Missour’s single biggest need at the end of last season was so obvious even the most casual of Mizzou fans could see it. The Tigers have one returning linebacker who showed consistent play throughout the 2021 season, and that’s Chad Bailey. Blaze Alldredge is out of eligibility, and the Tigers had no obvious internal candidates to replace his production.
Reports surfaced on Thursday that former Florida linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper will transfer to Missouri. If the last name sounds familiar, that’s probably because Hopper’s cousin, Tyrone, announced three weeks ago he would be transferring from North Carolina to Mizzou.
Tyrone is a defensive end with one year of eligibility remaining. He’s been at North Carolina since 2016 and will be spending his seventh year in college this season. Ty’Ron, however, was a 4-star recruit in the 2019 class with three more years of eligibility.
Oh, and he’s really talented.
Rivals rated Hopper as a top five outside linebacker in the 2019 recruiting class for a reason. Hopper is listed at 6-foot-2, 228 pounds and he runs like a bat out of hell. He’ll immediately be Missouri’s most athletic linebacker since at least Terez Hall, and his burst is probably as good as any primary linebacker the Tigers have utilized this decade.
That’s not to suggest Hopper is the perfect player. He’s undersized for the position and there are times when that comes back to hurt him against the run. But, for my money, he makes up for that lack of bulk with his ability to chase down ball carriers from the back side of the play. He’s also tremendous at diagnosing and attacking screens, and — as a former high school cornerback — he’s more than capable in pass coverage.
In other words, Hopper is somewhat like a supercharged version of Blaze Alldredge. Alldredge was probably a more devastating blitzer, but Hopper is quite a bit faster and better in coverage.
Missouri needed a linebacker in the worst of ways, and the Tigers found a good one in Hopper.
Where he fits: In the starting lineup, right away. Hopper will immediately be one of the Tigers’ most talented defenders. He brings speed the middle of this defense could really use. His ability to play sideline-to-sideline is unmatched by the current options in the linebacker corps.
Chad Bailey will almost certainly start at MIKE next year with Hopper occupying the linebacker spot next to Bailey in the Tigers’ base 4-2-5 defense. Those two should complement each other well with Bailey serving more as the run stuffer and Hopper taking the running back out of the backfield and playing more sideline-to-sideline.
When he’ll play: Early and often. I watched Hopper’s games against LSU and Missouri from last year and one thing that surprised me was how often LSU was able to take Hopper off the field by going into a spread formation. That seems like a waste of Hopper’s abilities. He’s the perfect type of linebacker to leave on the field, especially on early downs as your “spread” linebacker. He can cover and he can chase. Where he can, at times, become a liability is against more powerful offensive lines running power and gap schemes.
Hopper is super impressive against screens, in particular. Quick recognition, gets to the ball like a bat out of hell and makes the play in the backfield consistently. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/TT9KuptGgM— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) January 28, 2022
It would be quite a surprise if Hopper isn’t at or near the top of Missouri’s snap count leaderboard at the end of the upcoming season. This isn’t just a role player the Tigers added. Hopper will likely be the biggest impact player Missouri has added in the portal this offseason, and it’s possible he’s the single most important player the Tigers have added via the portal over the last two off-seasons when you consider his remaining eligibility and how depleted the Tigers were at linebacker prior to Hopper’s addition to the roster.
What it all means: Missouri fans should be excited about this one. Hopper is a high upside player who immediately fills the Tigers’ single biggest position of need. Don’t expect him to be Nick Bolton or Sean Weatherspoon — nobody is. But he should be able to make plays in the same way a guy like Terez Hall did in his time at Missouri.
Hopper's speed is a real weapon for him. It's crazy how often he's able to make a tackle from the back side of the play. Terez Hall was probably the last #Mizzou LB with this kind of speed. pic.twitter.com/iseTEj6IWB— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) January 28, 2022
Missouri came into the winter without an obvious answer as to who would replace Alldredge’s snaps next season. It was obvious to everyone they would have to seek one in the transfer portal, and they came away with a former 4-star recruit with a year of starting experience and production in the SEC.