Missouri’s defensive end room was quite the fixer-upper this offseason. The group got solid production in 2022 from Isaiah McGuire, Trajan Jeffcoat, DJ Coleman and Tyrone Hopper, but all four have since moved on.
Replacing more than 1,400 snaps from four veteran players is no easy task. Some of that should come from internal improvement. Maybe Johnny Walker, Jr. takes a step. Maybe Darius Robinson gets more opportunities on the edge. That’s not enough.
The Tigers’ staff acknowledged the issue with the additions of Arizona State transfer Joe Moore and Northwestern transfer Austin Firestone. That is... not enough. You knew it, I knew it, and it’s now clear the team knew it.
The Tigers have been chasing edge rushers in the transfer portal in recent weeks, and they finally added another key member to the edge rusher rotation in former Jackson State All-SWAC defensive lineman Nyles Gaddy. Gaddy finished last season with 40 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles for Deion Sanders’ SWAC title-winning Jackson State Tigers.
Where he fits: Gaddy reminds me a lot of former Missouri edge rusher DJ Coleman both with his size and with the way he wins off the edge. Gaddy is a big, powerful rusher with the ability to translate speed into power. It’s worth noting there will be quite the adjustment in level of competition at the SEC level, but Gaddy does have some experience against SEC-caliber players from his time as a walk-on at Tennessee in 2019-2020.
Gaddy spent the vast majority of his time at Jackson State as a stand-up edge rusher; more than 400 of his 445 snaps last season came as an “outside linebacker.” He split his time almost 50/50 on the right/left side of the formation, but just 41 snaps took place with Gaddy’s hand “in the dirt” as a traditional defensive end.
That is a similar role to what McGuire filled last season at Missouri. McGuire lined up as an outside linebacker on 188 of his 500 snaps last year with another 178 snaps coming as a “stand up” edge rusher. That is, more or less, the same role Gaddy filled for Jackson State. They get the job done a little differently, but they could serve the same role in Blake Baker’s defense.
When he’ll play: I’m going to go out on a limb and say early... and often. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gaddy lead Missouri’s defensive ends in snap count by the end of the season. He’s a trustworthy player against both the run and the pass. He had more production last season at Jackson State than Moore, Firestone and Walker have in their careers... combined.
What it all means: Missouri had a serious need for an instant impact player to come in and produce right away at defensive end. There was some buzz in spring ball that Robinson could step up as an option at end, but that takes away a potential pass rush option from the interior, especially in obvious passing situations.
Adding Gaddy eliminates the need to make such a drastic move for a player who has shown so much promise rushing as a defensive tackle. Gaddy, Moore, Firestone and Walker should form a perfectly acceptable defensive end rotation for 2023, especially with the way Baker can manufacture a pass rush through creative blitzes and his staple third down packages.
Gaddy was a big pickup — a necessary pickup — and one that solidifies what was previously the biggest hole on the Tigers’ defense.