The first Missouri football season of the Eli Drinkwitz era showed both plenty of reasons for optimism as well as room for improvement. The Tigers finished a 10-game, all-SEC schedule with a record of 5-5, including an upset of defending national champion LSU and at one point cracking the College Football Playoff rankings at No. 25. However, the team also dropped its final two games of the season and saw an average margin of defeat of 24 points in its five losses.
In this series, we will go position by position to break down Missouri’s performance in 2020 and look ahead to spring football practices, which should start later this month, and kick off preparation for the 2021 season. On Tuesday, we analyzed the linebacker room. Today, we take a look at Missouri’s cornerbacks, where the Tigers bring back virtually all of last season’s production.
After losing three-year starter DeMarkus Acy, Missouri had to go young at cornerback in 2020. Jarvis Ware returned to the starting lineup from 2019, but true freshman Ennis Rakestraw started all 10 games and two other freshmen saw meaningful snaps, as well. The result was a bit of a mixed bag. Missouri’s cornerback group totaled just one interception on the season and gave up some big games to the likes of Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and Georgia’s George Pickens, but they also contributed to the Tigers holding four of 10 opponents under 200 yards passing.
Ware served as the veteran of the group, having started all 12 games in 2019. He battled injury throughout the year, however, leaving the season-opener in the first quarter and missing three games altogether. He had the only Tigers’ only interception by a cornerback, which he returned for a touchdown at Florida. On the year, he surrendered 10 catches and one touchdown on 25 targets, according to Pro Football Focus.
Rakestraw started all 10 games at the opposite corner. He flashed the ability that led Alabama and Texas, among others, to pursue him as a recruit, but also looked like a true freshman at times. Rakestraw gave up 29 catches and five touchdowns in coverage, both team-highs, although he was also targeted a team-high 52 times. He wasn’t the only true freshman to see action, either. Former high school wide receiver Jaylon Carlies also made a few starts at corner. While he looked ready for the college level from a size perspective, Carlies had to work through a fairly steep learning curve. He gave up 12 catches on 14 targets. Finally, redshirt freshman Ishmael Burdine also played quite a bit. He made a few nice break-ups but ultimately allowed 20 completions on 30 targets, which went for 387 yards and four touchdowns.
Departing: Adam Sparks
Returning: Jarvis Ware, Ennis Rakestraw, Jaylon Carlies, Ishmael Burdine, Chris Mills, Kris Abrams-Draine
Missouri will be happy to return almost everyone from its cornerback room, as the Tigers’ depth was severely tested at the end of last season. With Ware and Burdine both injured for the season finale at Mississippi State and Carlies ejected due to a targeting penalty in the first half, the Tigers had to utilize Mills, who had played just 19 snaps all season, as well as Abrams-Draine at cornerback. Abrams-Draine, who spent most of last season as a wide receiver, played 19 snaps at corner against the Bulldogs, and it appears the staff liked what they saw, because he’s now listed as a defensive back on Missouri’s roster. He will join Rakestraw, Carlies and Burdine in trying to make a leap forward during their first full offseason in the Missouri program.
Incoming: Jadarrius Perkins, Daylan Carnell, Darius Jackson, Zxaequan Reeves, Davion Sistrunk
The Tigers’ depth will be bolstered by a platoon of newcomers, as defensive back was one of the primary focuses for the coaching staff during the 2021 recruiting cycle. The newcomer most likely to make an immediate impact appears to be Perkins. The junior college product originally committed to Oregon before flipping to Missouri and enrolling early so that he can participate in spring practices. He could have a legitimate chance of working his way into a starting spot, or at least a consistent role in the Tigers’ nickel and dime packages.
Carnell, a four-star prospect from Indianapolis, and Reeves, a Florida native, have also already enrolled at Missouri and will participate in spring practices. They will be joined in the summer by two more defensive backs. Each of the four said they were recruited to Missouri to play corner, but it’s not impossible that one or two could transition to safety, where the Tigers are a bit more thin.
Projected Starters: Jarvis Ware, Ennis Rakestraw
As of right now, it’s difficult to pick against a pair of returning starters, but there are some question marks here. The primary one is Ware’s health. He missed the final two games of last season with an injury that was never disclosed. It seems likely he will be healthy enough to start next season, but he may be limited or not practice at all during the spring, which would obviously create an opportunity for someone else to play starters’ reps. Rakestraw will also have to continue to improve to stave off the likes of Perkins, Carlies and Burdine.
Spring Practice storyline to watch: How many corners does Missouri play at a time under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks? Last season, the Tigers generally used safety Joshuah Bledsoe as a nickelback, only bringing in a third corner when it wanted six defensive backs on the field. However, with Bledsoe gone, that role could easily go to a third corner rather than a third safety. That would allow all three of Ware, Rakestraw and Perkins, for instance, to all be on the field in the Tigers’ base defense.