With the 2022 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 2023.
This week we finally jump over to the defensive side of the ball and look at the other half of the guys who make up the SEC’s “line of scrimmage” mantra, the defensive line.
What a difference a year makes, huh?
In case your eyeballs didn’t tell you enough of how much better Missouri’s ‘22 defense than their ‘21 counterparts, here’s some numbers to drive the point home:
I could break it down into standard vs. passing downs, rushing vs. passing, and every other permutation possible but the conclusion is the same: Missouri’s defense made herculean leaps in a single year, thanks to five transfers on the line and a new coordinator.
Those imports on the line, by the way? 80% are coming back. As is every interior defensive lineman who’s been with the team from the start of their career. The problem, then, is that the top three defensive ends are off to the NFL Draft, leaving behind two promising youngsters and two portal imports.
So this offseason we’ve now flipped the script from last offseason: whereas heading into ‘22 we knew what we had at end and had no idea who would stick at tackle, there are now nine tackles who could effectively play and we have no idea who can deliver at end.
It comes down to this...do you trust Blake Baker, Kevin Peoples, and Al Davis? If yes, then there’s nothing to worry about! If not...
Isaiah McGuire was one of the two best linemen heading into the ‘22 season and absolutely delivered. His 12 tackles for loss ranked second on the team (behind Ty’Ron Hopper) while leading the team with 7 sacks. He wasn’t the best at generating consistent pressure (only 11%...fine, but not world-beating) but was an excellent run defender (10 run stuffs) and logged the most snaps on the line with 498.
Despite not figuring heavily into the rotation until four games into the season. FCS transfer D.J. Coleman was an underwhelming addition in the offseason that became a key component on the rejuvenated line. Despite a mere 10% pressure rate, Coleman logged 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss along with 10 run stuffs over 355 snaps, an incredibly productive final college season and one that was absolutely needed.
Tyrone Hopper - a seventh year senior - was an experienced rotation piece that provided experience in a depth position. He was a guy the staff trusted to spell McGuire and Jeffcoat and helped the other three stay fresh throughout the season. Hopefully he enjoyed his time in Columbia on got a great start on the doctoral degree.
Trajan Jeffcoat and Daniel Robledo are the sole portal losses along the line (so far). Robledo was a JUCO addition in Drink’s second recruiting class but only saw the field for 38 snaps, 18 as an edge rusher and 20 as an interior lineman. With nine tackles on the roster there just wasn’t anyone way the graduate student was going to see the field and left for playing opportunity. Jeffcoat, on the other hand, is an odder situation. Some thought he’d go into the NFL and others thought he was done with his playing career but the idea of him returning for another year seemed slim. And then he announced on Twitter he was coming back. And four days later he entered the portal. Whatever rumor you subscribe to as to instigating factor, it seems clear that why the timeline played out as it did was that the staff did not expect him back and Jeffcoat didn’t clear his return with them before announcing. An odd scenario, for sure, but sometimes that’s how college roster management plays out.
There are A LOT of returning defensive linemen and 81% profile as interior linemen. Gear up, there’s a lot to review.
On the edges, underclassmen Johnny Walker, Jr. and Arden Walker are your sole returning experienced pieces. Even over limited snaps both Walkers impressed; Johnny, in particular, was a pass rushing menace with a 17% pressure rate (for comparison, Alabama pass rushing aficionado Will Anderson managed a 14% pressure rate). With two transfers and four freshman joining the edge rushing platoon, the Walker boys will be looked to as a bridge between the success of last year and the potential of this year.
On the inside, Darius Robinson stepped up as a vocal leader in offseason workout last year and was finally able to play an entire season without injury. He wound up with the second-most snaps on the line, adding 34 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks, excellent production from an interior line. His decision to come back for another year is great news for a line that needs to generate a lot of creative pressure. Realus George, Jr. was a former fullback from The U that saw his usage pick up this past year on defensive tackle. His production picked up over the back half of the season, including 2 TFLs against Wake Forest while finishing fifth on the team in run stuffs.
Kristian Williams, Jayden Jernigan, and Josh Landry all portaled in from elite defenses where they couldn’t get playing time and made an instant impact. Williams, in particular, became the de facto #2 interior lineman, winding up with 36 fewer snaps than Robinson but the same amount of TFLs. Jernigan and Landry were effective in rotation snaps and helped the line experience very little drop off from their substitution packages.
Ian Matthews and Ky Montgomery weren’t able to see the field in ‘22, with Montgomery nursing yet another injury and Matthews taking a redshirt year. Freshmen Marquis Gracial and Jalen Marshall saw a combined 12 snaps on the year in a redshirt season. Given the fact that three interior linemen are definitely done after the ‘23 season - and potentially another two on top of that - these four will be looked to continue the excellence in ‘24 and a slow ramp-up period will hopefully be beneficial.
Austin Firestone and Joe Moore III are the first two defensive line portallers attempting to reinforce the Tiger line. Both are edge rushers but Firestone profiles as a bigger run-stuffer while Moore was tabbed as an edge rusher coming out of high school. Firestone only saw 44 snaps over 3 games at Northwestern so he’s still a bit of an unknown. Moore has struggled to consistently see pass rushing victories; his tape shows a guy who has two moves and gets eliminated by any tackle with some decent skill. But he has tons of experience and produces at almost the same clip as Trajan Jeffcoat; hopefully the tutelage of Peoples in Baker’s defense can bring out some of that blue-chip talent he flashed as a high schooler.
Jahkai Lang 2022 Stats: 60 tackles, 19 TFLs, 8 sacks, 4 FFs
Jordon Harris 2022 Stats: (played tight end)
Serigne Tounkara 2022 Stats: 18 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2 sacks (3 games played)
Sam Williams 2022 Stats: (if anyone can find them let me know)
Missouri added four super interesting freshman in the ‘23 recruiting class. Jahkai Lang was the most productive, logging 19 TFLs and 8 sacks as a strongside defensive end that was able to play inside and outside. Jordon Harris’ recruiting rankings rocketed to a high 3-star prospect despite being a tight end that had just picked up the sport last year; the potential for him to take the mantle of Charles “Did You Know He Played Basketball in High School?” Harris is palpable, as is the potential talent. Serigne Tounkara and Sam Williams are versatile pieces that could absolutely contribute as either an edge or an interior guy, and all four of these guys have some time to acclimate. Obviously the edge depth is thin but there still isn’t a major need for any of these guys to contribute immediately.
- Prediction: Starters against South Dakota: Moore III - Robinson - K. Williams - Johnny Walker
- Bold Prediction: Montgomery moves to end and finally avoids a season-ending injury to positively contribute.
- HOT TAKE: Moore, Gracial, and D.J. Wesolak have an offseason leap, earn starting reps, and lead the line for the next three years as Missouri-born and raised terrors that revive the vaunted “D-line Zou” cult.