Believe it or not, fall camp is finally here for Mizzou Football. To prepare you for the coming season, we’ll be previewing each position group with a roundtable Q&A every Monday.
In his first year, Eli Drinkwitz made a point of emphasizing getting to the quarterback... and no one did that better than Trajan Jeffcoat, who made a surprise return to the roster before turning in an All-SEC season. Is Jeffcoat for real, or should we temper our expectations moving forward?
Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: Trajan is legit. You don’t become a first-team All-SEC player by accident, especially as an edge rusher.
Jeffcoat finished with at least one sack in six of his eight games last season. That’s the kind of consistency that puts you on an NFL trajectory, especially when it’s combined with Jeffcoat’s size (6-foot-4, 276 pounds) and his athleticism.
I’m fascinated to see what comes next for Jeffcoat. His career arc is unlike anything we’ve seen by a recent Mizzou defensive lineman. He showed flashes in limited playing time as a true freshman in 2018, vanished from the team for a full season, and then showed up at camp in 2020 and immediately became the most productive defensive lineman on the team. That... doesn’t happen.
But progress isn’t linear. Jeffcoat might be a better player in 2021 with worse numbers. A seven or eight sack season in 12 games this year should be deemed a success, in my opinion.
Aaron Dryden, Staff Football Analyst: He is for real. Trajan has earned a lot of respect from his season last year. He earned those SEC first team honors, and he also earned the attention of opposing defensive coordinators. Especially in the latter part of 2020, there were a lot of double teams and chip blocks from the running back on Jeffcoat.
That is my only real question about Trajan heading into 2021— how will he handle the extra attention he’s going to receive? Can he be okay with executing his job in the scheme while not always getting the stats he was last year? Can he be okay letting his teammates eat, because he is occupying attention?
I think he can, but being disciplined and making the right play even when you’re not the one making it is sometimes difficult when you have an expectation of being *the* guy.
Parker Gillam, Football Beat Writer: He’s for real, though it may not show up in the box score as much this season. Jeffcoat has a great skillset to pair with his athletic ability, and he took a lot of teams by surprise last season with his play coming off of injury. Teams are now going to be preparing for his abilities in their scouting reports and schemes, so expect a lot more double teams to come his way.
Therefore, I doubt he improves his numbers too drastically from last season, but his impact will still be greater. Other guys like Kobie Whiteside and even the LB corps will benefit greatly from the attention Jeffcoat will receive, freeing them up for more one-on-one opportunities in passing situations. The great Mizzou defensive lines thrived when they had multiple threats on the field at the same time, forcing offensive lines into a kind of “pick your poison” situation. All in all, the pass rush will improve thanks to Jeffcoat, just maybe not due to him taking down the quarterback every time.
The line suffered from a lack of impact depth (and injuries) in 2020, but brings back a lot of experience. With Jeffcoat expected to make a lot of noise, which other upperclassman could help him anchor the attack in the trenches?
Brandon Kiley: It’s a fascinating question. Let’s start with the options:
- Defensive Tackle: Akial Byers, Darius Robinson, Kobie Whiteside, Ben Key
- Defensive End: Isaiah McGuire, Jatorian Hansford, Chris Turner
I think we’ve seen roughly what we can expect out of guys like Byers, Hansford and Turner. That’s not to speak ill of any of them — they’re all helpful players — but I don’t think we should expect a breakout campaign.
Robinson, Whiteside, Key and McGuire are a little different. All four have shown enough promise to give Mizzou fans some optimism that any of the four could be in for a solid season.
Whiteside and Robinson are the two that I have the most faith in to make good on that promise. Robinson looks like a man among boys. I feel like he’s eventually going to look like Thanos in a Mizzou football uniform. I’m consistently shocked to learn he finished last season with just one sack and one tackle for loss. His numbers don’t reflect the disruption he caused in opposing teams’ backfields at times in 2020.
Whiteside might be the most intriguing case of the group. He was never healthy last season, but he’s already shown All-SEC potential when he was at his best in 2019. The only question for Whiteside is whether or not he can get back to that 2019 form without Jordan Elliott lined up next to him.
Aaron Dryden: I was really impressed with Darius Robinson last year. He started to pop towards the end of the year as he seemed to adjust to regular playing time in the SEC. He looked like a bully at times and showed a little bit of positional flexibility, too.
He moves really well for his size, and since he’s gotten on campus he’s invested in his body and added roughly 45 pounds to his frame.
This is probably an unfair comparison, but there are flashes of Terry Beckner, Jr. to his game. They both have an exceptionally quick first step and play really violently.
Parker Gillam: This is a year in which Mizzou is aiming to restore the “D-line U” mantra back to the program. With Jeffcoat already being a proven commodity, it’ll come down to the guys around him to back up those lofty expectations. Due to injuries last season, plenty of players have experience along the line, making it a potentially deep and competitive position group.
Whiteside is an easy answer for this question given he stays healthy, but whoever starts opposite Trajan Jeffcoat will be the key in my eyes. Someone has to step up to take the pressure off of Jeffcoat, and I expect that to be junior Isaiah McGuire. He had a promising sophomore campaign (4 TFLs, 3 sacks), and his 6’4”, 266 lb. frame is now built to handle the grueling SEC schedule. He does not have to play to Jeffcoat’s level necessarily, but if he can be a threat coming off the edge, it will prevent offensive lines from keying in on Jeffcoat too much.
Perhaps no position group benefited more from Eli Drinkwitz’s recruiting prowess than defensive line, which saw a number of coveted recruits sign up with Missouri. Out of all the newcomers, who has the best chance at grabbing early playing time?
Brandon Kiley: I think there are three that have a good chance of seeing the field early: Ky Montgomery at defensive end, and Mekhi Wingo and Realus George at defensive tackle. If I had to bet on two of those three being part of the main rotation, it would be Montgomery and George.
George is the former Miami fullback who transitioned to the defensive line last season at JUCO. He didn’t commit to sit on the bench. He’ll play.
Montgomery is a bet on college ready talent. The four-star defensive end out of Indianapolis is listed at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds. That’s big enough to see the field as a true freshman, even in the SEC.
Aaron Dryden: I don’t think there will be very many freshmen who log anything other than minutes at the end of games, let alone along a pretty experienced defensive line.
If I had to choose one player though, it’d probably be Mekhi Wingo. He’s a bit undersized, but he was a dominant player at the high school level who showed a lot of nice technique that could translate well to college football. Defensive tackle is going to be a very young group heading into 2022, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see a guy like Wingo be in to gain some experience.
I like Travion Ford as a prospect but Mizzou is four deep at DE. It would take a lot to dethrone the incumbents. Jeffcoat, Hansford, Turner, and McGuire all probably have better chances of immediate snaps in 2020.
Parker Gillam: It’s very hard to say anything other than Travion Ford for this. He is perhaps the most college-ready prospect in Mizzou’s 2021 freshman class, and he should be a key cog in the defensive line as he develops.
To toss another name out there, I’ll go with Kyran Montgomery. I could see him used in speciality packages as a freshman, as the coaching staff could put his speed and length to good use. In 2019, Montgomery recorded 5 sacks but a whopping 22 tackles for loss, displaying his knack for living in the backfield whether it is a pass or run. If he plays with the same motor he did in high school, Montgomery should see the field early on and have the opportunity to make a name for himself.