Mizzou has found its latest standout linebacker in Ty'Ron Hopper
For a couple of seasons, Tiger fans have thought about who would replace Nick Bolton as the do-everything playmaking linebacker.
Bolton was a first-team All-SEC selection in 2019 after racking up 103 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown and a sack). He followed that season up with another first-team All-SEC selection in 2020 after recording 95 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five pass deflections, two sacks and a forced fumble. Bolton would then go on to be the 58th overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Living up to that acclaim would be hard for anyone to do, but the Tigers may have found a player who is also a playmaker. Missouri may have not found the next Bolton but it did get the first Ty’Ron Hopper, and that is pretty good too.
Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz may have noticed it first but that’s when Hopper was a member of the Florida Gators, who happen to be Mizzou’s week five opponent.
Missouri took the 24-23 win at Faurot Field in week 11 last season when Hopper was the opposition, but besides the win one of the things that stood out to Drinkwitz on the box score was Hopper. He recorded 12 tackles and two tackles for loss and helped limit Tyler Badie and company to 121 yards on 36 carries (3.4 yards per rush) and no touchdowns.
“Well, I don't know if I knew he's going to do it every game but I saw him in spring and I thought we got a pretty good player on our hands,” Drinkwitz said … “So, I think that was the expectation, and again, he's a great young man. I'm so proud of him on our football team. He's really battled and is playing a lot of plays really fast. Does what we asked him to do. So he's displaying what we believe he had in him.”
Any questions about if Hopper could produce games similar to the one he had in Columbia as a Gator have been quieted with his play this season as arguably this revamped Tigers defense’s best player.
Hopper recorded five or more tackles six times in 2021 and finished the season with 62 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. This season through five games, he has Hopper has 32 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception.
“I feel like I’m being used really well here,” Hopper said. “I'm being coached very well here. So, it just reflects in my play.”
Hopper is not just getting recognized by his peers but nationally. Former NFL Pro Bowler and current SEC Network analyst Takeo Spikes said that Hopper is someone he is familiarizing himself with.
"One thing that continues to pop in mind is Ty'Ron Hopper," Spikes said after Missouri's 26-22 loss to Georgia. "This guy consistently finds ways to fill up the stat sheet, whether it's tackles for loss or a linebacker who can cover against athletic tight ends. He's just a natural playmaker along with Martez Manuel on the backside too."
Hopper leads the Southeastern Conference, along with his teammate safety Jaylon Carlies, in solo tackles at 29.
Mizzou defensive coordinator Blake Baker shared similar sentiments to that of Drinkwitz that Hopper is the guy they expected him to be when they got him in the portal, and his development from the spring showed that the game Hopper had versus Missouri wasn’t a flash in the pan.
“I think the biggest thing as a defensive coordinator is trying to find matchups or highlight his (Hopper’s) skill set," Baker said. "So, a guy that can do as much as he can do. The challenge is trying to find enough ways to highlight that skill set because he can do it all in my opinion, but it makes it fun.”
Missouri will face a challenge in week six when they face Florida (3-2), and for most athletes facing their former team is a game circled on the calendar when the schedule is released. For the reserved and humble Hopper, it’s another faceless and nameless opponent.
“It’s just another game,” Hopper said. “We are just trying to win the SEC 一 it’s going to be a good game, it’s going to be a dog fight.”
Mizzou defensive lineman Darius Robinson was on the team when Bolton was around and said that comparing Bolton to Hopper is difficult but that the two share a knack for making plays.
“Bolton was the best player I have ever been around, and Hopper has definitely made a lot of good plays for this defense, but really it’s hard to compare the two,” Robinson said. “It’s hard to compare them because they have different builds. Hop is more athletic, but Bolton is smart and intellectual about how he plays. … They’re both really good players.”
Hopper is on pace for 76 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions.