Mizzou football: Projecting the Tigers' 2021 starting lineup
The Missouri Tigers were one of the biggest surprises in the SEC in 2020, going 5-5 in coach Eli Drinkwitz’s first year. When the schedule came out before the season, many thought the Tigers could be a 1- or 2-win team.
Instead, they showed signs of being a team on the rise, knocking off LSU, exorcising their Kentucky demons and picking up some other strong wins.
This offseason, they’re losing star LB Nick Bolton and RB Larry Rountree III, among others, to the NFL, but there’s plenty of talent returning to Columbia for the 2021 campaign.
So, how will the starting lineup look this coming fall? Here are our early projections:
- QB: Connor Bazelak
- RB: Tyler Badie
- WR1: Tauskie Dove
- WR2: Jalen Knox
- WR3: Keke Chism
- TE: Niko Hea
- LT: Zeke Powell
- LG: Xavier Delgado
- C: Michael Maietti
- RG: Case Cook
- RT: Hyrin White
The Tigers have the quarterback position set with Bazelak, and that’s a huge boost heading into the 2021 season. He’ll have plenty of weapons to throw to. The receiving corps is a strength of this team. Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper will factor in heavily, too, but I’m going to give the 3 starting spots to the guys who were around in 2020.
Holdover Barrett Banister and 4-star freshman Dominic Lovett will also get plenty of time. Then, there’s starting RB Tyler Badie. Badie will get some help from Elijah Young in the backfield, but both guys will also factor into the passing game.
Badie is one of the more versatile backs in the SEC. We’ll see if he can continue to improve between the tackles, but he’s a guy who is just as comfortable lining up in the slot as he is alongside the quarterback.
Along the offensive line, the Tigers lose a key piece in Larry Borom, but former starter Hyrin White figures to return after missing 2020 with an injury. Meanwhile, Michael Maietti and Case Cook are back to form a strong right side. Zeke Powell and Xavier Delgado figure to have some competition this spring, but they both have starting experience.
- DE: Trajan Jeffcoat
- DT: Markell Utsey
- DT: Kobie Whiteside
- DE: Isaiah McGuire
- LB: Devin Nicholson
- LB: Blaze Alldredge
- LB: Jamal Brooks
- CB: Ennis Rakestraw Jr.
- S: Martez Manuel
- S: Jalani Williams
- CB: Ishmael Burdine
New DC Steve Wilks runs a 4-3 system, but there will be plenty of variance in that scheme. He spent 1 year under Freddie Kitchens with the Cleveland Browns as the defensive coordinator in 2019. In 2018, he was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. That season, he used his base defense less than any other team in the league.
Thus, look for lots of 4-2-5 looks and other changes. The 4-3 will be the base, but there will be plenty of looks shown to opposing offenses. I think he’ll try to get S Mason Pack in there in the 4-2-5, maybe with Brooks coming off the field. Meanwhile, LB Chad Bailey could be used in interesting ways, too.
Alldredge comes over from Rice and is a tackling machine. He and Nicholson can form a solid linebacking tandem and should both be up near the team lead in tackles. Alldredge isn’t going to wow you with his athleticism, but he’s a smart, instinctive player who puts himself in positions to succeed.
The key to the secondary’s success will be Jalani Williams. If he can live up to his 4-star pedigree, the secondary should be fine. Rakestraw is going to be a solid CB1. We’ve seen Manuel make some big plays. I’m intrigued by Burdine’s potential at the other corner spot. There’s not much depth at the corner spots, but there’s talent.
Finally, we come to the defensive line. The Tigers are loaded at defensive tackle, as Whiteside, Utsey and Akial Byers form a great trio. At defensive end, Trajan Jeffcoat was a first-team All-SEC selection after recording 6 sacks in 2020. Meanwhile, McGuire was a pleasant surprise, recording 3 sacks. The Tigers need to develop some depth behind them, but Wilks will have plenty of guys to rotate in.
Entering the 2020 season, Mizzou had a new coach in Drinkwitz and a QB battle between Shawn Robinson and Bazelak. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a major wrench into the system, but Drinkwitz still managed to go an impressive 5-5 in his first year.
If this offseason goes more according to plan, Drinkwitz will actually get to coach Bazelak through the spring. Bazelak only threw for 7 touchdowns and had 6 interceptions last season, but he completed an encouraging 67.3% of his passes for 2,366 yards.
The Tigers will need Badie to step up and help replace some of the 14 touchdowns Rountree ran for, but he should be more than capable of having a big year. The receiving corps is loaded, too, so Bazelak will need to take a major step forward when it comes to putting the ball in the end zone via the pass.
Defensively, it all hinges on Wilks. I like the hire, but he’ll need a full offseason to get his NFL schemes put in place. If there are any COVID-related interruptions, it could really hurt the Tigers on that side of the ball.
Overall, though, there’s plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, and K Harrison Mevis and P Grant McKinniss return to keep continuity on special teams. It could be a big year for the Tigers if everything goes well this offseason!