Quick — what position would you proclaim to be the best on Missouri’s football team heading into 2023?
Did you pause a moment before giving your answer? Don’t worry, I don’t blame you. It’s a tough question to ask... and for good reason! The Tigers return as much defensive production as almost any team in the country. They also tried to revamp the offense with additions via the transfer portal.
Alright, enough of the sidebar. Do you have your answer? What did you go with? I think there’s a clear-cut top three positions on the Missouri roster heading into the 2023 season. Allow me to explain.
This is one I actually had some issues with. I considered going with offensive tackle (Javon Foster, Marcus Johnson and Armand Membou) or safety (Joseph Charleston, Jaylon Carlies, Tre’Vez Johnson, Sidney Williams and Daylan Carnell), but I went with the most proven position of the three with the Tigers’ cornerbacks.
You’ll be hard pressed to find many better teams with two returning cornerbacks better than Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. Pro Football Focus tracks a statistic called “forced incompletions.” It is, well, what it sounds like.
From PFF: “Forced incompletion percentage adds context to such figures and provides a clearer picture as to which cornerbacks are making plays on the ball and creating incompletions rather than benefitting from fortunate circumstances such as a dropped pass or inaccurate throw. Coverage grade plays into such clarity, as well.”
Alabama All-SEC cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry was the only SEC corner to force incompletions on a higher percentage of his coverage snaps last season than Rakestraw (min. 300 coverage snaps). Abrams-Draine was seventh in the SEC in the same category last season, forcing an incompletion on approximately 20 percent of his coverage snaps.
Gains are getting better and better pic.twitter.com/ozGWtJztR7— Ennis Rakestraw Jr (@EnnisRakestraw) June 16, 2023
Having two potential NFL cornerbacks on the roster is not something the Tigers are used to. Only two Missouri cornerbacks have heard their name called during the NFL Draft in the past 30 years (Akayleb Evans and E.J. Gaines). They could match that number in 2024 with another strong performance by Rakestraw and Abrams-Draine.
The list of SEC linebackers in the past 20 years to produce as many tackles (77), tackles for loss (13.5), sacks (2.5) and pass deflections (4) as Ty’Ron Hopper put up in 2022:
- Drew Sanders, Arkansas (2022)
- Josh Allen, Kentucky (2018)
- Jordan Jones, Kentucky (2016)
- Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee (2015)
- Jarvis Jones, Georgia (2012)
- Kevin Minter, LSU (2012)
- Rolando McClain, Alabama (2009)
- Jasper Brinkley, South Carolina (2006)
That is, more or less, a “who’s who” of SEC linebackers of the last 20 years. The only player on that list who was not selected in the NFL Draft was Jordan Jones.
That Hopper guy was pretty good, huh? He’ll be an NFL player down the road, too. But he’s not alone in Missouri’s linebacker room.
Highest graded returning SEC Linebackers pic.twitter.com/ezrbedTkIn— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 19, 2023
Chad Bailey took a massive step forward last season, and he looks to take another step forward in 2023 after finishing last year with 57 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss.
1) Defensive Tackle
The Tigers boast a couple potential NFL players at corner and linebacker. At defensive tackle, it’s about the depth. Missouri returns Darius Robinson, Jayden Jernigan, Joshua Landry, Realus George and Kristian Williams. They also have Ky Montgomery returning from injury and Jalen Marshall and Marquis Gracial returning for year two on campus.
Highest graded returning SEC Defensive Tackles pic.twitter.com/SDd9xRgqGm— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 15, 2023
That is a lot of beef up front, my friends. Missouri interior defensive line coach Al Davis has to be licking his chops at what he can do with this group now that he knows how to get the best out of each of them.
Robinson had one of the best pass rush win rates among SEC defensive tackles last season. George was one of the leagues’ best run defenders. Williams finished the year as one of the most underrated ‘glue guys’ in the league.
This unit has a little bit of everything, and the Tigers’ depth at the position should allow everyone to stay fresh throughout the season. I’m fascinated to see what Blake Baker is able to get out of the unit.
Those are my choices. The three best position groups on the team all reside on the defensive side of the ball. But there are many others that could have been in the conversation.
Would you have the rankings in a different order? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.