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Rock M Roundtable: Will Drink’s revamped offense have enough weapons?

After an underwhelming 2019, Eli Drinkwitz went heavy on adding experience and talent to the receiving corps. Will it be enough?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 20 Memphis at Missouri Photo by Jimmy Simmons/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It feels like every time we’re prepping one of these Q&A’s for the end of the week, we’re collectively covering our eyes in our hands like a teenager watching a particularly scary movie. Except instead of a horror film, we’re all trying not to see when/if the college football season will fall apart.

But it seems that as we peak through our fingers this week, we’re still all in the clear. The jump scare hasn’t happened yet, and we can continue talking about the coming 2020 Mizzou Football season.

Last week, our staff assembled to answer questions on the QB depth chart, including inquiries on the presumed favorite and other guys who could surprise. This week, our team is tackling the position group that’s been the real hot topic of camp so far: the receivers (and the tight ends.) Nate, BK and Kortay addressed burning questions in the mind of many a Mizzou fan, including how much we can expect from the grad transfers, who will have breakout years and which TE is filling Albert Okwuegbunam’s shoes.

Wide receiver was Eli Drinkwitz’s biggest point of emphasis upon his hiring, and his actions backed it up. He specifically targeted experience, bringing in grad transfers Damon Hazelton Jr. and Keke Chism to bolster the Tigers’ weapons. What kind of impact will Hazelton and Chism have in their one year in Columbia?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Rhode Island at Virginia Tech Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nate Edwards, Football Editor: I feel safe in saying they’ll both provide a noticeable, positive impact. I’ll break down the per game stats for the careers through 2019 in order to show you what kind of historical average you could expect from each. D-II doesn’t keep targeting data so Chism will be a little more nebulous but we can get a good idea:

  • Projected Hazelton per game: 8 targets, 4 catches, 57 yards, 0.6 TDs*
  • Projected Chism per game: 5 catches, 67 yards, 0.5 TDs
*Keep in mind - Hazelton had an injury-shortened season last year, otherwise he was on pace for 91 targets, 44 catches, 756 yards, 11 TDs in 2019

Multiply each of those numbers by ten to get a projection for this year based off of what they’ve already done and assuming they don’t improve. Those above averages over a 10-game sample would have been the #1 and #2 leading receiving yards by a mile on last year’s team - which, may I remind you, played twelve games - and would have matched Albert O’s season touchdown total from 2019. Not bad, right? Numbers aside, it also has a positive impact on role expectations for the rest of the receiving corps. Specifically, it allows Jalen Knox — who was forced into an outside receiver role and expected to deliver - to move to the slot receiver spot, a place where I believe he’ll be much more productive and feel more natural. With Hazelton and Chism on the outside and Knox on the inside, all the Tigers need is one of the many younger receivers to step up and command the 4th receiver spot while the rest rotate in and provide breathers when needed. That’s a positive impact on production, receiver roles, and long-term development. You can’t ask for much more than that!

Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: You would certainly expect a big one. You hear about grad transfers having an instant impact all the time in college basketball. It’s a lot less rare in college football. But this year we expect exactly that with not one, but two players at the same position. It’s a tall task. But that’s where we are.

Chism has been among the most hyped players I can remember in recent years based on his camp performance. The best part? It’s his teammates doing the hyping. In a typical season we would hear reports after every practice because the media is able to at least see portions of practice. That’s not taking place this fall for obvious reasons, so we’re leaning on players for evaluations. That’s tricky, but when they all come back saying one player in particular has impressed, I think we can take their word for it.

That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hazelton finishes the year as the more productive receiver. He has 16 touchdown receptions over the last two seasons at Virginia Tech. He’s a big time threat in the red zone. He reminds me a bit of watching J’Mon Moore. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Kortay Vincent, Football Beat Writer: Chism and Hazelton will have an immediate impact in their one and only year in black and gold. They both have been heralded by the coaches and hard workers and guys who can play on Sundays, and I don’t think that’s lip service. In my opinion, what will really determine their production is the quarterback situation. If the Tigers find their guy and he settles in during the first 2-3 weeks, it seems fair to think both Hazelton and Chism will be two of the team’s top three receivers.

Of course, there are plenty of returning receivers that Tiger fans will be familiar with. Who has the best chance of maintaining their grip on playing time out of the returning talent?

Missouri v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Nate Edwards: If “maintaining their grip on playing time” is the phrasing we’re looking at here then I have to go Barrett Banister. Micah Wilson has only appeared in spurts as a receiver, Dominic Gicinto completely disappeared from 2019’s roster as the year went on, and Knox was in and out too often to make a difference. Who was the guy that was starting, and making an impact, at the end of 2019? Banister. I said on this week’s podcast that he damn-near carried the team through the Arkansas win, and had better success rates and catch rates than any of the other guys in his class. He worked hard, played hard, and made an impact on the field; he should absolutely be seeing playing time for the 2020 squad.

I’m sure BK will say that his ceiling is much lower than Knox or Tauskie Dove — and I’m not disagreeing — but don’t you trust the guy who’s given you positive production and see what he can do this year?

Brandon Kiley: I think the only answer is Jalen Knox. I don’t know what realistic expectations are for Knox, but he’s almost assuredly going to be one of the Tigers’ starting wide receivers in their base three receiver sets along with Chism and Hazelton.

I know last year didn’t go as anyone hoped for Knox, but let’s not forget how impressive he was as a freshman. If the Tigers’ quarterback play improves and the offensive coaching is an upgrade, I fully expect to see production closer to what we saw from Knox as a freshman than what we saw from him a year ago

Kortay Vincent: To me, this has only one answer. It’s Jalen Knox. Drink has already expressed a desire to incorporate him into the offense more than previous years and has played up Jalen’s speed as a weapon for his new offense. Likewise, Jalen has talked about the leadership role he has felt he has had to step into this season and how he relishes the opportunity. In my mind, we could see Jalen really announce his presence to the SEC this season.

Drink didn’t only bring in experience in 2020 — he brought plenty of exciting youth too. Which freshman receiver could you see becoming a steady target in his first year as a Tiger?

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Nate Edwards: For “legacy” sake it would make me so happy to see Jay Maclin make an instant impact. Javian/J.J. (has he decided what he goes by yet?) Hester was the big get as far as the 2020 receiver recruits go so the hype will lead to immediate expectations and it would certainly look great if he could deliver. But don’t sleep on Chance Luper; the 2-star Texas product is a walk-on this year but was the second receiver to “earn his number” and is a taller receiver at 6’2” that could play either outside or in the slot.

Brandon Kiley: I think the correct answer is none of them, but for the sake of the question I’ll play along. Javian Hester was the player I liked the most on film. Chance Luper was the first freshman receiver to “earn” his number. So I would imagine it’s one of those two. I’ll stick with Hester because I think he has the talent to contribute right away.

That being said, if you’re just looking for a young receiver who could surprise, I would go with Maurice Massey.

Kortay Vincent: I’m not going to sit here and tell you my answer to this question won’t be biased because it will be. JJ Hester and I went to high school together, and I have had the pleasure of watching him making cornerbacks look silly on Friday nights for the last four years and am very excited for that show to come to Saturdays in CoMo. JJ never had a true quarterback in high school except for his sophomore year, and in that year, he delivered an all-time performance in the state championship game in which he single-handedly took it over on both sides of the ball. JJ’s stock fell the next two years with no one to throw him the ball, but having seen him in person many times, I can tell you this he’s a 4-star talent easily and we should expect a big impact from the young guy.

The Tigers are losing Albert Okwuegbunam, but return lots of depth. Which of Mizzou’s many TEs assumes the mantle Albert O left behind?

Vanderbilt v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Nate Edwards: I don’t think any of them are going to assume the exact mantle of Albert O a la “big pass catching red zone threat that can’t block for beans” but DPJ is going to be TE1 barring injury/COVID. He’s a much more productive blocker than receiver but has a career 72% catch rate on 29 targets at 9.6 yards per catch. I wouldn’t expect much more out of him than that pass-wise but he’ll be the main guy regardless.

As for the #TightEndPassGame candidates you’re mainly looking at the mysterious Brendan Scales and Messiah Swinson. If you trust the Odom regime’s assessment of those two - and I don’t blame you if you don’t - then we should see some competent pass catching from those two. If not, oh well, there’s plenty of receiving talent elsewhere on the roster.

Brandon Kiley: Daniel Parker Jr. is the complete opposite of so many previous Mizzou tight ends. But he could very well be a great fit with the new staff and what they want to accomplish. He’s a hell of a blocker with a background on the offensive line. He’s athletic and can move in space. That’s what the new staff is going to ask of him.

Now, who will step up as the #2 tight end? I have no idea.

Kortay Vincent: Daniel Parker has to be the answer here. He has significant experience and even started 7 games last year alongside Albert O. I think as the feature tight end he will make a much greater impact this year, although it does seem unclear how much the tight end will feature in Drink’s passing attack. Look for Daniel Parker to be a big red zone target this year and to add to his reputation as a great run blocker.