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2021 Position Postmortem: Defensive Backs

A review of the defensive back performance for the 2021 season.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2021 season officially over, it’s time to break down the performance of the team position by position. We’ll look at the stats for the year, the departing players, new additions, and some predictions for what we’ll see in 2022.

2021 featured two stalwarts at safety and two one-year loans at corner. How will the youth respond heading into 2022?

2021 Missouri Defensive Back Stats

The 2021 Missouri secondary was met with a ton of anticipation in the offseason. With Ennis Rakestraw heading into his second full year, blue chipper Daylan Carnell joining the team, and the incoming transfers of Tulsa’s lockdown corners Akayleb Evans and Allie Green IV, what was once seen as a potential soft spot turned into a strength - and that’s not even mentioning the unnoticeable drop off of Martez Manuel and Jaylon Carlies to their NFL predecessors. However, much like Missouri’s defense as a whole, that anticipation quickly turned into disappointment as Rakestraw was lost for the season four games in, Carnell was unable to see the field, and the secondary turned into run stoppers as the front six was completely incapable bringing down anyone running with the ball. Becoming the last line of the run defense neutered their abilities as effective pass defenders early in the year, causing huge chunks of yardage to be gained on relatively few passes. Much like the rest of the 2021 defensive effort, the returns improved as the season went on and the front six could handle the run and allow the secondary to focus on what they do best. But the top two corners from that unit are off to the NFL and, even with two years of improved recruiting, the reinforcements are overwhelmingly young and untested. But with the emergence of D.J. Jackson and the return of nickel corner specialist Kris Abrams-Draine, Missouri needs to only find two corners among the six underclassmen to reliably perform, something that is absolutely doable with the roster at hand.

The Departed

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 South Carolina at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite the fanfare that was received when they announced their transfer decision, Akayleb Evans and Allie Green didn’t actually start at their respective corner spots in the first game. In fact, Evans didn’t become the official starter until game four and Green was mostly a situational player for the first half of the year. However, they did earn significant snaps - top two in snap counts for the cornerback unit - but are off to the NFL as their one-year loaner contract has expired. Evans was the more productive of the two but it’s not easy to replace experience and production at the corner position.

Shawn Robinson, Ishmael Burdine, and Chris Shearin were backups who, combined, played fewer snaps than Kris Abrams-Draine and didn’t have a clear-cut path to a starting position or significant snaps. Robinson headed off to Kansas State, Burdine wound up at TCU, and Shearin is still floating in the portal, unclaimed as of this publication.

The Returners

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 North Texas at Missouri Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Martez Manuel and Jaylon Carlies damn near played every single defensive snap of 2021. Manuel could have gone pro but decided to come back and its a good thing he did: he was 1st in snaps, 2nd in tackles, 4th in TFLs, and 2nd in sacks for the ‘21 squad. Carlies was more pass-defense oriented than Manuel, picking off four passes from his deep safety spot. Kris Abrams-Draine was Missouri’s best, and most consistent, cornerback as he logged 8 passes defensed and 3 interceptions on the year. Ennis Rakestraw was glitchy in the few games he played before injury while D.J. Jackson earned more reps as the season went on, eventually earning a starting spot in the last three games. You can field a competent secondary with just those names alone but don’t forget about redshirt freshmen Daylen Carnell, Davion Sistrunk, and Snoop Reeves from the cornerbacks as well as Jalani Williams, Tyler Jones, Tyler Hibbler, and Stacy Brown (assuming he isn’t booted from the team). All of those names have at least two more years to play if they want with the majority coming off of a redshirt year. This secondary is going to be super experienced in two seasons but this year will either see the upper classmen dominate the rotation or a trial-by-fire acclimation for the younger dudes.

The Transfers

CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The big name for secondary transfers to Missouri was Joseph Charleston of Clemson. A blue chipper coming out of high school, Charleston got lost among the other blue chip defensive backs at Clemson and left to find more playing time. He’s shown the ability to play several roles in the secondary but never stood out at a single one; he’ll be a nice, experienced addition for depth in several slots with the potential to break through.

Dreyden Norwood, late of Texas A&M, was the other incoming transfer bolstering the Tiger secondary. A high school quarterback and recent cornerback conversion, Norwood only stepped onto Kyle Field for 22 snaps over 2 games and then watched as the Aggies hauled in the greatest recruiting class of all time, chock full of five blue chip defensive backs, two of which were 5-star corners. Norwood is athletic but unproven - a theme that runs consistent in Missouri’s secondary - and should get an equal shot as any of the other guys on the roster to see the field.

The Freshmen

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After loading up on secondary recruits in the 2021 class, the Drinkwitz staff only took two high schoolers to bolster their defensive back depth in 2022 but both were blue chip recruits.

Marcus Scott II is a prototypical nickel corner in size and agility. Whether he ends up playing in the slot or on the outside in unclear but his speed is what caught scouts’ eyes and earned him the lofty 4-star designation.

Isaac Thompson had his senior year at SLUH cut short by a leg injury but flashed a ton of high-caliber skill and production from his safety spot. How he has recovered from his injury is unknown, as is the impact it has on his future performance. What is clear, however, is that the Missouri safety rotation is one of the deepest on the team and he has no pressure to step up and perform immediately. He’ll have plenty of time to rehab, learn, and prepare for his time to shine thanks to the established pieces in front of him.

2022 Forecasting

  • Prediction: Starting corners will be Rakestraw, Abrams-Draine, and Jackson; safeties will be Carlies and Manuel.
  • Bold Prediction: Daylan Carnell and Tyler Hibbler earn significant snaps
  • HOT TAKE: Martez Manuel wins the Jim Thorpe award. At the presentation, he takes off his jacket, revealing a purple and gold Hickman High School shirt, saying that while he did have to go to Rock Bridge he’s always been a Kewpie at heart and that the Bruins are terrible and green and gold is a disgusting color scheme. Columbia residents go wild.