As interesting as the QB race will be to watch in the spring and mid-summer, almost as important will be the race to replace Jeremy Maclin and provide Blaine GabbertOrWhoeverWinsTheQBRace with some go-to targets. Yesterday we discussed the value of Andrew Jones in moving the chains, but who's going to rack up the yards?
Danario Alexander (6'5, 210, Senior)
2008: 26 catches, 329 yards, 5 TDs
Danario Alexander is one of the most interesting receivers Missouri has had in a long time. He's long and lean and, when healthy, as fast as anybody on the team. Anybody remember Jared Perry's long TD catch against Kansas in 2006, when Aqib Talib was chasing Perry and Alexander not only caught Talib from behind in a foot race, but caught Perry as well? He has huge strides and is ridiculously dangerous when he catches the ball in stride. He also runs like a colt...not seeming to have complete control over his legs. Cutting and agility are a bit of an issue from time to time, and that was the case even before he suffered two injured knees in six months.
In 2008, Danario never seemed quite right. He may or may not have tried to rush back from his second injury, and he didn't seem completely comfortable running routes and cutting in traffic until the Alamo Bowl. He was still a solid weapon--as the 5 TDs can attest--but he was a work in progress.
Two main questions about Danario (or "Danarino," as my wife awesomely calls him) heading into 2009:
Can he be a #1 receiver? I'm not easily able to track "catch %'s", as in how often a targeted receiver actually makes a catch, but Danario didn't seem to have a very high "catch %" in 2008. Maybe that had to do with being off in his routes, maybe not, but a #1, go-to receiver has to be an extremely reliable target, especially with a new QB, and I'm not completely certain Danario fits the bill. He's got the potential to be an amazing #2 target and deep threat, but is he capable of catching 70-90 passes and leading a productive offense?
- What exactly is his ceiling when healthy? We've seen his speed; we've heard about his athletic exploits (the ridiculous vertical, etc.), but while in 2007 he was still exploring his athletic potential (and recovering from a broken hand), in 2008 he was trying to regain his athletic potential and grow confident in his legs again. If in 2009, he is 100% healthy and has an entire offseason to develop and prepare to be The Man, what exactly is this guy's ceiling? Is his upside as huge as we've thought from time to time? Can he turn into a guy who can run great routes and harness his great straight-line speed, or is he going to be a Brandon Barnes-type of athlete who was just sickening in the measurables sense (40 time, vertical jump, etc.) and just okay as an actual football player?
I realize those two questions are extremely interreleated, but they were just different enough to ask them both. The answers to this question could mean the difference between a 30-point offense and another 40-point offense.
Jared Perry (6'1, 180, Senior)
2008: 41 catches, 567 yards, 4 TDs
Jared Perry had the sneakiest, quietest 567 receiving yards in the history of the world last year. If I'd had to guess his yardage, I'd have probably guessed between 350 and 400. This is Jared Perry at his best--when he sneaks up on you. But I can't shake the thought that, the more we rely on him, the less we'll be rewarded for our efforts. I think Perry is a fantastic #3 WR, and if that's the role he has to play next year, we could be in good shape. I'm just not sure if he's a #1 or #2.
Which presents us with one of the biggest question marks of 2009: will Blaine Gabbert have a go-to receiver? If Alexander is a great #2 and Perry is a great #3...who's #1?
Jerrell Jackson (6'2, 190, Sophomore)
2008: 9 catches, 98 yards
One person who will definitely get a shot at #1 is Jerrell Jackson. If Blaine Gabbert's job in 2008 was the follow Chase Daniel around every second of every practice, Jackson's job was to do the same with Maclin. Almost all of his catches came in junk time against SEMO, but he was on the field a lot, he seemed to know what he was doing, and as far as the lack of catches...well, if you were Chase Daniel and you had the option of throwing to Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, Tommy Saunders, Danario Alexander, Jared Perry, or a newbie who hasn't been around long, what would you choose?
Jackson was the buzz of spring practice, when he emerged as the top guy among a bunch of talented true freshman WR's. He was agile and ran extremely crisp routes, and while nobody on this team will have the game-breaking ability of Jeremy Maclin (nobody ever had before Maclin, so we probably shouldn't expect it after Maclin), Jackson further assures that Blaine Gabbert will have lots of options--this won't be a "2003 after Justin Gage left, and nobody averages 10 yards per catch" WR corps.
Wes Kemp (6'4, 220, Sophomore)
2008: 1 catch, 15 yards
Of all the true freshmen who had their redshirts ripped off in 2008, Kemp is probably the one most likely to be regretting this decision. He did see the field a bit, but less than Jackson, Andrew Jones, and Michael Egnew. If Danario Alexander's injury prompted the coaches to play Egnew, it might have prompted them to take no chances and have Kemp ready to go too. If we were going to waste a year, though, I'd have preferred he get a few more balls thrown in his direction.
Kemp offers an interesting variable in comparison to a lot of other receivers in this group--size. Because of that size, rumors flew around that he would end up being converted to TE, but he seems to carry 220 pounds pretty well, and he certainly looks like a wide receiver. Among the youngsters, his physical presence should go pretty well with the speed of Jackson and Rolandis Woodland and the shiftiness of Gahn McGaffie (though this isn't to say he can't go deep). The offensive line has already staked its claim to the "best single unit from the 2008 recruiting class" award, but the wide receiver corps is giving it a run for its money.
Brandon Gerau (6'0, 175, Sophomore)
I'm including the Rock Bridge product on here because, of all the current walk-ons, he seems to be the most toolsy and most likely to actually see the field at some point. So there you go.
Rolandis Woodland (6'5, 190, RSFr)
Remember how Brian Coulter took on Chuck Norris-esque qualities in August, before anybody had seen him play a down? Remember how unfair that was to Coulter in the end, as there was no way he was going to meet the expectations he hadn't help set? I'm not saying Rolandis Woodland is the new Brian Coulter (though if it's anybody on the team, it's Woodland or Sheldon Richardson), but the expectations are growing. Woodland wasn't a candidate to play as a true freshman because he wasn't cleared to practice by the NCAA Eligibility Center until two days before kickoff of the Illinois game, but he has apparently made up for lost time by showing off some sickening, Danario-level speed. It seems well-established that Woodland (and DE Aldon Smith) were good enough to play had they been cleared earlier, so you should definitely pencil in a spot for Woodland in the rotation. And hey...he'll get a shot at #1 just like everybody else.
Gahn McGaffie (5'11, 180, RSFr)
McGaffie (first name: pronounced "JOHN") also came close to playing right out of the gates until a late-August strained toe sidelined him just long enough to make the staff decide not to waste the year of eligibility. Of the four 2008 freshmen--Jackson, Kemp, Woodland, McGaffie--it appears that McGaffie is the most elusive and could be a major threat on kick and punt returns (good luck filling those Maclin-sized shoes). I don't know a lot about his overall speed, but again...with Woodland, Alexander and maybe Kemp running deep routes well, with guys like Jackson and Perry playing the Maclin role the best they can, and with Andrew Jones camping out underneath at the first-down marker, I could see McGaffie fitting into something of a Tommy Saunders, "most dangerous fourth option in the country" role. It's obviously all speculation at this point, but again...Gabbert's going to have plenty of options, and that's a very good thing.
Jaleel Clark (6'4, 200, Allentown, PA)
A three-star recruit from non-Mizzou country, Clark committed pretty early on in the process. He has proven to be a very solid all-around athlete--his skill set (agility, kick returning, strong basketball skills) seems to be more that of a 6'0 or 6'1 receiver, but you add those abilities to a 6'4 frame and good ball skills, and you've got a pretty unique prospect. I won't say he'll be as good as Justin Gage, but that seems to be the type of skill set we're working with here. There's some Clark video (with a write-up) at ESPN.com. I assume he'll redshirt, but he could be good in a couple years.
Kerwin Stricker (6'2, 195, Washington, MO)
While Clark is a polished athlete with what seems to be a pretty well-defined upside, Stricker is the opposite. He's strong, super-fast and, it appears, all sorts of raw. Stricker wasn't a dynamic force at Washington HS this year, and he only earned Honorable-Mention All-StL Metro honors, but in what should promise to be a pretty deep unit for years to come, the Tigers can afford to take a gamble on a raw athlete like this.
Odds are pretty good that, with so many in last year's class and a potential glut in next year's class, Missouri is done recruiting receivers for the 2009 recruiting class. That said, there are still a handful of possibilities out there.
Terry Hawthorne (6'0, 170, East St. Louis)
Hawthorne, the St. Louis area's Defensive Player of the Year, has been committed to Illinois for a while now, but he took an official visit to Columbia anyway, and liked what he saw. He has an official visit to Champaign lined up a couple weeks from now, and I assume he'll end up sticking with the Illini, but if he were 100% sold on UI, he wouldn't have visited Columbia in the first place. We'll say there's a 25% chance Hawthorne becomes a Tiger.
Skyler Scott (6'3, 190, Lancaster, TX)
The 3-star suburban Dallas receiver has a handful of pretty solid offers and has previously spoken of visiting Columbia in January, but we'll see--the longer these Texas kids go without visiting, the harder it is to actually get them to leave the state. He probably ends up at Baylor, but we'll say Missouri has a, yes, 25% chance of landing Scott.
Ja-Mes Logan (6'3, 180, Houston, TX)
Cobi Hamilton (6'3, 190, Texarkana, TX)
Two more 3-star, 6'3 Texas WRs who have visited Columbia but seem to be looking elsewhere at the moment. I'd say Mizzou has about a 25% chance at Logan and a 5% chance at Hamilton, but they're technically still on the radar screen until they commit elsewhere.
2008 vs 2009
Let's not over-analyze this one. There's a lot of talent, athleticism and youth in this group, and while there are a lot of candidates for #2 and #3, the difference between an okay season and a run at a third-straight North title could be the emergence of a #1.
2009 Mizzou TEs on the YouTubes
Danario Alexander's crowning moment
Jared Perry's crowning moment (3:00)