How many defensive linemen is too many defensive linemen? Mizzou seems to believe there is no such thing!
What do Tyrone Hopper, D.J. Coleman, Jayden Jernigan, Josh Landry, Ian Mathews, Jalen Marshall, Marquis Gracial, DJ Wesolak and Kristian Williams have in common? They’re all defensive linemen who the Tigers’ coaching staff added to the roster since the end of last season.
That’s nine new faces, six of whom are transfers, added to the defensive line room. The Tigers are using a sledgehammer to kill the fly. They clearly saw an issue, and they were more than prepared to address it.
But how much is too much? It feels like the Tigers are okay teetering that line.
It’s one thing to add talent to an under-performing position. That was not just encouraged after the defensive line performance in recent years, it was necessary. But adding talent comes in many shapes and forms. Gracial and Wesolak arrive at Missouri as blue chip talents from the 2022 recruiting class. Kyrann Montgomery and Travion Ford were both blue chip talents in the 2021 class. Adren Walker was a top 35 defensive end in the country and a top 10 player in the state of Colorado when he committed to Mizzou.
Is the staff at risk of overdoing it for the “now” at the expense of the future? That’s the risk of these kinds of moves. Adding a few from the group of Hopper, Coleman, Jernigan, Landry, Williams or Mathews would have been fine. But adding six transfers to the defensive line starts to eat into any potential playing time for the younger options at the position. Highly recruited players with remarkably limited playing time in their first two years on campus tend to transfer. Obviously nobody is rooting for that to be the case in this scenario, but it’s a logical endpoint to the current depth chart. It’s hard to say who or how many. But the recruiting classes that Missouri flaunted are at risk of falling further down the depth chart behind these transfers. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it could become one if patching holes comes at the expense of the greater good of the long-term build.
Enough of the big picture talk, let’s get to what Williams, specifically, brings to the table.
Where he fits: The film on Williams at Oregon is sparse, so I went back and re-watched his HUDL film from his senior year. It was certainly impressive. Williams manhandled the poor offensive linemen tasked with blocking the then 6-foot-3, 280 pound 3-star defensive tackle.
Williams seems to fit the mold of other defensive tackles the Tigers have added this offseason. He’s a penetrator looking to create havoc in the backfield. He’s probably best served as a 3-technique who gets upfield at the snap of the ball.
When he’ll play: Well, you would think right away. You take this kind of transfer with the thought that he’ll immediately contribute to your defense. But that was also the thought with Jayden Jernigan and Josh Landry. Realus George and Darius Robinson are likely to fit into the defensive tackle rotation, too. Is that the 5-man rotation? Are there any snaps left over for incoming 4-star defensive tackle Marquis Gracial? Or is he destined for a redshirt season? Do they even need five defensive tackles if they’re going to kick defensive ends inside on obvious passing downs?
This is where things get tricky. Defensive line coaches love splitting the playing time to keep guys fresh, but the Tigers currently have 19 defensive linemen on scholarship. That is a ton of players looking for playing time. There are only so many reps to go around.
So, the expectation should be for Williams to contribute immediately. But that seems to be the expectation for a whole lot of recent defensive line additions.
What it all means: We finish with where we started. I don’t want to come off as negative – and I know I will, given the general theme of this breakdown – but it’s becoming difficult to understand the plan along the defensive line.
Most of the transfer additions have been targeted. Mizzou needed depth at safety, so they added Joseph Charleston. The Tigers lost multiple starters at cornerback and added L.J. Hewitt. The linebacking corps lost a starter and added Ty’Ron Hopper. Tyler Badie gone, Nathaniel Peat in. Connor Bazelak out, Jack Abraham in. JJ Hester transfers, Demariyon Houston joins the club. It all makes sense. It’s easy to follow.
And then you get to the defensive line.
This was a position that needed an overhaul. It’s lacked any real depth for far too long. But is there a point where too much of a good thing becomes an issue? Has Missouri reached that point? It’s hard to say. They seem to be willing to find out. The defensive line should be better this year. Just how much it’s improved remains to be seen, as it remains to be seen if it’s coming at the expense of the long-term outlook of the group.