It’s been a busy offseason for Mizzou. Eli Drinkwitz added 18 players in the Tigers’ 15th rated recruiting class. The Tigers have already added double-digit players through the transfer portal and Missouri is still sifting through the JUCO ranks for depth.
Not all of the newcomers will see the field this season. Many will never see the field for the Tigers. But a select few will go down as legitimate difference-makers in their first year on campus, just as Dominic Lovet, Mekhi Wingo, Blaze Alldredge and Akayleb Evans did a year ago.
Let’s break down the players most likely to have an immediate impact upon their arrival at Mizzou.
5) Jack Abraham, QB (Southern Miss/Mississippi State)
Alright, you caught me. I’m hedging. If Jack Abraham ends up starting for Mizzou then he’ll probably end up at the top of this list. If he doesn’t, he shouldn’t be on the list at all. So which is it?
I DON’T KNOW!
Hence the ranking. I think Abraham has a real chance to earn the starting nod out of fall camp. If he does, I think he’ll play like a more mobile version of Connor Bazelak. That’s... fine. But how much does it move the needle? Do you go for the upside, or settle for the known commodity? That’s part of the decision point when it comes to the quarterback competition between Abraham, Brady Cook and Sam Horn.
4) Jayden Jernigan, DT (Oklahoma State)
I’m irrationally excited to see Jayden Jernigan play football at Missouri. Remember what it was like to watch Kobie Whiteside early in his Mizzou career before injuries derailed things? He was a fire hydrant full of energy. That’s Jernigan. He plays with incredible energy and he posses some serious athleticism for a player rushing the passer from the interior.
It’s not going to be easy for Mizzou to replace what it lost in Mekhi Wingo, but that’s the task for guys like Jernigan, Josh Landry and Marquis Gracial. That trio in addition to Realus George, Darius George should form a formidable group with the ability shut down the run and also get after the quarterback.
3) Nathaniel Peat, RB (Stanford)
I’m surprised there’s not more buzz surrounding Nathaniel Peat. I have a feeling that’ll change quickly when Mizzou fans see the Columbia native suit up in a Tigers uniform for the first time. Peat is lightning quick with a surprising amount of power for his size (5-foot-9, 200 pounds). He was under-utilized at Stanford, and I’ll never understand why. He finished his Stanford career with 117 carries for 665 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He was also one of the more productive kick returners in the country, averaging more than 24 yards per opportunity. For context, Kris Abrams-Draine averaged 22 yards per return and Tyler Badie was at 18 yards per return over the last three seasons. Not bad!
Peat’s vision and one-cut running style will fit in nicely in Eli Drinkwitz’s running scheme and he can also replicate some of what Badie brought in the passing game, as well.
2) Luther Burden III, WR (East St. Louis, IL)
What is there to say? He was a top five recruit in the country. He’s as competitive a receiver as you’ll see. He’s received comparisons to the likes of Jeremy Maclin and Dez Bryant for his playing style. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s immediately the best player on Missouri’s offense.
The special thing about Burden is that he comes in and immediately has the ability to contribute at the college level. The comparison that gets made due to recruiting pedigree and position is, naturally, Dorial Green-Beckham. But that’s really where the similarities end between the two players. DGB was a spectacular athlete learning how to play wide receiver. When he arrived at Mizzou, he needed a lot of work on his route-running ability and it took quite some time for DGB to adjust to a college offense. That shouldn’t be the case for Burden. He’s already a solid route-runner. We saw in spring ball he seems o have picked up the offense quicker than many freshman can. He’s going to play early and often, and he’s going to be a difference-maker with the ball in his hands.
1) Ty’Ron Hopper, LB (Florida)
Luther Burden is special, but Ty’Ron Hopper might be Missouri’s highest drafted player in 2023. He’s an athletic marvel with an ability to play sideline-to-sideline. He attacks the running game with the ferociousness we saw from Terez Hall, but he plays the passing game in a way we haven’t seen from a Mizzou linebacker in years.
Hopper is the ideal pairing next to Chad Bailey. Bailey can do all the “dirty work” while Hopper works sideline-to-sideline shutting down the screen game and any running plays that go off tackle.
If there’s one player I’ll stake my claim on for 2022, it’s Hopper. He has the pedigree as a former 4-star recruit and top five player at his position. He has the production as Florida’s fourth leading tackler and third leading sack producer last season. I expect more of the same - if not better - from Hopper in his first (and maybe only) season at Mizzou.