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JJ Hester & Chance Luper are still worth getting excited about

JJ Hester and Chance Luper didn’t arrive at Missouri with the same recruiting hype as Dominic Lovett, but both could serve as key components in Missouri’s revamped receiver corps.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Southeast Missouri at Missouri Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Missouri has been looking to upgrade its talent at wide receiver since the moment Eli Drinkwitz was announced as the next head coach. One of the first large proclamations Drinkwitz made was he needed to find more “touchdown makers.”

He turned to the transfer portal and found an immediate contributor in Keke Chism. His first recruiting class included five wide receivers, two of which are now starting on the defensive side of the ball (Jaylon Carlies, Kris Abrams-Draine).

The three that remained on the offensive side of the ball have taken a bit to get acclimated to the offense. Jay Maclin has yet to see extended playing time, and now he’s dealing with an injury. Chance Luper made a huge play last season on a 69-yard crossing route which ultimately led to Missouri’s game-winning touchdown in its signature victory against LSU. It was his only catch on the season. JJ Hester was, more or less, put on ice.

Luper has earned his way up the depth chart, and now finds himself fourth among the Tigers’ receivers in snaps this season. It’s been a longer process for Hester, who saw just 12 total snaps in the Tigers’ first two games of the season.

Missouri Wide Receiver Snap Counts through the Tigers’ first three games:

  • Keke Chism - 189
  • Tauskie Dove - 121
  • Dominic Lovet - 85
  • Chance Luper - 76
  • Mookie Cooper - 64
  • Barrett Banister - 33
  • JJ Hester - 28
  • Boo Smith - 11
  • Micah Wilson - 11

The SEMO game presented a rare opportunity for Drinkwitz to find out what some of his young players were capable of doing in a game environment.

Hester finished that blowout victory with two catches on his two targets for 79 yards and a touchdown. He looked like the same rangy and explosive athlete you saw on his high school film when he dominated his way to offers from the likes of Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas.

Hester is different stylistically than many of Missouri’s receivers. He’s listed at 6-foot-3 and more than 200 pounds. He looks like your prototypical “X” wide receiver and a potential natural replacement for Chism after he graduates. The problem? He hasn’t seen much playing time.

That should be corrected after his performance against SEMO. I know, it’s SEMO. But that explosiveness and ability translates regardless of opponent. No, his touchdown doesn’t go 69 yards against Georgia or Florida. But that skill still exists. He has the ability to make explosive plays, which is something this Missouri offense could use.

When asked this week if there were any players who impressed enough in their limited action against SEMO to earn playing time moving forward, Drinkwitz mentioned offensive guard EJ Ndoma-Ogar, running back Michael Cox and, yes, wide receiver JJ Hester.

“Hester, you know, he’s been getting some plays during the course of the game anyway, but to be able to make that catch and throw on the jets was really exciting for us and for him, I know,” Drinkwitz said. “So I don’t think anybody necessarily stood up and said, okay, I should play more, but I do think there were a lot of reps that were like, okay, we can do a lot with this.”

Drinkwitz made an effort immediately upon his hiring to identify touchdown makers who could help Missouri’s offense generate more points. Luper was one of those players, and he immediately proved his worth with early playing time. It’s taken a bit longer for Hester to translate his projection into college production, but his time is coming.

After his performance against SEMO, it should be coming sooner rather than later.