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Missouri’s 2022 Returning Production: Defense

Missouri’s 2021 defense was projected to be bad and were outright terrible for two-thirds of the season. But, hey, at least most of them are coming back!

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

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 2022:

  • Overall Returning Production: 65% - 68th
  • Offensive Returning Production: 52% - 105th
  • Defensive Returning Production: 78% - 30th

So while the offensive version of this article is hopeful that the new additions and backups can, at worst, break even compared to 2021, the defensive version is hopeful that all the lumps taken last year lead to improvement this year. I cannot overstate how important it is that Martez Manuel is back - as you’ll see when we get into the numbers - but from a production, experience, and leadership standpoint that was a key win for this unit’s offseason.

Once again here is Missouri’s end-of-year two-deep based off of production and snap counts (gaps are where a player in 2021 was that won’t be back in 2022):

Missouri’s 2021 Two-Deep going into 2022

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: 59%
  • Returning Tackles for Loss: 8%
  • Returning Sacks: 5%
  • Returning Passes Defensed: 28%

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 2022 roster):

Returning Tackles - 59% Weight - 64% Returning Production

Returning Tackles

Missouri loses three of its top ten tacklers but if you stretch that out by five more guys they’re losing seven of their top fifteen tacklers, three of which were interior defensive linemen. The addition of Ty’Ron Hopper helps alleviate the loss of Blaze Alldredge but losing experienced tacklers at the corner spots is going to be rough to overcome.

Returning Tackles for Loss - 8% Weight - 66% Returning Production

Returning Tackles for Loss

Twenty-three gentlemen made a tackle for loss in 2021 and nine won’t be around for 2022. Blaze Alldredge was, once again, the leader of the pack in this category but Hopper and Jayden Jernigan’s additions help make that loss a little more bearable. The return of Isaiah McGuire and Trajan Jeffcoat gives Missouri it’s most experienced - and productive - defensive end tandem since Markus Golden and Shane Ray combined for 42.5 tackles for loss in 2014. In fact, here are the starting defensive ends since then with their TFL totals in parenthesis:

  • 2015 - Charles Harris (18.5) and Walter Brady (12.5)
  • 2016 - Charles Harris (12) and Marcell Frazier (8.5)
  • 2017 - Jordan Harold (7.5) and Marcell Frazier (15.5)
  • 2018 - Akial Byers (1.5) and Chris Turner (3.5)
  • 2019 - Jatorian Hansford (2.5) and Chris Turner (2)
  • 2020 - Trajan Jeffcoat (6) and Tre Williams (1)
  • 2021 - Trajan Jeffcoat (12) and Isaiah McGuire (15)

Charles Harris kept the D-line Zou spirit alive for a little bit but the mystique has been noticeably absent over the past few years.

Returning Sacks - 5% Weight - 70% Returning Production

Returning Sacks

Raise your hand if you knew Martez Manuel was tied for second on the team in sacks! I track the numbers for this team every game and even I didn’t have that fact register until a few weeks ago when I began compiling these numbers. Hopper and Jernigan were able to take down the quarterback twice last year, as did Devin Nicholson and Johnny Walker, so it’s a big of a sack party by committee in regards to returning production. Even so, it’s not a heavily weighted metric and, given the influx of pass rushing talent over the past two years, it’s easy to talk yourself into a few new names stepping up and making an impact in this stat for 2022 without the worry of sacrificing overall defensive quality.

For fun, here are the same starting defensive end tandems with their corresponding sack totals since 2014:

  • 2015 - Charles Harris (7) and Walter Brady (7)
  • 2016 - Charles Harris (9) and Marcell Frazier (7.5)
  • 2017 - Jordan Harold (3) and Marcell Frazier (7)
  • 2018 - Akial Byers (0) and Chris Turner (2)
  • 2019 - Jatorian Hansford (0) and Chris Turner (2)
  • 2020 - Trajan Jeffcoat (6) and Tre Williams (2)
  • 2021 - Trajan Jeffcoat (3.5) and Isaiah McGuire (6)

Returning Passes Defensed - 28% Weight - 64% Returning Production

Returning Passes Defensed

Kris Abrams-Draine was your clubhouse leader in passes defensed and, when paired with fellow returning corner D.J. Jackson, represent 36% of the season’s total passes broken up. The Tigers will absolutely miss Akayleb Evans and Allie Green in this department, especially since this is the second most-heavily weighted metric in predicting future success. It would be foolish to believe that a single redshirt freshman could step up and replicate what the two Tulsa seniors could do but, conceivably, the full compliment of corners could, reasonably, replicate it as a committee. How deep the corner rotation runs will be interesting, as will how active the front six can be in swatting away passes as well.

Conclusion

Is it better for a bunch of guys to contribute to the overall defensive effort or just a few? In 2020 Nick Bolton, Josh Bledsoe, and Tyree Gillespie dominated the stat sheet and went to the NFL; Missouri’s quality dropped immensely in 2021 before rebounding late. In 2022, Missouri’s defense loses its most productive player in Blaze Alldredge, both starting corners, 3 of their 4 interior linemen, and a rotational safety, but still returns a Top 30 level of production because a ton of guys contributed a little bit to the effort Now, part of that is the fact that Martez Manuel came back and Ty’Ron Hopper’s Florida production counts towards this total but, still, there’s going to be proven experience at end, linebacker, and safety and a lot of guys contributed something over the season. What that means for development and continued improvement is unclear but what is clear is that Blake Baker needs to find a few corners - of, which, they have plenty of candidates - and have the interior defensive line rely on newcomers heavily. Even so, you can talk yourself into thinking that the defense can maintain it’s late-season improvement if not replicate the production thanks to some key additions and a deep pool of players to pull from.