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2012 Missouri Walkthrough: Wide Receivers

Photos, as always, via Bill Carter.
Photos, as always, via Bill Carter.

Previous Walkthroughs
Running Backs

For the last two years, since the departure of Danario Alexander, Missouri’s receiving corps has been gritty, efficient, great at blocking … and mostly lacking in explosiveness. The Tigers caught glimpses of a downfield passing game as both Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington began to play extended roles in the offense, but the faces of the receiving corps were more like T.J. Moe, Michael Egnew and Wes Kemp, quality football players lacking in top-end speed.

In 2012, that could change, and not only because of a particular blue-chip signee. The departures of Egnew, Kemp and Jerrell Jackson will force Missouri to go with a crop of young, faster receivers who might still need a few more "how to block" lessons. The ceiling for the Mizzou receivers in 2012 is off the charts, even if the floor may actually be a bit lower.

T.J. Moe (6’0, 200, Sr., O’Fallon, MO)

2009: 5 targets, 2 catches (40.0%), 8 yards (1.6 per target)
2010: 130 targets, 92 catches (70.7%), 1,045 yards (8.0 per target), 6 TD
2011: 78 targets, 54 catches (69.2%), 649 yards (8.3 per target), 4 TD

Supplemental Stats: 23 carries, 142 yards (6.2 per carry), 1 TD
2-for-4 passing, 71 yards, 1 TD

Bill C.: In 2009, T.J. Moe was nervous and shaky. In 2010, he was M-O-E-Z-O-U. Through both his production and his way with words, Moe has become the face of the Mizzou program, even more than any recent top draft picks (Aldon Smith) or quarterbacks (Blaine Gabbert, James Franklin). The Fort Zumwalt West product is the prototypical "bleeds black and gold" guy, is one hell of a quote … and oh yeah, is a pretty good receiver, too.

Though his targets decreased with both the emergence of Henry Josey and the improved production of receivers like Lucas and Washington, Moe was every bit as efficient in 2011 as he was in 2010. While television announcers cannot help but compare him to Wes Welker (for one very obvious reason), the fact remains that he does have a Welker-esque "great possession man" skill set. And if a Randy Moss type emerges to pull the defense away from the line of scrimmage, then Moe’s per-target rates could improve again in 2012.

As Missouri shifts its home base from the midlands to the southeast, it could be easy to worry about losing a Missouri-esque identity. But as long as players like T.J. Moe fill Mizzou uniforms, that won’t be much of a concern.

The Beef: You’d think to look at this stats that Mizzou’s overall offense would have suffered, but the tremendous balance between the run and the pass meant that there just were not the balls for T.J. to catch this year. Will it change next year? Perhaps a bit. I can see where the lack of Henry Josey and the (hopeful) improvement of James Franklin leads Mizzou away from the almost perfect 50-50 yardage split, and that could mean more chances for T.J. Nonetheless, it should be a fun senior year for him in what I am guessing will be his final season of organized football. But how big will the cheer be on Senior Day for him as memories of the Moe Miracle come rushing back?

RPT: Last year, we extrapolated T.J. Moe’s growth from 2009-10 on to his projected 2011 season and here were the results: 4,140 catches, 135,458 yards, 30.3 yards per catch, ∞ touchdowns. So, yes, he was extremely disappointing in 2011, failing to reach his projected yardage total by an astounding 99.52 percent. Numbers never lie, TJ.

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

2010: 5 targets, 3 catches (60.0%, 23 yards (4.6 per target)
2011: 39 targets, 23 catches (59.0%), 414 yards (10.6 per target), 5 TD

Bill C.: For a year now, we have heard how Dorial Green-Beckham is "the next Randy Moss." Never mind that EVERY big-time receiver prospect has been given that label; you can actually see it a bit in DGB. He is long (6-foot-6), leaner than you expect (considering he is 220 pounds) and was a high school track star. If we are attaching ceilings to Mizzou’s 2012 receivers, then, Marcus Lucas is more of a Keyshawn Johnson type. He does not possess blazing speed, but he has a big frame, good hands and great body control. And despite only being targeted about three times per game, he had some enormous catches in 2011. He led the team with five receiving touchdowns, he had a huge 49-yard catch against Arizona State, he caught the game-winning touchdown against Texas A&M, and his 53-yard touchdown against Kansas gave Missouri the cushion they needed. He may not be a track star, but he was second on the team with 10.6 yards per target.

Lucas’ role in 2012 will be interesting to watch. With Lucas, DGB and L’Damian Washington playing serious roles, Mizzou will have one of the tallest receiver units in the SEC, and the upside is enormous, no matter who plays the role of de-facto tight end (a la Danario Alexander in 2009) and who lines up wide.

The Beef: With the quality of defensive back in the SEC being as good, if not likely better than it was in the Big 12, Marcus Lucas is going to be counted upon to take up some of the slack from the graduation of Michael Egnew and the 50 balls he caught in 2011. Does Lucas have to take ALL those catches? Not quite, but he has to make a heck of a move after it, and I would say say at least double his catches from this past year. With the addition of Dorial Green-Beckham, I am very curious to see who ends up where on the depth chart. One of these two, I would have to imagine, will play the "Mizzou" slot position that has given us tremendous years from the likes of Martin Rucker, Chase Coffman, Danario Alexander and Egnew. Whoever ends up there is likely to catch quite a few passes, and I have relative faith in either one to do so. I suppose it will be equally as interesting to see what happens to the person who does NOT end up there and where they see the field.

RPT: Given the unfamiliar situation in which Missouri finds itself at tight end, the development and production of Marcus Lucas may be the single-biggest storyline in the passing game that doesn’t involve an 18-year-old from Springfield. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again -- Marcus Lucas’ strength is his ability to catch the ball away from his body, which is a massive help to James Franklin. His subtle body positioning and his ability to shield the ball when necessary and go out to get it on other occasions should not be taken for granted, especially from a true sophomore. This is a different type of receiver than the ones Missouri has had roll through the program in recent seasons.

L’Damian Washington (6’4, 185, Jr., Shreveport, LA)

2010: 7 targets, 5 catches (71.4%), 35 yards (5.0 per target)
2011: 28 targets, 20 catches (71.4%), 364 yards (13.0 per target), 3 TD

Bill C.: Throughout the 2011 season, the line was as follows: if you need run-blocking, send in Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson. If you need somebody to go long, send in Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington. The dichotomy there was effective, if a bit inconvenient. Lucas and Washington often thrived when Mizzou was behind; they combined for eight catches and 132 yards while trying to overcome a late double-digit lead against Baylor, and they combined for seven catches and 126 yards while successfully overcoming a late double-digit deficit against Arizona State.

The best-case scenario for 2012 involves Lucas, Washington and even Jimmie Hunt maturing as blockers and, with a couple of years of experience under their collective belts, becoming wonderfully well-rounded receivers. And to be sure, Mizzou fans had to be encouraged by the work they saw from both Lucas and Washington late in 2011; Washington in particular had one of the blocks of the season when he laid out a Kansas defender in pursuit of Kendial Lawrence. Every player on the field has a role to play on both the run and pass, and if Washington can prove himself an every-down player, both in run-blocking and pass-catching, Mizzou’s ceiling gets that much higher. He is possibly the best returning "Throw it high and long and watch him go get it" guy.

The Beef: Though bigger from a physcial standpoint, Washington reminds me of Jared Perry for some reason. Does Washington become Perry to Lucas’ Alexander? Perhaps. I think there is certainly some additional statistical potential in the coming year (especially with the departure of Kemp and Jackson), but I could also see where Washington could be overtaken by someone from the bench (Bud Sasser? Jimmie Hunt?) or a certain someone from the high school ranks. I do still wish Washington had been able to get into the end zone at the bowl game ... that would have been fun.

RPT: I won’t subscribe to Beef’s Lucas/Alexander proposition, but I’m definitely on board with the Washington/Perry connection. Washington had a knack for working his way open downfield in 2011, but as Beef alluded to above, the talent level at defensive back is about to jump exponentially. No longer can he run past a corner in zone and past a safety that’s peeking into the backfield at Henry Josey. In the NFL, they say that if you can’t beat man coverage, you need to get into a new line of work. It’s fairly likely Washington will get his matchups in man coverage in 2012, and Missouri’s explosiveness downfield may be resting on his ability to win those matchups.

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

2010: 8 targets, 6 catches (75.0%), 40 yards (5.0 per target)
2011: 3 targets, 3 catches (100.0%), 18 yards (6.0 per target)

The Beef: Ah, Gahn McGaffe … speaking of ovations on Senior Day. Honestly, I am surprised he has nine catches in two years. I can really only remember one time this year where I recall thinking, "Oh yeah, there’s Gahn." But that won’t keep me from cheering loudly for him in November.

RPT: Every time I see McGaffie’s name, I have two visceral reactions: 1) How freaking awesome the Oklahoma return was, and 2) Just how incredible I thought he was going to be in the slot coming out of high school. Bill and I were both very much onboard the GahnWagon in 2008, and though his career hasn’t played out quite as we anticipated, he’s carved out a bigger piece of Missouri lore than any of us could have reasonably pontificated.

Bill C.: They say to make it as at least a rotation player in the NBA, you need to be really good at one thing, be it 3-point shooting, rebounding, etc. Well, to make it in Mizzou lore, you really only have to make one play, as long as it is the right one. McGaffie has basically served as T.J. Moe’s backup the last couple of years, catching an underneath pass here and there and otherwise making his name on special teams. His case is an awkward one in 2012; a lot of playing time for McGaffie likely either means a) an injury to Moe or b) the failure of one of the younger receivers below him (Jimmie Hunt in particular) to take requisite steps forward. Still, you have done something right when a fanbase cannot say your name without either smiling or drifting off wistfully (and with glassy eyes), mid-conversation.

Bud Sasser (6’3, 205, So., Denton, TX)

2011: 5 targets, 3 catches (60.0%), 16 yards (3.2 per target)

The Beef: To me, while different physically, these next two guys are somewhat interchangeable. We come back to the idea of "replacing" catches (because when you go for 3K passing and 3K rushing, why not just work to replace things?), and Sasser and/or Hunt need to help replace the work of Kemp and Jackson (around 45 for around 600 and 6 TD’s). Last year, six Mizzou receivers/tight ends caught more than 15 balls, and Sasser will need to move to that group this year, or risk becoming Kerwin Stricker, especially with Texas transfer Darius White becoming eligible in 2013.

RPT: Wow, Beef pulling out the Kerwin Stricker reference is like Bill pulling out a Jerrill Humphrey reference last year. Lucas’ development may hurt no one more than Sasser, primarily because I thought Sasser had the ability to become one of Missouri’s bigger red zone threats at wide receiver. With Lucas having established himself as the "go up and get the fade" guy, that’s one less niche for Sasser to fill.

Bill C.: In The Beef’s "replacing catches" department, Sasser does still have time to make an impact, but the presence of so many big pass-catchers gives him little room for growth. On the other hand, the next player on the list might never have a larger opportunity than what awaits him in 2012.

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

2011: 1 target, 1 catch, 54 yards, 1 TD

Bill C.: Jimmie Hunt touched the ball on offense one time in 2011; he took an over-the-middle pass 54 yards for a touchdown in the late stages of Mizzou’s romp over Western Illinois. Yes, it was against WIU -- and for that matter, it may have even come against WIU’s second-string -- but one play signified both the potential and liabilities Hunt may possess. Despite the need for more speed in the receiving corps, Hunt was buried on the bench for a good portion of the year, and my assumption is that there were two culprits for that: 1) hands (he bobbled his one catch) and 2) blocking. With the Mizzou running game thriving, coaches more often than chose reliability over potential.

Again, however, 2012 presents an entirely new set of opportunities for Mr. Hunt. Assuming that either Lucas or Green-Beckham fills a good portion of the "tight end" role in 2012, and that bigger, downfield receivers like Lucas, DGB and Washington could benefit from another, smaller receiver to catch the underneath passes this offense requires, Hunt could find himself in the middle of the action this spring and fall. And if he can provide something of a "poor man’s Jeremy Maclin" threat in the offense, then how the hell does one go about stopping this passing attack?

(And yes, we have now compared this receiving corps to one that possesses Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Keyshawn Johnson and Jeremy Maclin. No pressure, guys. The expectations aren’t high at all, are they?)

While Hunt’s improvement isn’t a necessity, few players on the 2012 Mizzou squad could have a larger impact by taking a hefty step forward. Are you up for it, Mr. Hunt?

The Beef: I could just say, "see above", but I do have to at least recognize that Hunt was able to find the endzone this past season. Does Hunt fit in behind Moe where Sasser is really more suited to be behind someone like Washington perhaps? It’s poossible, but I think both Sasser and Hunt need to have a big winter/spring and summer or risk perhaps being left behind on the depth chart.

RPT: If Chase Patton and Jared Perry will forever be linked, so will the Jimmy to Jimmie connection. Beef is right, though: Hunt needs a big Spring and a big camp. It’s hard to say there has been a receiver in recent years that has made a big impact in the regular season after having a quiet camp. If Franklin’s not looking to him in March or August, I don’t expect him to look that way all that frequently in November.

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

2009: 7 targets, 5 catches (71.4%), 26 yards (3.7 per target)
2010: 13 targets, 5 catches (38.5%, 97 yards (7.5 per target)
2011: 1 target, 1 catch, 16 yards

The Beef: Pretty sure he is still fast...pretty sure it won’t matter too much.

RPT: WAIT, THAT DUDE STILL HAS ELIGIBILITY? Bill, feel free to quote us quoting ourselves last year.

Bill C.: "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 2012."

Jaleel Clark (6’5, 210, Jr., Allentown, PA)

2010: 10.0 tackles
2011: 4.5 tackles

The Beef: Nice to see some special teams stats associated to Jaleel here, as I actually thought he had a better season this year than he did last year. But the stats would disagree with me. Either way, he is a pretty decent contributor on the special teams squad, and I imagine that is how he will continue to see the field in the coming years.

RPT: Jaleel Clark is the guy you cut on NCAA Football 12 but the guy who serves as the glue of a program. Programs need depth guys like Clark that contribute wherever they can, and the fact that it’s an out-of-state (and, really, out-of-region) kid doing it makes it all the more special.

Bill C.: And we're waiting here in Allentown/But they've taken all the coal from the ground/And the union people crawled awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay/aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaah.

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

Bill C.: Kerwin Stricker appears to be a bit of an athlete without a position. He was described as "raw" when Mizzou signed him a few years ago, and his lack of playing time suggests that remains the case. Nothing makes us happier than unexpected redemption tales, but the emergence of Stricker as an offensive threat at this point would be about the most unexpected one we’ve ever seen.

The Beef: I believe my mention of him above is unfortunately all I am going to end up saying about him in the coming couple of years.

RPT: Even with two years of eligibility left, it at least feels like the opportunity for Stricker to see the field on offense has all but disappeared. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Missouri defensive players are extremely quick to credit Stricker for all he does as a scout team player in helping them prepare for opponents, and though that contribution is invisible to the naked eye on Saturdays, it’s one I feel the need to applaud in this space.

Wesley Leftwich (6’2, 195, RSFr., Columbia, MO)

The Beef: I do always love when an athlete gets to campus in the winter and has the benefit of the winter workout, spring practices and full summer conditioning before the season starts. Leftwich was obviously not going to see the field this past year, but it will be interesting to see what another off-season in the program will do for him. We know he should have plenty of speed, but hopefully his body has matured a bit and he can make a run at seeing the field and breaking into the rotation.

RPT: I have no clue what to expect from Leftwich, but that’s exciting in one sense. Whereas we’ve gotten a feel for the strengths and limitations of a lot of the receiving corps, Leftwich remains unfinished or untarnished. I still remain wary of track star receivers, but Leftwich has nothing but time to prove he’s rounded himself into a legitimate receiver.

Bill C.: One of the reasons to be optimistic about this unit in 2012 is the pure depth of options. It is unlikely that players like Sasser, Hunt and Leftwich all take huge steps forward and carve out a niche in the rotation, but it is certainly not too much to expect one of them to take nice steps forward. And in 2012, that might be all Mizzou needs.

INCOMING: Dorial Green-Beckham (6’6, 220, Fr., *****, Springfield, MO)

The Beef: I am going to write something about this young man, and it might not be very popular or really even understood. But here goes.

While I hope for nothing for the best for both him and his family (his younger brother especially), and even after seeing some of him in the All-Star game, I will say that the effect of DGB signing with Mizzou may almost end up more positive than anything he does on the field. Do I say that because I believe he will be some sort of bust? Absolutely not. I say it for two reasons. First, a wide receiver will always depend upon someone else to have an impact. I say that as no knock on our current signal-caller, but it is simply a fact about how football works. Second, and perhaps more importantly, his decision to sign with Mizzou on Signing Day forced people to talk about Mizzou on a day when they rarely, if ever, have before. Potential recruits who were watching TV that day specifically because they believe they are about to realize the same dream in a year or two, saw Mizzou’s name when previous years had come and gone with nary a mention of the Tigers. And in light of the pending move to the SEC, his signing would have significant value to the program, perhaps more than stats would ever have.

But, man alive … he looks like an absolute monster that seems to pretty much be can’t miss.

I held the above view on perceptions even before Signing Day came and went, and I completely stand by what I said about DGB’s value to the school. If anything, seeing how the signing was handled by the local, regional and main stream media, my position (in my own eyes) was bolstered. At this time, short of winning the Heisman trophy, DGB had more value in the week he signed than he might ever have for the Tigers. And to me, it really has to be the Heisman. Have we had first-team All-American receivers from Missouri who have gone in the first round? Yep … so that is not ground DGB can break. The Heisman is, and it is about the only ground left there short of winning the National title himself. But again, winning the Heisman as a receiver is tough because you have to count on someone else most of the time.

At any rate, the amount of pub (and now the amount written about this young man) surpassed even what I thought there would be. That ESPN was talking about him the night of the MU/kU basketball game four days later came as a considerable shock. That said, it will be all about how he competes and transitions to the speed of the college game.

Bill C.: At this point, I’m not sure what else I can think to say about Mr. Green-Beckham. Yes, he played against what was probably comically inferior competition in southwest Missouri, but lots of Division I prospects have tortured inferior competition in much the same way. Many of them became stars, and others folded when they were forced to face better defensive backs.

All we know at this point is that nobody else in the history of high school football had gained 6,000 receiving yards before even reaching the college ranks.

And that he torched a future D1 defender in the U.S. Army All-American Game.

And that thought enough of him to name him the No. 1 overall recruit in the class. Previous No. 1s: Jadeveon Clowney, Terrelle Pryor, Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson, and Vince Young. (And, yes, Bryce Brown.) I’ve always said that recruiting rankings are about odds, and while nothing is guaranteed, the odds are very, very good that DGB will have an incredibly memorable career in Columbia.

And the best part is, he won’t be required to catch 100 passes from the moment he steps on campus. We were cautiously optimistic about this group of receivers even before DGB signed. If he is quickly ready for prime time, Mizzou could have the best receiving corps in the conference before they play their first SEC game.