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2011 Missouri Football Preview: Wide Receivers

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2011 Missouri Football Preview
Analysis: Dave Matter | Michael Atchison
Opponents: Miami (Ohio) | Arizona State | Western Illinois | Oklahoma | Kansas State | Iowa State
Unit Walkthroughs: Quarterback (Bonus) | Running Backs

Reliable but unreliable. Deep but thin. Dangerous but tame. In 13 games in 2010, 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 struggled against good man coverage. Jerrell Jackson torched Oklahoma, and Wes Kemp destroyed Texas A&M, but the two dropped a number of passes against Texas Tech. Michael Egnew looked like Martin Rucker Redux 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.

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. Though everybody from the receiving corps returns in 2011, seemingly everything changes. Last year, three receivers (Moe, Jackson, Kemp) and a tight end (Egnew) saw 87.6 percent of targeted passes. They will have to earn the trust of a new quarterback while holding off a trio of precocious second-year receivers on the depth chart. Let the competition begin.

#28 T.J. Moe (6’0, 195, Jr., O’Fallon, Mo.)

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 (playing after receiving stitches against Illinois). 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.

Sure, he struggled against the type of man coverage that Nebraska was able to offer. 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.

No. 29 Jerrell Jackson (6’1, 195, Sr., Houston, Texas)

Ask Oklahoma about Jerrell Jackson’s talent. 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. Ask Iowa, against whom Jackson caught nine passes for 129 yards, including many key third-down conversions. But then ask Nebraska and Texas Tech about his ability to severely hamstring an offense. Against the Huskers and Red Raiders, Jackson was targeted 18 times, only to end the game with three receptions for 30 yards.

These four games were the extremes of a 2010 campaign that saw Jackson simultaneously improve and regress. 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. An all-hit, no-miss senior season for Jackson would radically raise Missouri’s ceiling in 2011.

#8 Wes Kemp (6’4, 225, Sr., St. Louis, Mo.)

An intelligent, high-character player who may be the Big 12’s finest open field blocker, 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 to this point, they have not been No. 1 receivers.

#85 Marcus Lucas (6’5, 205, So., Liberty, Mo.)

Fans got only glimpses of Marcus Lucas in 2010, but those glimpses were 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.

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

#5 Rolandis Woodland (6’3, 200, Jr., St. Louis, Mo.)

In 2010, 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. Despite increased playing time, 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. With some talent lurking behind him on the depth chart, "almost" may not be good enough to warrant playing time in 2011.

#2 L’Damian Washington (6’4, 195, So., Shreveport, La.)

For two consecutive offseasons, Washington has been the subject of all kinds of praise, 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.

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 the Missouri 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.

#3 Gahn McGaffie (5’11, 190, Jr., Galena Park, Texas)

Whether it was because he was too small or simply unable to pick up the receiver position, Gahn McGaffie’s college career seemed to be slipping down the rabbit hole. But then Oklahoma’s Patrick O’Hara bounced a kickoff to McGaffie, and the rest is written in Mizzou lore.

If nothing else, McGaffie showed 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. It may not be the role envisioned by those who saw his intoxicating high school tape, but it’s valuable depth for Missouri.

#16 Brandon Gerau (6’0, 175, Sr., Columbia, Mo.)

Quite simply, Brandon Gerau did everything asked of him in 2010. No one would have begrudged him a 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. His upside will probably remain a mystery, but in being asked to catch some tough over-the-middle passes (taking excruciating hits on almost all of them), he scored some degree-of-difficulty points.

#88 Jimmie Hunt (6’1, 195, RSFr., Cahokia, Ill.)

Early word last 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. The media has promoted him as the Jeremy Maclin of the group, but in his field awareness, he almost moves like Will Franklin with a nasty streak. Whether his upside is Maclin-esque or Franklin-esque, it appears it will be difficult to keep him off the field in 2011. But what will be his role, and whose snaps could he be taking?

#21 Bud Sasser (6’3, 200, RSFr., Denton, Texas)

None of the redshirting freshmen seemingly had a better set of December practices than Sasser. Everybody expects big things out of Marcus Lucas, and there were plenty of plaudits regarding Hunt, but if the reports are correct, Sasser seized the opportunity that bowl practices provided and established himself as a potential Kemp-clone, a big, physical guy who gives glimpses of athleticism and great hands. And if he couples that with an ability to threaten defenses in the redzone, he could carve out a distinct role in 2011 and beyond.

#14 Jaleel Clark (6’5, 215, So., Allentown, Pa.)

Clark is a special teams standout who still has a lot to prove at receiver. In high school, his succes was predominately on sideline fades against physically overmatched defensive backs. At 6’5", he’ll still have the size advantage on Big 12 defensive backs. But replicating that success at the college level is no guarantee.

#9 Kerwin Stricker (6’2, 205, So., Washington, Mo.)

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. In that sense, Stricker may be the Ashton Glaser of the receiving corps.

INCOMING: #18 Wesley Leftwich (6’1, 195, Fr., Columbia, Mo.)

The athleticism of Leftwich, a hometown kid out of Hickman, hasn’t been in doubt since he wowed coaches with his 40-yard-dash times. But so much emphasis on Leftwich’s straight line speed has shrouded questions about his ability to perform all other tasks required of a receiver. He’ll need to prove how well he catches the ball, works open, reads zones, and blocks downfield. The careers Greg Bracey and Rolandis Woodland have cast doubt on the "track star receiver," and it’s Leftwich’s label to lose.