Replacing a receiver who finished last year with 30 receptions for 400 yards and one touchdown might not sound like a tall task. In some ways, it’s not. But it might not be as easy for this team as it sounds.
Damon Hazelton, Jr. has a very specific set of skills. He’s a big-bodied receiver who is completely unafraid of catching the ball across the middle of the field or winning 50-50 jump ball situations down the sideline.
Eli Drinkwitz wasn't shy about going for it on 4th down against Kentucky. The Tigers converted 4-of-5 fourth down tries.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 28, 2020
This was their first conversion; a designed slant to Damon Hazelton. He creates separation & picks up 12 yards on 4th & 5. pic.twitter.com/Vpi6Eqc10a
Looking up and down the Tigers’ roster, it’s tough to find many receivers who profile similarly to Hazelton. Keke Chism, Javian Hester, Micah Wilson, Chance Luper and Tauskie Dove are the only receivers listed at 6-foot-1 or taller. That length is something the Tigers are going to miss.
Chism already had a significant role a year ago. Hester is someone who many - including myself - were high on going into last season, but he never saw the field and it’s hard to imagine him jumping multiple players on the depth chart to take on a significant role. Luper and Wilson seem to fit in better as slot receivers.
As you can see, it’s one thing to replace the production. It’s another entirely to replace the style of player Hazelton brings to the table. How do the Tigers do it? Let’s dive into some of the realistic candidates.
The Favorite: Tauskie Dove
I’m going to be honest with you guys. I knew very, very little about Dove prior to last season. Dove was a 3-star recruit who put up some big numbers at Ryan High School in Denton, a suburb of Dallas, Texas. He had double digit offers throughout his high school career, but those offers dried up by the end of his senior year. His plan was to go to Tyler Junior College, but he got a late offer from Missouri and eventually went on an official visit in late May, officially joining the 2018 recruiting class in June.
That late decision seems to have worked out for both parties. Dove had just two receptions in 2019, but he finished last season tied for third on the team with 30 receptions and fifth with 300 receiving yards.
His production was impressive, but his playing style is what makes him so intriguing. Dove is a legitimate all-around receiver. He has the size that the Tigers will be missing with Hazelton. He has the willingness to go across the middle. He probably has the best hands on the team. He can win jump ball situations and he’s a willing blocker in the run game.
Honestly, he’s the perfect college receiver.
We saw glimpses of what Dove can do a year ago. If the Tigers are willing to open things up and become a more aggressive offense in 2021, then I would choose Dove as my most likely breakout candidate this fall.
The Other Options: Javian Hester or someone not currently on the roster
Hester was one of my favorite recruits in the 2020 class. He’s a big-bodied receiver who absolutely dominated his high school competition as a 4-star recruit out of Booker T. Washington in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
That production didn’t seem to translate in his first year at Missouri. He was the only freshman WR from last year’s class who didn’t receive any snaps in his true freshman year. Chance Luper, Jay Maclin and Kris Abrams-Draine each saw the field while Hester did not. So, this is a bit of a leap of faith. Hester has the requisite size (6-foot-3, 190 pounds), and now it’s about putting everything together.
The other possibility is the Tigers are able to land a receiver in the transfer portal who comes in and contributes right away. Fine, I’ll put a name on it - the most notable possible addition would be Notre Dame wide receiver transfer and former DeSmet standout, Jordan Johnson.
What it means for Mizzou:
Tauskie Dove already replaced Hazelton in the lineup a decent amount down the stretch of last season. If I were a betting man, I would place a decent wager that Dove, Chism and Mookie Cooper get the first chance as the Tigers’ starting receivers in 2021.