It really might be the greatest season we've ever seen from an individual Mizzou athlete not named Ben Askren. There are other candidates, sure, but when everything fell into place for Danario Alexander in 2009, it fell into place. It would have been special to witness even if we hadn't seen what he had gone through in the previous two years. The broken hand that cost him some time in 2007. The torn up knee that knocked him out of the Big 12 title game that same year just one week after he was the best receiver on the field in the biggest Missouri game of all-time. The setbacks in the spring of 2008. The shadow of Danario we saw on the field in 2008.
Heading into 2009, none of us knew what to expect from the senior. We knew what he was capable of when healthy, but we had no reason to simply assume he'd be healthy. Here's what I wrote about him in the 2009 Walkthrough:
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? [...] 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.
Safe to say that a) he was ready to be a No. 1, and b) his ceiling was as high as almost any player who has ever donned the Missouri uniform. That whole "runs like a colt" thing? Gone.
Here's his target data from his first three years:
2006: 21 targets, 15 catches (71.4%), 251 yards (12.0 per target)
2007: 42 targets, 31 catches (73.8%), 363 yards (8.6 per target)
2008: 42 targets, 26 catches (61.9%), 329 yards (7.8 per target)
Here's his target data from the first seven games of the 2009 season, when he was merely one of the nation's best receivers on an offense with a gimpy quarterback and an undeveloped supporting cast:
2009 (first 7 games): 82 targets, 58 catches (70.7%), 701 yards (8.5 per target)
And here's his target data from the final six games of the 2009 season:
2009 (last 6 games): 77 targets, 55 catches (71.4%), 1,080 yards (14.0 per target)
To put in perspective how amazing he was over the last six games, think about it like this: for a full season, that is a rate of 167 targets, 119 catches ... and 2,340 yards. Against Kansas State, he made one of the single most jarring plays I've ever seen: he caught a little slant a few yards downfield, and with two defenders coming toward him, he came to a nearly complete stop, changed direction, and outran them to the end zone. In that same game, he caught a long bomb for a touchdown and bowled over a set of defenders for a huge third-down conversion. He had the complete skill set. He finished that game with 10 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns, and it might not have even been his best game of the season. Those honors probably go to the Kansas game (15 catches, 233 yards, one score). He was a one-man offense, and he was unlike anything I've ever seen.
In your life as a fan, you hope for great moments and great seasons. You hope to be rooting for greatness, basically, and you have no idea in advance how many opportunities you'll have to do so. In 2009, Missouri fans watched their team limp through a transition season without Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, William Moore, two coordinators, etc., and go just 8-5 overall after going 22-6 in the previous two seasons. But within the frustration of that season was the most brilliant set of performances we'll probably ever see from a receiver. For his career, perhaps Danario Alexander wasn't quite as successful as others -- he didn't put back-to-back seasons together like Maclin, he didn't win a national award like Chase Coffman (though I'm still incredibly annoyed that he wasn't the Biletnikoff winner that year). But his 2009 season was simply unreal. Celebrating a set of moments like that is exactly why we created this list in the first place.
Get well soon, Danario.