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2023 40 Most Important Tigers: 25 to 21

As fall camp kicks off this week, we move on with our series counting down the 40 most important Tigers on the roster. Who are the players that will define this season in Columbia?

Missouri v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Welcome to the next installment of this series that will take us from the dog days of summer all the way up until kickoff against South Dakota. I’m ranking the top 40 footballing Tigers for the 2023 season, counting down five a week as we approach Labor Day weekend.

This idea is blatantly ripped off from a Florida State outlet, Noles247, which did its own ranking. I liked the concept and wanted to do it for our Tigers, so thanks to the team over there for the inspiration.

What defines an important player? Excellent play, of course, especially at important positions. Players who have high ceilings and low floors: high variance could define how a specific position group performs. Players at positions that are thin on the depth chart or looking to rebound after a tough season. Players getting the first opportunity to start at Mizzou, either as young players filling in for veterans or highly-touted transfers.

Previous articles in the series:




This week’s theme is: Quality defensive starters

These are not the name-brand stars, the ones who attend media days or generate NFL draft buzz, or get placed on preseason all-conference teams. But their performance last year was critical as Missouri turned around the defense from the struggles of 2021. They provide more than just depth, and they are not high-variance options; they are veterans who will be counted on to bring a high level of play week in and week out. Let’s get into this batch to look at the backbone of Blake Baker’s defense.

25: Joseph Charleston, Senior, Safety

Charleston arrived from Clemson and made an immediate impact in the secondary. He is a sturdy player in run support, and holds his own in coverage as well. While Missouri’s cornerback tandem has received all the preseason love, their safety duo is not to be overlooked. Charleston is a Swiss Army Knife in the back end of this defense.

24: Realus George, Graduate, Defensive Tackle

An interesting development has been the emergence of Realus George as a darling of PFF grading. Their grades are subjective, and not always a truthful measure of a player’s performance, especially regarding guys like George who played a smaller role in a deep rotation. That caveat aside, the grading gods did smile upon him and he is the SEC’s highest-graded returning defensive tackle. This position is very deep, although more playing time should open up with Darius Robinson’s move to end. The baseline for this position group is already high, but could go even higher if George continues his high level of play across more snaps.

23: Jaylon Carlies, Senior, Safety

Safety Jaylon Carlies might be the most underrated player on Blake Baker’s stop unit. He has played in every game since he arrived on campus in 2020, and has started the team’s last 25 games in a row. Last season he led the Tigers in tackles with 81, and he also contributed four TFLs, four PBUs, and three interceptions.

22: Kristian Williams, Senior, Defensive Tackle

Kristian Williams arrived from Oregon and instantly submitted one of the finest seasons on Missouri’s defense, playing 434 snaps and improving across the board from his numbers with the Ducks. He was especially impressive in the South Carolina game, and his run-stuffing contributions were a major reason for the defensive turnaround. He will be asked to take an even larger role this season in his second year with the program and should be one of the better interior defenders in this league.

21: Chad Bailey, Senior, Middle Linebacker

To the discerning readers of these electronic pages, there is little new insight into the cause of Missouri’s defensive turnaround from the nadir of October 2021. The credit has already been widely distributed: from the infusion of defensive line transfer talent to the hire of Blake Baker and his switch from Steve Wilks’ read-and-react scheme to an aggressive 4-2-5 nickel, to Ty’Ron Hopper’s immediate impact with havoc creation, to the improvement in the secondary.

But one should not overlook the role of MIKE linebacker Chad Bailey, who was inserted into the starting lineup in the middle of the 2021 season. That switch aligns with Missouri’s midseason improvement from a catastrophic defense to a merely below average one, and he was especially impressive in November of that season. Of course, the defense’s ascent continued in 2022, and Bailey’s leadership and sturdy play against the run was a key ingredient. He is back to patrol the middle of the field again, and his steadiness in the box allows running mate Ty’Ron Hopper to be aggressive and create negative plays.

Previously in this series:

40: DJ Wesolak, Redshirt Freshman, Linebacker

39: Connor Tollison, Sophomore, Center

38: Riley Williams, Junior, Punter

37: Dreyden Norwood, Redshirt Sophomore, Cornerback

36: Tyler Stephens, Senior, Tight End

35: Triston Newson, Freshman (JUCO), Linebacker

34: Jake Garcia, Sophomore, Quarterback

33: Tavorus Jones, Redshirt Freshman, Running Back

32: Mekhi Miller, Sophomore, Wide Receiver

31: Nyles Gaddy, Redshirt Junior, Defensive End

30: Xavier Delgado, Graduate, Offensive Guard

29: Josh Landry, Graduate, Defensive Tackle

28: Jayden Jernigan, Senior, Defensive Tackle

27: Joe Moore, Junior, Defensive End

26: EJ Ndoma-Ogar, Junior, Offensive Guard