Eli Drinkwitz has won quite a bit of good favor since taking over as the football coach in December. Granted, that’s not exactly hard to do — any new coach who is unable to inspire excitement in the fan base is cutting his legs out from under him right away.
But Drinkwitz hasn’t failed to generate buzz around Missouri. He’s said all the right things, kissed all the right babies (before social distancing, of course) and generally stamped Missouri football with his brand right away. He’s young, he’s energetic and he’s got fans feeling the same.
One of the things he said early on was his desire to add, “touchdown makers,” to the Missouri roster. It’s a benign quote on the surface — who doesn’t want touchdown makers? — but it sounded great after a year in which the offense ground to a disturbing halt in the middle of the year. Drinkwitz followed up on his promise, adding grad transfer wide receiver Damon Hazelton, Jr. from Virginia Tech, along with a slew of young playmakers in the 2020 recruiting class. So, as part of our ongoing series, we’re going to look at Drinkwitz’s strategy when it comes to playmakers on the 2020 roster and beyond. How is Drink recruiting these young “touchdown makers,” and what does the immediate future look like based on the roster construction?
2020 Mizzou Football: Running Backs and Wide Receivers
|Larry Rountree III (RB)||Tyler Badie (RB)||Khmari Thompson (WR)||Jay Maclin (WR)|
|Micah Wilson (WR)||Jalen Knox (WR)||Tauskie Dove (WR - RS)||Elijah Young (RB)|
|Damon Hazelton (WR - GT)||Dominic Gicinto (WR)||Chance Luper (WR)|
|Simi Bakare (RB)||Javian Hester (WR)|
|Barrett Bannister (WR - RS)||Kris Abrams-Draine (WR)|
|Jaylon Carlies (WR)|
|CJ Boone (WR - RS)|
|Maurice Massey (WR - RS)|
Drink made it known early on that he wanted more weapons for his offense in 2020. Do you see any ready-made contributors from among Drinkwitz’s first class?
Nate Edwards, Football Editor: It’s tough to figure that out since only three spring practices were had. But going off of reputation alone, I’d say the instant freshman contributors in the skill positions would be Elijah Young and Javian Hester. I’d also love to see Maclin the Younger make an instant impact.
Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: Can I cheat and say Damon Hazelton? Because it would be quite a surprise if he doesn’t have an immediate impact as a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech. The former Hokie has 16 touchdowns in his two seasons playing in Blacksburg. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s likely to have an impact.
But... That’s cheating, considering he’s also a grad student that has multiple years of production at a power-five level.
With that in mind, I think there are two players who could come in right away and perform: 3-star RB Elijah Young and 3-star WR Javian Hester.
Young has the tougher path to playing time. Larry Rountree III (editor’s note: ahem, Larry Three-Sticks), Tyler Badie, Dawson Downing and Simi Bakare will all start the fall ahead of him. If Young can pass up Downing and Bakare, he’s got a real shot for playing time.
Hester is probably the more interesting of the two. Mizzou has a ton of unknown at the receiver position. I don’t think Hester has a chance to start this season, but he could absolutely find his way into the rotation.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: I’m not going to be like BK and cheat by leading off with Hazelton... oh wait, does that count as leading off? Crap.
Anyway, Hester is probably a safe bet, especially considering his size. But I’m very interested in what Jay Maclin can do. Johnathon Johnson ate up a lot of catches over the past four years, and it’ll be up to someone to fill that speedster/slot role. Barrett Bannister has done it in the past, and Dominic Gicinto might have the inside track. But neither have proven they can open up the field after the catch. If Maclin has steady hands and shows some YAC promise, he’ll be one to watch in 2020.
The sophomore class is lacking a RB scholarship, leaving the potential progression of RBs Rountree to Badie to Elijah Young. Are you confident in that path, or should Drinkwitz add more to the backfield?
Nate Edwards: I’d like to see at least one more running back on the roster. As BK and I discussed on our most recent podcast, Before the Box Score (check it out!), the fact that there are 2 upperclassmen running backs - one of which can still return next year - means that you Drink can start recruiting “his type” of running back in this 2021 class. So if you want to figure out the size/speed of back that he prefers, this recruiting class will tell you. However, bringing in a JUCO or transfer running back after this year isn’t a bad idea; teams tend to use three running backs at the most, but you need to prepare for injuries.
Brandon Kiley: I have no problem with that path at all. It really comes down to your faith in Young. I think there’s a non-zero chance Badie is gone at the end of the year. He’s the exact type of running back the NFL values. Staying another year doesn’t do much for running backs other than put more tread on the tires.
So, should Drink continue adding at the position? Absolutely. But your starter for the 2021 season is pretty likely to be Elijah Young, so long as he lives up to the hype we’ve been sold.
Josh Matejka: The addition of Taj Butts to the 2021 class shores up things a little bit, but I do have some depth concerns. I think there’s at least a decent chance Badie is gone after 2020, especially if he continues to develop as a multi-faceted threat from the backfield. If that’s the case, you’re left with Elijah Young, who will have been a backup at best, Simi Bakare and Butts. That’s not a lot to work with in terms of experience. I have high hopes that Young will develop into the next great Mizzou RB, but it would be nice to have at least one more name on the depth chart.
Drinkwitz went heavy on playmakers in his first class, grabbing six wide receivers and running backs. Do you anticipate another run on the positions in 2021?
Nate Edwards: Absolutely. From a roster management view (and without taking into account any human element) Drink and his staff need to go young and recruit as many guys as possible. If that means running off some older, established guys, so be it. I want the Tigers to get as much youth on the field as possible and, yes, be bad for two years so Drink can rebuild with his guys and his vision as quickly as possible. And since the Tigers can have a larger roster next year, loading up on skill position guys and having them battle it out is an approach I approve of. You need a successful identity to pitch to recruits and being a young, energetic, offensive-minded team for a few years is a fun and easy approach to pitch. The other side, of course, is that they actually need to show that they are a fun offensive team...but that’s for him to figure out whenever the actual games are played.
Brandon Kiley: Drink has already offered more than 20 receivers and more than 15 running backs for the ‘21 class. He just landed his first running back recruit for the class in St. Louis 3-star Taj Butts. I wouldn’t expect things to slow down on that front.
Drink is an offensive-minded head coach. He’s going to push for more weapons. That’s the way he’s wired. I, for one, have no issue with it.
Josh Matejka: There are at least three high three-star or four-star wide receivers currently being recruited by Missouri in the St. Louis area, and you’d have to think the Tigers have a shot at landing all three. That doesn’t take into account the other offers that BK mentioned above. I see recruiting playmakers like shooting a shotgun — you cover a wide spread with the hopes you hit something. Drinkwitz appears to be taking the same approach, and I’m for it.