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Devil's Advocate: Success at the Wide Receiver position

Do these two men hold the key to success for the Missouri passing game in 2010? (Photo: RMN's own <a href="">Bill Carter</a>)
Do these two men hold the key to success for the Missouri passing game in 2010? (Photo: RMN's own Bill Carter)

Here at Rock M Nation, we pride ourselves in trying to avoid/fight the mob mentality that dominates The Interwebs. All those months of skepticism at RMN about lines of thinking that are a little too easily accepted for our tastes have led me to an unintended fondness for contrarianism. Contrarian pieces on SB Nation are nothing new (the inestimable T. Kyle King penned a fantastic series titled Kyle Gets Contrary for Dawg Sports). But this summer, I'm launching a series titled "Devil's Advocate" in which, regardless of my own personal beliefs, I'll attempt to challenge some of Missouri fans' most commonly-held beliefs. Today's truth to challenge:

"The success of the Missouri receiving corps falls on either Jerrell Jackson or Wes Kemp"


Entering 2009, Bill and I looked at the Missouri receiving corps and expressed reservations about Mizzou potentially not having a true No. 1 threat. Danario Alexander and Jared Perry were inconsistent at best in their first three seasons at Mizzou, and those behind them were still virtual unknowns.

Then the 2009 season played out, and Bill and I couldn't have been more delightfully wrong.

With Alexander now gone [and Perry, for that matter], Missouri fans and coaches have seemingly anointed Jerrell Jackson as the next top target, and it's not altogether unreasonable. Jackson has had flashes of brilliance [the end around against Kansas] interspersed with flashes of bewilderment [the taunting penalty against Kansas]. No one should expect Jackson to replace Alexander, and to Missouri fans' credit, I don't think anyone has.

Kemp presumably comes in to take Perry's No. 2 role, a spot for which his large frame may be ideally suited. Kemp's hot start to 2009 raised expectations, only to have them slowly dissipate after getting annihilated by Ndamukong Suh on a screen play against Nebraska and crucially dropping a perfectly thrown bomb from Blaine Gabbert against Oklahoma State.

So, that settles it, right? Jackson and Kemp's ability to settle into their roles will determine whether or not the receivers are successful, right?

Not quite.

When the Missouri offense has clicked at full throttle at times during the last four seasons, there's generally one overlying theme as to why: Options. Chase Daniel's greatest asset as a quarterback was neither his accuracy nor his ability to create as plays broke down. It was his ability to assess a defense's weak points and deliver the ball on time that truly set him apart. Colorado shades its Cover 1 to take away Maclin and/or Franklin? Daniel opts for Coffman instead. Kansas wants to focus on Maclin at Arrowhead in 2007? Daniel finds Alexander and Saunders a combined 16 times.

How many times in 2009 was Danario Alexander able to bail out Blaine Gabbert? On several occasions, Gabbert seemed locked in on Alexander, and thanks to Alexander's superior speed and ability to make plays on the ball, it wouldn't matter. Was it explosive? Absolutely. Was it efficient? Not really.

For Missouri to click on all cylinders, it's going to be absolutely necessary that Gabbert grows from "supremely talented gunslinger" to "supremely talented field general." This means better ball distribution not just for the hell of it, but to better attack the changing weaknesses of opposing defenses. And what is the other crucial element in this equation? Wide receiver depth.

T.J. Moe, L'Damian Washington, Michael Egnew, etc. These are the names will determine wide receiver success in 2010. Missouri fans can't and shouldn't expect Maclin- or Danario-esque numbers from Jackson or Kemp in 2010. Instead, what Missouri truly needs is Saunders-esque or Brad Ekwerekwu-esque performances down the line from those in the best position to capitalize against opposing defenses. That means minimization of the drops and the development of consistently solid performances that earn Gabbert's trust.

Explosive years from Jackson and Kemp would be great, but it's the rest of the pass catchers that'll determine the success of the receiving corps [and, ergo, the Mizzou offense] in 2010.