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2021 Position Postmortem: Wide Receivers

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A review of the wide receiver performance for the 2021 season.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2021 season officially over, it’s time to break down the performance of the team position by position. We’ll look at the stats for the year, the departing players, new additions, and some predictions for what we’ll see in 2022.

It’s time to look at “the touchdown makers”, the young and athletic wide receivers.

2021 Missouri Wide Receiver Receiving Stats

Close your eyes and think back on the past five 8 years of Missouri Tigers football...say, somewhere around 2014. Who has been the best Tiger wide receiver in that time frame?

Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt were an effective duo for that ‘14 SEC East Champion team, combining for 1,701 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air; J’Mon Moore certainly...alienated...some of the Missouri faithful but - outside of an increasingly amplified number of drops that continuously get credited to him - he was an excellent go-to receiver for Drew Lock. Emanuel Hall could only effectively run a 9-route but man he would absolutely thrash any defender who tried to keep up with him.

But that’s four dudes. In an 8-year span. In a sport that is increasingly moving towards passing the ball because it is the best, and most efficient, way to move down the field.

Quick: who is the last receiver to have over 1,000 yards receiving and what season did they do it in?

I’ll wait.

No Googling! Ah, who cares, I’m not your mom.

Got it? Say it with me!

J’Mon Moore in 2017 with 1,082 yards (and 10 touchdowns)!

And while 2021 marked the first time since 2018 that two receivers went over 500 yards in catches in the same season (Chism - 576, Dove - 511), it’s been four years since a trio of Tigers have gone over 500 yards in the same season OR two individuals have gone over 600 yards receiving in the same season. Oh, and no 2021 Missouri receiver had a game where they finished with more than 100 yards receiving in a single game.

For being the school of Justin Gage, Jeremy Maclin, Will Franklin, Danario Alexander, DGB, LDW, Marcus Lucas, and all the others...Missouri is in a bit of a rut when it comes to the passing game.

You don’t need to go full-on Alabama and feature two 1,000+ yard receivers in the same season to have success through the air but you do need multiple guys at the receiver position that can get things done. And, for the past five years, Missouri has maybe had a guy (or two) but not one guy that was a game breaker and certainly not the depth to cover if that guy has an off game.

Now, last year’s receiving corps feature two good possession guys, one of the most unstoppable third-down converters we’ve ever seen, and then a ton of young athletic guys who hadn’t put it together yet. And, as the season wore on, Bush Hamdan and Eli Drinkwitz trotted out their three vets more and more while slowly phasing out the younger guys (or just limiting their series) as the Tigers pushed to six wins on the back (and hands) of Tyler Badie.

Speaking of Badie: he led the team in passing targets (75), catches (54), receiving touchdowns (4), and was third on the team with 330 receiving yards. As previously mentioned in the running back postmortem: he’s gone.

So let’s look at the individuals who made up an exciting but inconsistent Missouri passing attack:

The Departed

NCAA Football: Armed Forces Bowl-Missouri at Army Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports
Departing 2021 Wide Receiver Stats

For all of the laurels Eli Drinkwitz laid upon Keke Chism in the run-up to the 2020 season, we never quite saw the impact that we thought Chism could provide in his time in Columbia. 511 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2021 is certainly not something we as fans should ever scoff at, but it was a far-cry from his three-year tear of 2,221 yards and 16 touchdowns he achieved at Angelo State. The problem was that he needed to be a #1 receiver in the SEC and he wasn’t quite able to do that. It’s certainly not an indictment on Chism as an individual, just a point worth making.

Boo Smith was the ultimate small-sample tease, hauling in 80% of the passes thrown his way for 16.3 yards per catch. The problem? He was targeted 20 times. Part of that might have been the fact that he wasn’t much of a run blocker (weighing 150 pounds tends to make you a less effective blocker) and this team needed those yards on the ground to be competitive. He declared for the NFL Draft and will probably find a role on a team somewhere but I would have loved to see what he could do in an expanded role.

Micah Wilson started as a quarterback and switched to receiver once Kelly Bryant joined the team, then stayed there once Drinkwitz took over. His most memorable play would be the wide open pass he caught in 2020 when LSU forgot that he was a football player that needed to be defended. That was awesome.

The Returners

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Returning “Z” Receiver Stats
Returning “X” Receiver Stats
Returning Slot Receiver Stats

As previously mentioned, the team had ten receivers on the roster and, essentially, gave three the most heavy usage. Luckily, two of those three - X-receiver Tauskie Dove and slot receiver Barrett Banister - return for another year. Dove and Banister combine to bring back 802 yards and one lone touchdown (curtesy of Banister) while J.J. Hester, Dominic Lovett, Chance Luper, and Mookie Cooper all had moments of flash in 2021 but never sustained anything that could keep them on the field. If you were to combine those four into one receiver - Jadomookance Hevooper? - that “one receiver” would have had 108 targets for 695 yards and 3 touchdowns. Since all four pieces of this Megazord of receivers are only sophomores in 2022, they still have time to develop and find their groove but it would be nice if one of those four could establish themselves as a reliable piece that can stay on the field (i.e. run block) and make some plays through the air.

The Freshmen

Luther Burden 2021 receiving stats: 71 catches, 1,174 yards, 20 TDs

Ja’Marion Wayne 2021 receiving stats: 30 catches, 413 yards, 6 TDs

Mekhi Miller 2021 receiving stats: 45 catches, 650 yards, 6 TDs (thanks to Twitter user @GMillerRealtor for the info!)

And now we get to the reason why everyone in the Mizzou world is looking at this position group. Wayne and Miller were tantalizing prospects, enough so that the staff was content with having just those two on board. And then Luther Burden - the #1 receiver in the country - committed to play in Columbia. Needless to say: expectations are high for this trio.

However, here’s an important point I want to bring up to help us all temper expectations and not mentally burn ourselves out with what we see with these guys in the upcoming season. If you watched the National Championship game between Alabama and Georgia you saw an Alabama offense take the field missing one of their dynamic, 5-star, 1,000-yard receivers and then lose their other dynamic, 5-star, 1,000-yard receiver to injury in the first half of the game. The joke - and I’m as guilty of this as anybody else - is that we look at a roster constructed by Alabama or Georgia or Ohio State and think, “oh, they’ll just replace their 5-star player with another 5-star player and keep chugging along”. And, as we saw last Monday night, that was not the case. Alabama did, indeed, replace Jameson Williams and John Metchie with a deep rotation of guys who had four or five stars next to their name coming out of high school but none of them were able to break through Georgia’s defense and make plays that were needed to be made. It turns out that, just like every other program, Alabama has to develop the talent on their roster and, when you dig deep enough, you can find guys who aren’t developed enough to be ready.

By all accounts Luther Burden seems absolutely ready to take the SEC by storm and Wayne and Miller should also be dynamic playmakers in a short time. But there’s a chance none of them will be ready. And that’s ok! Even with tremendous athletic pedigree it can still take time to become effective at the next level. I’m not saying that’s going to be the case with all three, I’m just asking for some patience if Burden isn’t exactly what we thought he would be during his freshman campaign.

2022 Forecasting

  • Prediction: Missouri has five games in which a single receiver goes over 100 yards
  • Bold Prediction: Missouri has its first 1,100+ yard receiver since 2009
  • HOT TAKE: Luther Burden wins the Heisman trophy but they give him two trophies because he’s the only player in college football history to score every touchdown for a team in a single year