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.
To conclude the defensive portion of this assignment we take a look at the secondary, one that returns almost everybody and continues to add talent.
When thinking back on the best individual unit of the 2022 Missouri Tigers, it’s hard not to go with the defensive secondary.
Consistency? Heck yeah! There were 4,245 total snaps taken by members of the secondary, more than any other defensive unit combined. Having five positions helps with that, sure, but the starting defensive backs were five of the top eight defenders in total snaps taken.
Tackles? Absolutely. Even though not typically relied on for the tackling prowess, their 325 tackles on the year were more than any other position group while also being the most accurate tacklers, missing only 15% of their tackling attempts.
Havoc? Oh baby. Missouri’s defense, as a whole, had a 19.2% havoc rate and the defensive backs had a 9.2% havoc rate, the 7th best defensive back havoc rate in the nation. They swatted passes, forced fumbles, and nabbed interceptions with the best of them and were one of the key reasons the defensive turnaround from ‘21 to ‘22 was so stark.
The best news? This group loses one starter and three role players. That’s it.
Will this be the best secondary in the nation? Maybe! It has a ton of experience and returns almost everybody and - as you should know by now - overall defensive success hinges strongly on experience in the defensive backs.
Last year I worried that the young guys of ‘21 didn’t get enough reps to be ready to take over in ‘22; thankfully that was a whole lot of worrying for nothing.
Five guys leave from the ‘22 secondary, four of which actually saw some time on the field, two of which saw any significant snaps.
Martez Manuel was the heart and soul of Missouri’s secondary for four years. The local Rock Bridge product saw the field in Barry Odom’s doomed final season and solidified himself as Drink’s most versatile safety for the next three years. Manuel was a safety that played near the line/linebacker that could cover receivers, and that versatility helped him stay on the field in almost any personnel package the Tigers rolled out. The ‘22 season wasn’t his most productive but it was definitely one of his most havoc-y and now he gets to see if that four year success in Columbia can translate to the NFL.
Jalani Williams was a rare blue chip recruit for the Odom staff who became a dependable rotation piece under the Drinkwitz staff. He had his most snaps in a year during the ‘22 campaign but wasn’t nearly as productive as he was in ‘21. Seeing as he had one (maybe two) more years to play, and figuring he wasn’t unseating Joseph Charleston, Williams opted to hit the portal and wound up with fellow former Tiger Devin Nicholson at Kent State.
D.J. Jackson was a starting corner in his freshman year of 2021 but struggled to see the field in ‘22. He opted to hit the transfer portal and wound up at Texas State. Davion Sistrunk was a high school recruit while L.J. Hewitt was a JUCO import, but the two things they had in common were 1.) being suspended from the team for ‘22, and 2.) transferring away from Mizzou. Sistunk ended up at Murray State while Hewitt currently is still in the portal.
Like I said, basically everybody returns! Here we go...
Of the cornerbacks, the top two starters return. You know Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw, Jr.: they are quite possibly the best corner tandem in the league and combined for a whopping 24 passes defensed in 2022. The fact that they are both coming back for another year is a miracle and one of the key reasons for so much hope heading into the season. The other reason? Both Jaylon Carlies and Joseph Charleston return from the safety corps. Missing Martez Manuel does hurt, but his understudy - boom-or-bust extraordinaire Daylan Carnell - also returns and figures to get first crack at replacing Manuel. These five all finished with over 300 snaps on the year and should be looked to as a continuation to the success the ‘22 defensive secondary had.
The backups in the defensive secondary were not nearly as productive, however. Only one - slot corner Dreydon Norwood - earned more than 45 snaps on the year (he had 294 at season’s conclusion) and that was in a role that was a relief position for KAD and Rakestraw. Marcus Clarke - the late transfer in from Miami - was familiar with DC Blake Baker’s system but only saw 45 snaps on the year, most towards the end of the season. The Tylers - Hibbler and Jones - combined for 55 snaps on the year at their respective safety slots and will be looked to provide a steadier presence in the rotation. Blue chipper Isaac Thompson and receiver-turned-safety-turned-back-to-receiver Ja’Marion Wayne combined for 8 snaps on the year in redshirt campaigns, while blue chip corner Marcus Scott II didn’t see the field at all in his redshirt season. If any of those two push for snaps in the second year on the team that will be a good thing.
Missouri looked to the Sunshine State schools to beef up their defensive secondary ranks this offseason. Did they need to? I mean...on the outside looking in, no, but clearly they wanted a few more experienced pieces, especially since four of the five potential starters will most likely be gone next year.
Tre’Vez Johnson was a three-year starter at Florida before being unseated under the Napier regime. Despite not being the most havoc-creating corner, he has notched an interception each season and will be a SEC-experienced rotational piece to spell KAD and Rake.
Sidney Williams is a free safety from Florida State one who is comfortable with roaming the backfield and picking off receivers that leak through coverage. Like Johnson, he’s not much of a havoc creator but has 405 snaps and 25 games worth of experience under his belt and can help bridge the gap between Charleston and Thompson (assuming the latter isn’t ready to start after this year).
Marvin Burks 2022 Stats: 95 tackles, 1 INT, 2 fumble recoveries (also 1,717 yards & 26 TDS rushing)
Phillip Roche 2022 Stats: 51 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2 PDs, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble (also 237 yards & 1 TD receiving)
Nicholas DeLoach 2022 Stats: 68 tackles, 3 PDs, 3 INTs (also 421 yards & 5 TDs receiving)
Shamar McNeil 2022 Stats: 35 tackles, 2 TFLs, 15 PDs, 2 INTs
One thing that stood out to me about the ‘23 crop of defensive back high school recruits was their athleticism. Other than Shamar McNeil, this batch of guys played defensive back and some offensive position as well. Nick DeLoach and Phillip Roche were receivers and Marvin Burks was a dang 1,500+ rusher with 26 rushing touchdowns in a season. Burks was the lone blue-chipper but all four showed tremendous potential from their overall athleticism alone. None should see the field this year - or, at least, there’s no urge for them to do so - but the potential of this group going forward is sky high.
- Prediction: At least one starting defensive back earns All-SEC honors.
- Bold Prediction: At least two starting defensive backs earn All-SEC honors and one becomes an All-American.
- HOT TAKE: Blake Baker deploys the first modern usage of the 6-0-5 defense, featuring six defensive linemen, zero linebackers, and five defensive backs in order to get Missouri’s most talented defenders the most snaps. They go undefeated and Blake Baker makes so many royalties from coaching camps on these designs that he eschews bigger paychecks at other schools and stays at Missouri forever.