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2011 Walkthrough: Wide Receivers

Photos via Bill Carter.
Photos via Bill Carter.

Running Backs

2010 Per-Game Target Rates for Mizzou Receivers
(while the game was "close")
Game T.J. Moe Michael
OTHER Top Remaining WR
1 29.2% 25.0% 12.5% 16.7% 16.7% Washington (4.2%)
2 46.2% 30.8% 0.0% 15.4% 7.7% Washington (7.7%)
3 25.5% 39.2% 19.6% 3.9% 7.8% Woodland, Gerau, McGaffie (2.0%)
4 66.7% 0.0% 0.0% 33.3% 0.0%
5 31.0% 27.6% 6.9% 13.8% 6.9% Washington, Gerau (3.4%)
6 14.0% 30.2% 18.6% 27.9% 9.3% Gerau (4.7%)
7 14.3% 19.0% 26.2% 14.3% 21.5% Lucas, Gerau (2.4%)
8 28.6% 23.8% 21.4% 14.3% 9.5% Woodland (7.1%)
9 33.3% 13.3% 30.0% 10.0% 10.0% Woodland (6.7%), Lucas (3.3%)
10 26.1% 29.1% 17.4% 8.7% 13.0% Woodland (8.7%)
11 11.5% 42.3% 23.1% 3.8% 11.5% Woodland, Lucas (3.8%)
12 36.0% 24.0% 12.0% 8.0% 12.0%
13 29.8% 15.8% 21.1% 12.3% 17.5% Woodland, Gerau (5.3%)
ALL 26.4% 25.5% 18.4% 13.1% 12.4% Woodland (2.8%), Gerau (2.3%)

Reliable but unreliable. Deep but thin.  Dangerous but tame.  Over a 13-game schedule, the Mizzou receiving corps left so many contradictory impressions that it is difficult to know what to think moving forward.  T.J. Moe caught 92 passes, burned Iowa in the Insight Bowl and saved Mizzou’s bacon versus San Diego State, but he couldn’t really get open against good man coverage.  Jerrell Jackson torched Oklahoma, and Wes Kemp burned Texas A&M, and the two combined for approximately 17 drops against Texas Tech.  Michael Egnew looked like Martin Rucker Incarnate one moment and disappeared the next.  Rolandis Woodland looked like a natural tracking down a deep ball against Kansas State, but blew several other opportunities to become a reliable weapon.

In other words, the 2010 Mizzou receiving corps was every bit the mystery we expected it to be this past offseason.  The name of the game in just about any sport is maximizing your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses.  We knew this unit lacked a consistent deep threat, and we knew that receivers like Kemp and Jackson struggled with catching consistency, and to be sure, this unit was as responsible as any other unit for Mizzou’s lack of offensive success against Nebraska and Texas Tech.  But they were also responsible for a good portion of Mizzou’s success.  And in the end, a 10-3 record is proof that Mizzou did indeed maximize its strengths rather well.  (T.J. Moe’s catch total improving by 4500% certainly didn’t hurt, eh?)

Though everybody from the receiving corps returns in 2011, seemingly everything changes. There is a new quarterback throwing them passes with completely different velocity and tendencies, and perhaps more importantly, there is some new blood entering the mix.  Last year, three receivers (Moe, Jackson, Kemp) and a tight end (Egnew) saw 87.6 percent of targeted passes.  They will have to prove that they are deserving of James Franklin’s (or Tyler Gabbert’s, or Ashton Glaser’s) targets, and they will have to hold off a trio of precocious second-year receivers on the depth chart.  Let the competition begin!

T.J. Moe (6’0, 195, Jr., O’Fallon, MO)

2010: 92 catches, 1,045 yards (11.4), 6 TD; 12 carries, 81 yards (6.8), 1 TD / 70.8% catch rate, 8.0 yds/target
2009: 2 catches, 8 yards (4.0) / 40.0% catch rate, 1.6 yds/target

RPT: Just for fun, let’s extrapolate Moe’s production jump from 2009 to 2010 and project his 2011 line based on percent increases from a year ago:

4,140 catches, 135,458 yards, 30.3 yards per catch, ∞ touchdowns

I think we’ve found the only way to make him more of a Mizzou icon than he already is.

Bill C.: And he still wouldn’t win the Biletnikoff Award.

Not even Chase Daniel in 2006 made as much of a positive impact, a cultural impact, on Mizzou fans in his first year as a contributor as Moe did in 2010.  He was everything a fanbase looks for in a player.  He was tough (he needed stitches against Illinois but kept on battling).  He was consistent (at least five catches in 11 of 13 games despite increased attention from opposing defenses).  He had some moves (despite catching so many passes close to the line of scrimmage, he still averaged double-digit yards per catch in eight games).  He had some attitude (Missourians love that in both their politicians and their athletes).  And perhaps most importantly, he had timing.  And we’re not even talking about his 15 catches in the Insight Bowl.  With Mizzou’s season seemingly hanging in the balance in just the third game of the year, he caught a short pass from Blaine Gabbert, juked the pants off of one defender, received a killer (and totally legal, ahem) block from Jerrell Jackson, and raced 68 yards with a minute left against San Diego State.

Last year’s season may not have technically been a redshirt one for Moe, but it might as well have been.  He received on-the-job training but caught only two passes.  Yet by the end of his first month as a true member of the Mizzou offense, had been created.  Sure, he struggled against the type of man coverage that Nebraska was able to offer.  And sure, he’s almost guaranteed to say too much to the media or on Twitter at some point.  But Moe has the combination of personality and ability that few major-college athletes have, and he will almost certainly be the seen as the heart and soul of the Mizzou football team moving forward.

Jerrell Jackson (6’1, 195, Sr., Houston, TX)

2010: 50 catches, 656 yards (13.1), 3 TD; 4 carries, 22 yards (5.5) / 59.5% catch rate, 7.8 yds/target
2009: 37 catches, 458 yards (12.4), 2 TD; 11 carries, 92 yards (8.4) / 60.7% catch rate, 7.5 yds/target
2008: 9 catches, 98 yards (10.9) / 69.2% catch rate, 7.5 yds/target

RPT: Has Missouri had a player recently who matches Jerrell Jackson for being equal parts talented and frustrating? With apologies to Dennis Green, in 2010, Jackson was who we thought he was. He was fairly electric with the ball in open space and remained one of Missouri’s fastest options off of the line of scrimmage. But he wasn’t immune to the drops and mental errors that have so plagued his career. And so he returns and so he remains – the receiver of All-Conference athleticism but All-Psychologist focus.

Bill C.: Here’s what we said about Jackson in last year’s 2010 Missouri Football Preview:

Jackson’s mental escapades are the main reason he isn’t the clear No. 1 receiver.  He showed plenty of glimpses of not merely No. 1-level play, but all-conference ability.  Now, as a junior and by far the most accomplished returning Mizzou receiver, he has to get the mental side of the game under control.

So how’d he do?  Ask Oklahoma about his potential all-conference ability.  In one of Missouri’s bigger regular-season wins of this generation, Jackson caught nine passes for 139 yards, including the go-ahead, 38-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.  While you’re at it, ask Iowa as well.  Jackson caught nine passes for 129 yards, including many key third-down conversions, in Mizzou’s tough Insight Bowl loss.

Then ask Nebraska and Texas Tech about his ability to cripple an offense.  Against the Huskers and Red Raiders, Jackson was targeted 18 times … and caught three passes for 30 yards.

These four games were the extremes of a 2010 campaign that saw Jackson improve (he caught 13 more passes at higher yards per target and catch) and regress (his already-mediocre catch rate went down) simultaneously.  Instead of improved consistency, Jackson produced further extremes.  With consistent options like Moe and Egnew, Jackson’s hit-or-miss style was perfectly fine for most of the season.  Most of the season.

Wes Kemp (6’4, 225, Sr., St. Louis, MO)

2010: 39 catches, 420 yards (10.8), 3 TD; 1 carry, 9 yards / 63.9% catch rate, 6.9 yds/target
2009: 23 catches, 418 yards (18.2), 3 TD; 6 kick returns, 22.7 avg / 52.3% catch rate, 9.5 yds/target
2008: 1 catch, 15 yards / 50.0% catch rate, 7.5 yds/target

RPT: Almost exactly one year ago, Bill asked "Who is the real Wes Kemp?" As a person and as a blocker, we can say with absolute certainty – he’s a smart, high-character player who is in the conversation as one of Missouri’s best open-field blockers of the 21st century. As a receiver, I still think we’re unsure.

Bill C.: I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: you blew it, Wes.  Now that we’ve seen that you are capable of catching passes like the diving snag against Iowa that got you on ESPN’s Top 10 Plays of the Bowl Season, the brainfarts (or are they handfarts?) have officially become less acceptable.

In 2009, Wes Kemp was used primarily in deeper routes.  That resulted in a poor catch rate (52.3%) but a dangerous yards-per-target rate (9.5).  In 2010, he was targeted far less on intermediate and deep routes and more toward the line of scrimmage.  He produced some solid results -- a combined 14 catches (on just 17 targets) for 160 yards and two touchdowns against Texas A&M and Oklahoma, plus seven more catches against Iowa -- and was, as RPT mentioned, an incredible open-field blocker.  He clearly proved his worth to this team, both in his solid team play and in the locker room.  But as with 2009, Kemp still pulled some disappearing acts.  With Mizzou in need of a big play against Nebraska and Texas A&M, Kemp was, like Jackson, nowhere to be found.  He was targeted nine times and caught two passes for 19 yards, dropping a tough-but-catchable third-down pass in the fourth quarter against Tech that could have saved the game.  And in four November games, he caught three passes in nine targets.

Wes Kemp is a lunch-pail receiver.  He doesn’t complain when he isn’t targeted much, and he figures out ways to contribute without the ball in his hands.  In that way, it is difficult to measure his value in statistics.  At some point in 2011, Missouri fans will probably start to get frustrated because one of the youngsters -- Marcus Lucas, or Jimmie Hunt, or maybe Bud Sasser -- isn’t seeing the field enough for their liking, while Kemp (who will probably continue to disappear from time to time) sees the field all the time.  Chances are, however, that he will be making too big an impact away from the ball to see his playing time diminish too much.

Most likely, Kemp and Jackson are what they are at this point.  You rarely see a player take a huge leap in terms of consistency between their junior and senior seasons.  They are strong Mizzou representatives who play hard and, by all accounts, push the other receivers to get better in practice.  But they are not No. 1 receivers.  And you know what?  That might be just fine.  If "potential depth" turns into "depth" in 2011, if other high-upside targets develop in terms of reliability, both Kemp and Jackson can contribute mightily to this team with the roles they have already carved out.

Rolandis Woodland (6’3, 200, Jr., St. Louis, MO)

2010: 5 catches, 97 yards (19.4) / 38.5% catch rate, 7.5 yds/target
2009: 5 catches, 26 yards (5.2) / 66.7% catch rate, 3.5 yds/target

RPT: Mizzou’s receiving corps is loaded with the "high upside" label. The problem with Woodland is that he’s starting to feel more like Darko Milicic than Rajon Rondo. Woodland failed to come up with a number of passes while wide open, which really paints quite the picture: a supremely fast kid with the ability to get open along the sideline, but one who struggles to finish plays. Maybe 2011 is the year Woodland finally puts it all together, but time is starting to run out for No. 5.

Bill C.: Time to quote ourselves again:

If ever there was a time for Woodland to take control and seize a role by the throat, 2010 is it.  Missouri’s offense will be in desperate need of the type of threat that Woodland is supposed to provide.  The ‘stacked depth chart’ excuse is now gone.  The ball’s in your court, Ro.  What are you going to do with it?

What did he do with it?  Not much, really.  He caught a key 51-yard bomb against Kansas State, and that was encouraging.  He caught another 26-yard pass against Iowa State.  He was also targeted five times against Nebraska and Texas Tech and caught one pass for six yards.  (Sensing a trend here?  Mizzou desperately needed somebody other than Moe or Egnew to make a play in both of their regular-season losses, and nobody did.)  Despite increased playing time (he was targeted more and more as the season progressed), Woodland officially finished 2010 with the same number of catches he had in his nondescript 2009 campaign.  Two years into his career, he has been the quintessential "almost" player.  He "almost" caught a key touchdown pass against Nebraska but didn’t.  He "almost" caught a couple of key passes against Iowa but didn’t.  He might get plenty more opportunities in 2011, but he might also fall pretty far down the depth chart.  It might not be up to him anymore -- it might be up to the other youngsters around him.

No. 85 in the picture above

Marcus Lucas (6’5, 205, So., Liberty, MO)

2010: 3 catches, 23 yards (7.7) / 50.0% catch rate, 3.8 yds/target

RPT: We saw only glimpses of Marcus Lucas in 2010, but those glimpses should be just enough to get you excited for Marcus Lucas in 2011. His physical skills are exciting enough. He’s long with a frame that could still carry more build. He’s shown great body control in turning around defenders and shielding the ball. His high school tape illustrated one of his most underrated assets -- his ability to catch the ball away from his body. But somewhat overlooked in all of this is his smarts. In talking to Lucas, you’ll find an incredibly insightful football player and one whose profile should only grow as the opportunities increase.

Bill C.: Heading into 2010, T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew had combined for nine career catches.  They caught slightly more than that this fall.  The "receiver apprenticeship" approach, in which players see their redshirts torn off and get real-game experience while not serving as a focal point of the offense, has paid recent dividends for Gary Pinkel and his team.  Is Marcus Lucas the next Mizzou receiver to make the Apprenticeship Leap?  As RPT mentioned, Lucas made the most of his three catches in 2010.  In one, he showed solid box-out ability.  In another, he made a tough catch for a first down while falling to the ground and adjusting to the ball.  He has a huge frame and what appears to be very good speed.  There was a reason this guy was a four-star Rivals recruit.

Lucas still has to prove that he is the next Danario Alexander instead of the next Jerrill Humphrey, but early signs are extremely encouraging.

L’Damian Washington (6’4, 195, So., Shreveport, LA)

2010: 5 catches, 35 yards (7.0) / 71.4% catch rate, 5.0 yds/target

RPT: If there was an unexpected disappointment in the receiving corps in 2010, I think L’DW is it, even though I don’t think it was of his own accord. For two consecutive offseasons, we’ve heard nothing but praise for Washington, but all he has to show for it is five career catches. Washington finds himself somewhat caught in the middle of the receiver depth chart, trying to break through the glass ceiling of Jackson/Moe/Kemp while still trying to fend off the Lucas/Sasser/Hunt trifecta.

Bill C.: On the field, Washington did most of what was asked of him.  He caught five of the seven passes thrown his way, but as the season unfolded, we saw less and less of him.  Knowing this coaching staff, that probably suggests that he is not as good a practice players as guys like Woodland and Lucas.  Luckily, there is still plenty of time for him to turn things around.  Again, you won’t make a lot of money betting against Mizzou receivers who didn’t have big freshman seasons.  With three seasons remaining, L’DW could still become what we’ve been told he can become … but as with Woodland and everybody else, he’ll have to distinguish himself amid greater competition this time around.

The crowd after McGaffie's kickoff return.

Gahn McGaffie (5’11, 190, Jr., Galena Park, TX)

2010: 6 catches, 40 yards (6.7); 3 kick returns, 41.7 avg (1 glorious TD) / 75.0% catch rate, 5.0 yds/target

RPT: Bill and I were similarly intoxicated by McGaffie’s tape out of high school, but as his career progressed, it seemed like McGaffie simply wasn’t going to find his way onto the field. Whether it was because he was too small or simply unable to pick up the receiver position, McGaffie always appeared too close to the 8-ball to push any receivers or any returners for playing time. But as McGaffie’s career continued slipping down the rabbit hole, Oklahoma’s Patrick O’Hara bounced a kickoff to up-man McGaffie, and the rest is written in Mizzou lore. Just like that, the spark that Bill and I always saw in McGaffie returned. Is there any way to sustain it in 2011? Stay tuned.

Bill C.: I will now steal a line from The Beef (it’s been a while): Even if McGaffie never catches another pass in a Tiger uniform, he will receive the most unexpectedly impressive pop at Senior Day 2012.  "That’s the guy who returned that kick against Oklahoma!  I forgot about him!"

If nothing else, McGaffie showed us two things in limited opportunities in 2010: 1) He’s got some speed. Granted, he didn’t have to outrun the entire Oklahoma team on his kick return TD, but once he got to the corner, he got to the end zone basically unchallenged.  2) He can serve as a solid backup to T.J. Moe.  He did not get many opportunities to proves his chops in the downfield passing game, but as an underneath guy or a screens target, he could be pretty effective.  Maybe he doesn’t live up to the somewhat unreasonable expectations RPT and I had of him at first, but he should continue to serve as a solid role player in 2011 and 2012.

Brandon Gerau (6’0, 175, Sr., Columbia, MO)

2010: 7 catches, 120 yards (17.1) / 63.6% catch rate, 10.9 yds/target
2009: 2 catches, 19 yards (9.3); 3 punt returns, 7.3 avg / 66.7% catch rate, 6.3 yds/target

RPT: Seven catches, all of them excruciating. I think 17.1 is the number of spinal vertebrae he needed replaced, not his yards per catch average.

Bill C.: Quite simply, Brandon Gerau did everything asked of him in 2010.  We expected him to fade to the third- or fourth-string as younger guys with seemingly higher upside surpassed him, but there he was, still seeing the field at the end of the season.  We have no idea what his actual upside is yet, but in being asked to catch some tough over-the-middle passes, and in taking seven big hits in seven catches, he scored some degree-of-difficulty points.

Jimmie Hunt (6’1, 195, RSFr., Cahokia, IL)

RPT: Hunt was promoted as the Maclin of the second-year trio, but the more I see from Hunt from practice videos, the more he starts to scream "Will Franklin with a nasty streak." And with Hunt, that just might be the start. As with everyone else, the question is where the targets will come from and how many he can expect to get.

Bill C.: Early word in August was that Hunt was the most developed of the Lucas-Hunt-Sasser trio, but injuries set him back just enough for the staff to decide to fit him for a redshirt.  Whether his upside is Maclin-esque or Franklin-esque, it appears it will be difficult to keep him off the field in 2011.  But where does he fit in?  Does he steal time from Jerrell Jackson?  Woodland?  Does he spend most of 2011 in the ‘apprenticeship’ role?  He will be one of the more interesting players to watch this spring.

Bud Sasser (6’3, 200, RSFr., Denton, TX)

RPT: I’m going to steal exactly what I said about Sasser last year, if for no other reason than because I convinced everything I said still applies:

There are plenty of names on this list that can warrant several targets per game, and you can start to see how certain players easily fit certain roles/routes in Mizzou's offensive scheme. But perhaps the biggest role that has remained unfulfilled since 2008 is the role of the redzone target. Chase Coffman's departure left MU with a GIANT void when it came to catching passes inside the 20, and it is here where Sasser may have his greatest opportunity. The Dallas Morning News said his "incredible mixture of size and athletic ability" made him the primary redzone target at Denton Ryan, and that's exactly the kind of role that could push his name up Mizzou's depth chart.

Bill C.: None of the redshirting freshmen seemingly had a better set of December practices than Sasser.  Everybody expects big things out of Marcus Lucas, and we had already read plenty of plaudits regarding Hunt, but if you are to believe the reports, Sasser seized the opportunity that bowl practices provide and established himself as a potential Kemp-clone, a big, physical guy who gives glimpses of athleticism and great hands.  Obviously we would love to see more consistency from Sasser than we have from Kemp, but comparing young receivers to Kemp is far from damning.

Jaleel Clark (6’5, 215, So., Allentown, PA)

RPT: Sure, we’ve heard about Jaleel Clark on occasion in practice reports, but what do we really know about him? At this point, not much. The one thing that concerns me about Clark is how much of his high school highlight tape was built on sideline fades against physically overmatched defensive backs. I certainly can’t fault him or his high school coach for the prevalence of that play call -- after all, it worked. But it leaves me curious about his utility at the college level. At 6’5" (and, let’s be real, 6’4"), he’ll still have the size advantage on Big 12 defensive backs. But are we ready to trust him to work free and win jump balls? Or are we just simply unaware of the development of his other routes?

Bill C.: We do know this about him: he was pretty damn good on special teams this year.  So he’s got THAT going for him.  Beyond that, however?  Hard to say.  He has already been surpassed by one big receiver (Lucas), and if he lets both Sasser and Hunt pass him by on the depth chart, seeing playing time before graduation might become a huge concern for him.

Kerwin Stricker (6’2, 205, So., Washington, MO)

RPT: At this point, Stricker sticks out most in my mind for being "Scout Team Ricky Dobbs," and even with that said, he might be second on the "flexbone quarterbacks" depth chart behind McGaffie.

Bill C.: Our initial concerns about Stricker might be coming to fruition: he might be an athlete without a position, a receiver too raw to the see the field, someone who, by the time he starts to put things together, finds himself on the fourth string behind younger receivers with just as much upside.  Consider Stricker the Glaser of the receiving corps.  If he doesn’t make noise this spring, he might have missed his window.

INCOMING: Wesley Leftwich (6’1, 195, Fr., Columbia, MO, ***)

RPT: I really feel like labeling Leftwich as a receiver is somewhat of a disservice, but since Bill and I don’t preview an "Athlete" category, I guess we’ll have to make do. I reserve the right to be proven wrong, but so much of the emphasis on Leftwich’s straight line speed leaves me curious about his ability to perform all other tasks required of a receiver. I’ll anxiously await hearing how well he catches the ball, works open, reads zones, blocks downfield, etc. during his debut practices. But the Greg Braceys and Rolandis Woodlands of the world have left me a tad bit weary of the "track star" receivers. Here’s to hoping Leftwich’s career at Mizzou changes that.

Bill C.: But apparently Leftwich is a helluva kickoffs guy.  And I don’t mean "kickoff coverage" either.  I mean "He repeatedly boomed kickoffs through the end zone for Hickman last year."  We’ve already had a Mizzou diver turn into a great kicker; why not have a Mizzou receiver pulling an Adi Kunalic for the Tigers in coming seasons?

2011 vs 2010

Barring injury, Franklin/T. Gabbert/Glaser will be working with, at the very least, as good a receiving corps as what Blaine Gabbert had in 2010.  That is always encouraging to say.  Moe will continue to be Moe, Egnew (who we will discuss in the next part of the series) will continue to be Egnew, and Jackson and Kemp will continue to be Jackson and Kemp.  But what is bubbling under the surface has to be considered the most intriguing and exciting part of the Missouri offense.  We know what the running back position and offensive line will have to offer in 2011, and we know we will likely have to deal with some "new starter" ups-and-downs at quarterback.  But the receiver position will make the difference between "good offense" and "oh my God, this is fantastic."  If Lucas makes the Apprenticeship Leap like Moe and Egnew (and, thanks to injuries, Danario Alexander) did, or at least becomes another Jackson/Kemp … if Hunt or Sasser can push their way into the rotation … if Woodland can simply get that catch rate up to about the 60.0-percent mark or so … if Washington takes The Leap in practice … then the winner of the QB derby will have all the toys he needs to make another push toward double-digit wins.