The 2022 Postmortem series is officially done and we can begin looking into the 2023 team! Rejoice! The best way to project 2023 success is by looking at the remains of the 2022 team and figuring out how much production returns on the offensive and defensive sides.
The gentleman who created both Rock M Nation and the SP+ metric system, Bill Connelly, has a measurement called “returning production”, a metric that attempts to quantify the value of production coming back, rather than the value of individuals coming back. His pieces are paywalled, but to me, it’s worth checking out every year as high returning production (roughly 80%) tends to lead to a 5-6 point jump in SP+, which for Missouri in particular, would mean an increase from a 9.4 in ‘22 to a 14.4 or 15.4 in ‘23. Obviously wins aren’t correlated 1:1 with SP+, but as a reference point, Oregon State (10-3), Illinois (8-5) and UCLA (9-4) were all in the 14-15 point range in SP+ in 2022.
Of course, so was Oklahoma (6-7) but I’m trying to focus on the positives here!
The 2023 season is one year closer to the roster normalization that the COVID bonus year threw out of whack. To be sure, there are still lingering super seniors and, of course, the ever-active transfer portal - with another portal window opening next month, mind you - will continue to make roster management much more different than what we were used to even five years ago. While that could mean that Bill C’s returning production number might not be 100% accurate, it’s certainly as close as you can get in a given timeframe and he’s done better, more thorough work than anyone else out there. Here’s how his formula projects Missouri:
- Overall Returning Production: 78% - 9th
- Offensive Returning Production: 77% - 25th
- Defensive Returning Production: 80% - 9th
Again, as a reference point, the 2022 Missouri Tigers’ returning production was 65% overall (68th), 52% offense (105th), and 78% defense (30th). So, yeah, this year’s squad has quite a bit more returning.
The current national average for returning production is 62.31%, sixteen points lower than where Missouri is coming in. As far as the SEC goes, only Texas A&M (80%) returns more production from last year’s team. Outside of that, Auburn (71%) is the next closest SEC team to Mizzou, ranking 28th in the nation. Ole Miss (30th) and LSU (32nd) also come it at 71% and the next highest is Vanderbilt (65%), all the way down at 58th.
Again, returning production talks about improvement or regression, not an increase or decrease in wins, but the good-news-take-away here is that Missouri returns the second-most production in a conference that’s averaging a returning production of 63% and half of which are returning less than 61%.
Here’s Missouri’s 2022 end-of-season two-deep based off of production and snap counts. The gaps are players that were on the 2022 roster that won’t be on the 2023 roster:
There are way fewer gaps in this version than what we had at the end of 2021 heading in to 2022! Again, once the second portal window opens up in May this could look a lot different but that’s ok. Missouri is currently five scholarships over the limit so there needs to be some attrition anyway.
Today let’s break down Missouri’s returning offensive production! On offense, returning production looks at the following metrics and is given the following weights:
- Returning Quarterback Passing Yards: 23% weight
- Returning Running Back Rushing Yards: 6% weight
- Returning Wide Receiver/Tight End Receiving Yards: 24% weight
- Returning Offensive Line Snaps: 47% weight
Bill C has said it countless times and I’ve echoed it: experience in the passing game (i.e. quarterbacks and receivers) matters the most. But, given Bill’s updated weight allocation, the only thing that isn’t a good predictor of future success is running back rushing yards while offensive line experience is much higher than previous iterations.. Let’s break down what’s coming back and from whom (italicized players are not on the 2023 roster).
Quarterback Passing Yards - 23% weight - 98% returning production
Last year this was 16%; this year it’s 98.8%. Awesome. Now, the issue is figuring out which quarterback is going to be the guy going forward. Brady Cook and Jake Garcia are the easy candidates as they both took their lumps last season. Sam Horn barely saw the field and has been splitting his time with the baseball team and, of course, Gabarri Johnson is still in Tacoma, WA right now and is a freshman. Cook had much better numbers on a slightly better offense but...well, this is a topic that has been well-worn already and it’s only April. Good: lots of options! Bad: few proven entities.
Running Back Rushing Yards - 6% Weight - 93% Returning Production
For the first time in the Eli Drinwktiz era the Tigers will not be losing their leading rusher from the season before. However, you would be hard pressed to see a world where either of the top two Tiger rushers from 2022 make it in the NFL, whereas those aforementioned seasons did have NFL-caliber guys toting the rock. Still - for such a seemingly entrenched position - the fact that there’s only been one loss from this group continues to be a huge surprise (to me anyway). And seeing as both Schrader and Peat will absolutely be gone after this season, it would be in everyone’s best interest if the guys at the bottom of that chart see some increased usage.
Receiver/Tight End Receiving Yards - 24% Weight - 45% Returning Production
Experience in the passing game is still important but, evidently, not as important as previously thought. And the weight reduction in this stat actually helps Mizzou out quite a bit as the pass catching production heading in to the ‘23 campaign took a massive hit with the losses of Dominic Lovett, Barrett Banister, and Tauskie Dove. The importing of Theo Wease and Dannis Jackson helps a little but but 1.) Wease only had 34 targets last year, and 2.) Jackson didn’t even play in 2022. Losing three of your top five receivers hurts and is reflected in the number so any positivity for this group is banking on potential (especially with Burden in the slot) and intangibles (the experience of Wease and Jackson and potential leaps from Mookie Cooper and Mekhi Miller).
Offensive Line Snaps - 47% Weight - 81% Returning Production
Ah, yes. The offensive line. If not quarterback, this is the most important question about the offseason: what’s the value of a ton of experience and reps from a unit that wasn’t very good? From a macro level the numbers say that there is improvement from being one year older, and losing one starter who played the entire year while returning everyone else (so far) certainly means that someone - even multiple someones - will be better than they were last year. BK and I have been saying for months that Mizzou needs to add a proven center so it’ll be interesting to see how the portal affects this group (and the numbers).
Missouri returns a ton of production from the quarterbacks, running backs, and the offensive line and yet really doesn’t know who the starters are from two of those three groups. To complicate matters, the second part of the passing game - the receivers - lose three of their top five and are banking on one of the greatest receivers of the ‘22 recruiting class to make the “Lovett Leap”. As a team Missouri has improved every year with Eli Drinkwitz at the helm but the offense took a six-point dip from ‘21 to ‘22. Drink assuaged a similar problem with the defense by throwing a ton of transfers at the problem; that hasn’t been the case for the offense this year so we’ll really get to see a true test case of how high returning production usually improves performance. Here’s hoping that stays true.