must also replace two NFL-caliber safeties with either last year’s starting quarterback, a guy who sat out last year, or a number of guys who couldn’t reliably crack the field last year. Ok cool thanks bye.
Ahh, this is nice. Hello, Grant McKinniss, so glad we get to watch you punt our opponents to hell for another year. Hello, Jake Hoffman, scholarship long snapper. And helloooooooooooooo Thiccer. Can’t wait for you to nail a 58-yard field goal and smash some tacos in celebration.
You could talk yourself into, “Well, these transfer portal moves opens up the team to take on some transfers to fill in the gaps, right?”. And, yes, technically that is true. The issue that we’re running into isn’t total scholarships, which currently sits at 75 (out of 85 possible). It’s that, via the incoming classes rule, there’s only two scholarships to dole out until the ‘21 season starts. So, yes, maybe Drinkwitz brings in a transfer or JUCO corner or safety or lineman, but it can’t be all three— he has to pick two. Keep that in mind whenever the rumor mill starts churning.
As I see it, an experienced corner is an absolute necessity at this point. Not an experienced guy who provides depth, an experienced guy who can start play one of game one. If that guy doesn’t exist, then ride with the freshmen and enjoy the ride.
In fact, if Drink and friends just full-on committed to a team-wide youth movement for ‘21, I wouldn’t mind it. Get your licks in now against a tough but manageable schedule and build towards ‘22 or ‘23 when all that incoming talent is older and experience and make a run.
We’ll see what happens once fall camp kicks off. In the meantime...anyone want to play corner for Missouri?