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Evaluating the depth at receiver and running back following an explosive spring game

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Luther Burden, Tauskie Dove, Cody Schrader, and Dominic Lovett were only a few of the skill position players who showed out on Saturday.

Via Mizzou Football Twitter

Traditionally, Mizzou has had stellar skill position play. Look at Dorial Green-Beckham, Russell Hansbrough, Albert Okwuegbunam, Emmanuel Hall, Tyler Badie, Larry Rountree III, and Jeremy Maclin just to name a few.

However, one could argue that this upcoming team is going be the deepest at receiving and running back since those 2013 and 2014 teams with the likes of DGB, Hansbrough, Henry Josey, Marcus Murphy, Bud Sasser, etc. Let’s take a deep-dive into how the depth chart may stack up at each of the skill positions.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Running Back

Options: BJ Harris (SOPH), Elijah Young (JR), Taj Butts (RSFR), Michael Cox (SOPH), Cody Schrader (SR), Nathaniel Peat (SR)

Who Impressed the Most During The Spring Game: Outside of Luther Burden, one could argue that the newcomer with the most eyes on him during the game was Stanford transfer Nathaniel Peat. The local Rock Bridge High School superstar had a solid tenure with the Cardinal but came back home to play in the SEC.

He certainly lived up to the hype be brought with him. Peat is known as a speedster, and he flashed that in limited action early in the game. He had 37 total yards, highlighted by a 20-yard touchdown run that saw him glide past the opposing defenders.

Elijah Young and Taj Butts each had some solid moments, but Cody Schrader was the star of the day for this group. The Truman State transfer seemed to adjust to the FBS level, as he had 68 yards and a touchdown on the day.

If there was anybody the Mizzou faithful learned about on Saturday, it was Schrader. He is a tough, violent runner who has enough power and speed to beat defenders in a phone booth or the open field.

Who can be the Stars: Elijah Young has waited his turn to be the feature back in this backfield, having played behind the likes of Roundtree and Badie in the past. In limited action, Young has shown that he can be the next in a line of quality backs. He makes up for his smaller 5’9” stature with his vision at the line of scrimmage and shiftiness in the open field. There could be concerns about his durability, but then again, those same questions were asked of Tyler Badie before 2021. Young has been in this offense for years as well, giving him a leg-up on the newer faces in the backfield.

Out of Schrader or Peat, one of them will likely emerge as the #1 or #2 option to Young. Both showed out in the spring game and clearly have plenty of upside. Peat is going to provide the explosiveness, while Schrader figures to be more of an every down back. How Drinkwitz utilizes them will be very intriguing to watch throughout the year, because the variety of skillsets in the backfield means the playbook can be wide open.

On top of that, it is worth noting that these are both guys playing in their home state. Peat is playing in his hometown, with Schrader looking to prove he has what it takes at the next level. Neither is short of motivation to succeed for this team.

Who is going be the Depth: Taj Butts and BJ Harris are wild cards in this offense. They were both talented backs coming out of high school but have been buried on the depth chart for a while. Now, they will have to compete with two transfers for carries alongside Young, which is likely not what they expected coming into the offseason. Frankly, I would not be surprised if one of them transfers out of the program by the end of the season, purely due to a lack of opportunities. Each of them has the potential to emerge into a larger role on this team, however, so do not write either off just yet.

Michael Cox is the elder statesmen of this group. He will likely maintain his short-yardage role within this offense, racking up touchdowns with very few yards.

Projection:

  1. Elijah Young (JR)
  2. Nathaniel Peat (SR)
  3. Cody Scharder (SR)

I like this to be a mainly by-committee approach, which would certainly be a new sight to see following Badie’s dominance in 2021. Young and Schrader are both very well-rounded and could be the every-down back. Although Schrader’s toughness and work ethic will make him a fan favorite, the fact that Elijah Young has far more experience within the program will give him the edge in terms of playing time.

For Peat, I can see Drinkwitz try to use him like he did Mookie Cooper last season (hopefully with more success). Peat could be an exceptional screen back, and getting him moving with jet sweeps and the outside zone game would put him in a position to succeed. This team will try to get him the ball in the open field as much as possible, and based on what we have seen so far, he knows what to do when he gets there.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receivers

Options: Tauskie Dove (SR), Chance Luper (SOPH), Luther Burden III (FR), Mookie Cooper (SOPH), Dominic Lovett (SOPH), Mekhi Miller (FR), Barrett Banister (GR), JJ Hester (SOPH), Wes Campbell (FR), Jaden Nash (SOPH), Logan Muckey (RSFR), Zach Hahn (RSFR)

Who Impressed the Most During the Spring Game: Where to start? Oh, I suppose we’ll talk about Luther Burden first. So the consensus #1 WR in the class of 2021 did not look much like a freshman out on the field. For starters, he physically matches up with anybody out there at 5’11”, 210 lbs. He just doesn’t look like a kid fresh out of high school.

He was the highlight of the game in most people’s eyes, as he had 81 receiving yards, 15 rushing yards, and a touchdown. What made his performance so special was how he did it in a variety of ways. He started out with a toe-tap grab down the sideline for a big gain, and then followed it up with a slant route that he took in for a touchdown. He continued to show his slipperiness off of some short-yardage catches…up until he grabbed a 30+ yard bomb from Cook in a 2-minute drill scenario. It was a showcase for Burden, and he showed Mizzou fans exactly why he has been tabbed as the next elite wide receiver to come through the SEC.

Burden stole the show, but some others guys wanted to remind everyone that they are still around. Tauskie Dove was lethal down the field, continuing to prove that he is a vertical threat at all times. Chance Luper had a similar game stretching the field, and the two of them combined for over 160 yards and 2 TDs. Freshman Mekhi Miller had a great 17-yard catch off a toe-tap sideline catch, while the old man of the group, Barrett Banister, showed that he has some wiggle to him with a juke move that led to a touchdown.

Who can be the Stars: So, we knew that Burden was physically gifted. This merely reaffirmed that. However, his catch radius and elusiveness in the open field jumped out to me during the game, as well as how comfortable he looked being the #1 option. It is way too early to tab him as “the guy” in the wide receiver room, but he will have a say in who is.

Dominic Lovett was his counterpart at East St. Louis High School for years, and Burden’s arrival on campus appeared to give him a boost. Lovett showed flashes of potential last year but was never a consistent contributor. Then, the speedy sophomore led everyone with 109 receiving yards and a touchdown on Saturday.

What was most impressive about his performance on Saturday was that he essentially gained every one of those yards on his own. Lovett got the ball off a sweep or screen pass and played tag with the defense all over the field. With his high school teammate now on campus and a year under his belt, Lovett looks more comfortable and ready to burst onto the scene.

I’m looking at both Dove and Luper to take big steps forward this season as well. Without Keke Chism, the Tigers need a new jump ball threat. Burden could certainly fit that, but Luper and Dove are both 6’2” and have great speed for that size. I expect them to be targeted downfield frequently, as well as in in the red zone on fade routes.

Who can be the Depth: There are a lot of options here.

To start, we know what we are going to get from Barrett Banister. He is the bona fide leader of this group, knows this program like the back of his hand, and is as sure-handed as they come. He will continue to be the safety valve for whoever starts at quarterback.

Mookie Cooper has the best chance out of everyone here to be in that star category. He had a frustrating first season in Columbia, one that was full of injuries and limited playing time. However, there is still no denying that he has the athletic ability to be a game-changer for this team. If he can get on track, then he can be the electric, screen/swing pass threat that keeps defenses on their toes. That comes down to him staying healthy, but also finding ways to better give him the ball with a chance to succeed.

JJ Hester was a highly-touted prospect out of Oklahoma in last year’s recruiting class, and similarly to Lovett, he had a couple instances in which he showed why in 2021. Now, it is about taking that next step for Hester, especially when the WR room is only becoming more crowded. His speed gives him an edge, but he has to become more well-rounded to catch up to the rest.

Burden got all the attention in the 2022 class for Mizzou, but 4-star Mekhi Miller is a great talent in his own right. He was only targeted once during the spring game, but his spectacular catch down the sideline showed that he has what it takes to be a contributor right away. He is very raw, but he at least deserves to get some chances to shine during the regular season.

Projection:

  1. Luther Burden III (FR)
  2. Tauskie Dove (SR)
  3. Dominic Lovett (SOPH)

Depth Chart Behind Them:

  1. Chance Luper (SOPH)
  2. Barrett Banister (GR)
  3. Mookie Cooper (SOPH)
  4. Mekhi Miller (FR)
  5. JJ Hester (SOPH)

This will likely change plenty over the course of the season, but regardless this is a scary group. Burden is a game-breaker regardless of where he is on the field, but he will likely line up outside alongside Tauskie Dove. Lovett can line up in the slot or be the smaller target on the field, but it should not limit him in terms of what routes he can run.

What is the most exciting about this group is the bench. You have the most experienced and sure-handed guy on the team, a scary vertical threat, an uber-talented speedster, and two very promising youngsters. There is a great mix of experience and youth within the receiver room, and I think Drinkwitz is going to really enjoy having so many quality options. If one of Miller, Cooper and Hester can emerge as another reliable option, you have five really solid targets for defenses to worry about.

So many things will open up for this offense in 2022, as I firmly believe Drinkwitz has been waiting to get the personnel he wants to be able to run his real system. We’ve already seen flashes of the scheme working well, and it should only expand.