In 2007, Missouri's Martin Rucker earned All-American honors; he and Chase Coffman combined to catch 136 passes for 1,365 yards and 15 scores for a 12-win Tiger team. The next year, Coffman won the Mackey Award, catching 90 passes for 987 yards and 10 touchdowns. A couple of years after that, Michael Egnew worked his way into the third round of the NFL draft on the power of 140 receptions in two years.
As soon as you could say "TIGHT END U," however, Mizzou more or less stopped featuring the tight end. Since 2012, Mizzou TEs have averaged just 23 catches and 227 yards per year.
We hear a lot about each up-and-comer, but it doesn't pan out to the Coffman level we still have in our heads. Sean Culkin looked the part (and looked like Thor to boot) but caught 61 passes in four seasons. Jason Reese has looked fantastic in random moments but has 24 catches in three years. Kendall Blanton has made a couple of amazing catches ... but has just 16 receptions in two seasons.
It’s trending up, though. Missouri tight ends, caught four balls in 2012, nine in 2013, 21 in 2014, 33 in 2015, and 50 in 2016. Granted, most of last year’s wide receivers are returning, meaning there might not be just a ton more opportunities for TEs. But if offensive coordinator Josh Heupel wanted to incorporate them more, however, he could. He's got quite the variety.
Reese returns for his senior season, and the 6'6 Blanton has two years of eligibility remaining. They have both had flashes of brilliance, and you have to like Blanton's catch radius, but neither has exactly shown Coffman-level hands.
With Culkin gone, that potentially opens a spot in the rotation, especially for a blocker. Culkin appeared (to my eyes, at least) to be the most willing blocker of the bunch, and we've heard pretty decent things about redshirt freshman Brendan Scales' upside as an H-Back type. The one-time Alabama commit could pretty quickly carve out a niche in that type of role.
Meanwhile, what we've heard about both redshirt freshman Albert Okwuegbunam and incoming freshman Logan Christopherson makes me think of them as more tight end than H-Back. We’ll see.
There's a ton of length and potential athleticism here for Mizzou. All five scholarship tight ends are listed at 6'4 or taller, and four of five are 250 or heavier. Despite the homogenous size, though, it does seem like there's some variety, especially considering Scales' supposed strengths.
An offensive coordinator rarely gets to deploy his entire offense in his first season, so we'll see what Heupel wants to do with this deep, interesting, still-not-incredibly-proven unit. Considering Mizzou has signed three tight ends in the last two years, and considering last year’s 50 catches from the group were the highest in years, you figure he's got something in mind. He's got Blanton for a couple more years and at least three more guys in the chamber for a while. Let’s see what he does with them.