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 2023:
- Overall Returning Production: 78% - 9th
- Offensive Returning Production: 77% - 25th
- Defensive Returning Production: 80% - 9th
So while the offensive version of this article is hopeful that the few new additions and plethora of options can improve on their lackluster 2022 campaign, the defensive version is looking at making enough of a leap to be one of the greatest Missouri defenses of all time. The loss of Martez Manuel - and the boom-or-bust nature of his replacement last year - does offer up an interesting question but, overall, this defense is loaded with experience and production. Barring an unforeseen rash of injuries or a massive regression to the havoc mean, this defense should be one of the best in the SEC, if not the nation.
Once again here is Missouri’s end-of-year two-deep based off of production and snap counts (gaps are where a player in 2022 was that won’t be back in 2023):
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: 70%
- Returning Tackles for Loss: 12%
- Returning Sacks: 4%
- Returning Passes Defensed: 14%
The formula now skews heavily to the “tackles” portion of defensive activity; previously it had a 59% weight while passes defensed was at 28%. Currently, experience making tackles is nearly three-quarters of the weight and passes defensed shrunk to 14%. Obviously it’s not saying that sacks, TFLs, and passes defensed don’t matter, just simply that it’s easier to replace that sort of production and returning that type of production does not tend to correlate with improved defensive performance.
So let’s break down what’s coming back and from whom (italicized players are not on the 2023 roster):
Returning Tackles - 70% Weight - 76% Returning Production
31 Missouri defenders made at least one tackle last year. Nine of them do not return, three of which took “starter-level” amounts of snaps. Four players transferred in, three of which are expected to be taking “starter-level” amounts of snaps (whether they do or not, is a different question). So, yeah, this is why Missouri ranks 9th in returning defensive production: in the stat that is weighted the heaviest 76% returns for another campaign and the losses were guys who weren’t contributing much.
Returning Tackles for Loss - 12% Weight - 69% Returning Production
The benefit of Blake Baker’s havoc-forward defenses is that havoc contribution comes from everybody. Do you have those who create it more than others? Absolutely, and losing two of your top three TFL creators is not a good thing. But 23 Tigers registered at least a half a tackle for loss last year and 18 comes back, plus the three transfers coming in. And with those 21 gentlemen representing almost 70% of last year’s TFL total, Mizzou is sitting pretty in an important stat, even if it’s not weighted as heavily as others.
Returning Sacks - 4% Weight - 55% Returning Production
Returning sack production does almost nothing for year-over-year defensive improvement, so if Mizzou had do be deficient in one stat this is a good one to pick. The Tigers lose 45% of last year’s sack production, and 40% of that was done by three guys, none of which are returning. But, as we saw last year, this defensive scheme can even help middling FCS transfers have career years so let’s hope that can lift this year’s sack-producers as well.
Returning Passes Defensed - 14% Weight - 96% Returning Production
Two guys broke up two passes and they’re no longer on the team. Thus concludes the list of what Missouri loses in this department. Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. combined for an incredible 24 passes broken up in 2022, a stat I don’t think we recognize or appreciate enough. In addition, seven other players contributed 19 PBUs, meaning the Tigers sit at nearly 96% returning production in the second-heaviest weighted stat.
We know Missouri’s defense last year was great. And we knew they returned a lot of contributors. But I don’t think I ever imagined them returning a Top 10 level of defensive production heading into 2023. Again, returning production is about unit improvement or regression, and either can happen, regardless of what the numbers say. And, it’s worth pointing out, if Mizzou wasn’t creating havoc they weren’t winning games and, with a full year of tape, opposing offensive coordinators should be more prepared for facing off against Baker’s boys.
Still, it’s going to be a heavily experienced defense that has already shown an ability to make plays and execute in this type of scheme. Assuming good injury luck, an ability to maintain a deep rotation of players with no drop-off, and a little bit of luck, this ‘23 defensive unit could be an all-time great.