Earlier this summer Nate Edwards and I put together the “Missouri Legends Draft” series. If I learned anything from that series, it was this: Mizzou hasn’t exactly had the greatest success in finding and developing secondary players over the years.
That’s not to suggest they haven’t had any good players in the secondary; they certainly have. But compared to the depth of stars Mizzou developed at other positions, it’s probably the weakest of the Tigers’ positions over the last two decades.
That shouldn’t be the case for Mizzou’s defense in 2020, though. The Tigers return three of their five starters on the back end from a year ago.
Tyree Gillespie and Josh Bledsoe return as third year starters at safety. Jarvis Ware is back after taking over as a full-time starter at outside corner last season. Adam Sparks should return to his starting spot outside that he earned as a true freshman and then... disappeared (?) from the lineup last two seasons.
That’s a lot of returning experience on the back end. And there’s production to match.
The Tigers return 62 percent of tackles, 61 percent of pass deflections and zero of the two interceptions made by defensive backs last year.
That production is significant. According to our friend Bill Connelly, returning production in the secondary is worth up to 37% of a team’s defensive SP+ projections. For context, returning defensive line production accounts for just 5% of a team’s defensive SP+ projections. Here’s a further explanation from Bill:
“So if returning production in the secondary is worth 37% and defensive line is worth 5%, does that mean the secondary is seven times more important than the line? Not necessarily. It simply means that turnover among defensive backs has much more of an impact.”
Moral of the story, returning production from players in the secondary is hugely important. The Tigers return a good amount of it from a unit that a year ago finished second in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game, and fourth in quarterback rating against. Nobody in the SEC allowed a lower completion percentage.
Those are some impressive numbers. They are also numbers the Tigers will have to duplicate in 2020 if they want to keep the offense in games long enough to pull off some upsets against what will be an incredibly difficult schedule.