I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “Eli Drinkwitz is recruiting at an unprecedented level” over the last 18 months. It’s, well, it’s a lot. And that’s exciting! But the reason it’s exciting is because it means we get to see a higher caliber of player put on a Missouri uniform.
Saturday is our first opportunity to see Drinkwitz’s first full recruiting cycle on full display. It will be the first time we get to see what a top 25 recruiting class looks like for Missouri in more than a decade.
Which players are most likely to see the field? Let’s break it down.
Most likely to see starting snaps: WR Dominic Lovett
You can include wide receiver Mookie Cooper on this list, too, if you want to include the transfer portal. Otherwise, Lovett is the only player from last year’s recruiting class who appears to have locked in a starting spot going into week one. He’s likely to start outside at receiver opposite Keke Chism with Cooper in the slot whenever Cooper is at full health (whether that be vs. Central Michigan or at Kentucky).
Lovett is a former 4-star recruit out of East St. Louis with speed for days. He’ll bring an element to the offense the Tigers lacked a year ago. Expect a whole lot of screens and quick-hitting routes to get Lovett the ball in space. He’ll also see more than his fair share of deep balls.
Most likely to see rotational reps: DL Daniel Robledo, DT Mekhi Wingo, RB BJ Harris, CB Daylan Carnell, Safety Tyler Hibbler, DEs Arden Walker & Johnny Walker and TE Ryan Hoerstkamp
I know, I know. It’s a long list. But that’s why we’re excited about this group, right? Let’s break it down one-by-one, shall we?
The defensive line has plenty of room for rotational pieces, and it seems Wingo has separated from the pack as the freshman most likely to contribute along the interior. What he lacks in size he more than makes up for with his leverage and athleticism. He’s not the only one with a chance to play along the defensive line, though. Robledo and the two Walkers are fighting for rotational reps. I suspect we’ll see all three get opportunities early in the season before that rotation along the defensive line is finalized.
The real intrigue comes at running back and tight end. There are reps to be had, but your guess is as good as mine as to who will earn the playing time behind Tyler Badie, Elijah Young and Dawson Downing at running back or Daniel Parker Jr. and Niko Hea at tight end. Based on camp reports, it appears BJ Harris has the inside track at running back and I’m an unabashed Ryan Hoerstkamp homer, so I’ll pick him as my front-runner to be the number three tight end.
The other spot with uncertainty is at defensive back. The Tigers are suddenly deep at corner, but Carnell has the talent to come in and contribute if any injuries were to take place. The Tigers only return one safety who saw the majority of the snaps a year ago, so Hibbler could certainly force his way into that mix if he’s able to make a few splash plays early in the season.
Others who could earn more significant time: LB Dameon Wilson, OL Connor Tollison, DT Realus George
If you were to ask me for one player who could come in from this class and become a special teams “ace” right away, it’s Wilson. He’s reportedly seeing plenty of special teams in camp, which signifies the coaching staff believes he could earn more of a role moving forward. The Tigers are far from deep at linebacker, and Wilson could work his way into that mix if any injuries take place at his main position.
Tollison is a bit different. He probably won’t see significant reps on special teams, but he could work his way into playing time if the offensive line falters in any way, whether it be via injuries or performance.
George is the one who I’m most curious about from this group. A big-time performance against Central Michigan could really help his case for more playing time as the season goes on. You don’t bring in a third year player for no reason. He’ll see the field, the question is how often and in what situations.