It’s a wild week for college football, and not just because it is bowl season. The transfer portal is running wild, high school prospects are committing, and the early National Signing Period begins on Dec. 21. This is all important news for Missouri looking into the future.
However, this current season is still going for at least a few more weeks, and the 2023 Tigers had its best regular season since 2014. So let’s take some time to bask a little bit longer.
With recruiting on the brain, let’s look back one year and try to sort out some trends from the freshman class that’s wrapping up their first year on campus.
First let’s take a look at how the 2023 recruiting class performed this season.
Offensively, we know that the Tigers had Cody Schrader, one of the best running backs in the nation, and Luther Burden III, one of the best receivers in the nation. Theo Wease, Jr. and Mookie Cooper served as strong two and three options, while Nathaniel Peat, Mekhi Miller and Tyler Stephens filled in when needed. But it doesn’t stop there.
Marquis Johnson emerged as a solid fourth receiving option behind the three-deep of Burden, Wease, and Cooper. Johnson’s speed stood out, and he showed against Memphis how he can take the top off of defenses with a 76-yard touchdown on MU’s third offensive play of the game. He engineered six-plays of 30-plus yards, averaging 27.8 yards per reception. Among those plays is the 39-yard pass that changed the entire outcome of the Kentucky game in the rain in Lexington.
Staying on that side of the ball, you can’t say enough good things about the way that Brett Norfleet progressed. In a crowded wide receiver room, the 6-foot-7 freshman tight end’s 195 receiving yards are the most by a tight end in the Eli Drinkwitz era, and his 17 receptions are just one shy of Niko Hea’s 18 in 2021 in that same timeframe. His ability to contribute to the passing game gives Mizzou something it hasn’t seen since Albert Okwuegbunam, and his ceiling is high with him trending to becoming the next great tight end in Columbia.
Doing the Dirty Work
Sticking with the tight end position, we also can’t forget about Jordon Harris. With Norfleet emerging as a quality starter and Stephens still playing a vital role in this offense, it was hard for Harris to exactly find his way on the field. But he’s someone Drinkwitz was impressed with all fall camp, and let’s not forget his contributions during the Memphis game when Stephens was out.
“I think the guy that showed up huge tonight was Jordon Harris,” Cody Schrader said after finishing with 123 yards and a score. “He’s a true freshman, hasn’t been playing football that long, and he had some big blocks— on my touchdown run, and on that last burst out of the game. He showed up huge tonight.”
Harris has yet to record a single catch for the Tigers in his short time with the team, but his impact has shown up in the running game, as well as being a vocal player on the field, a trait that is oftentimes rare in young players.
“(Memphis) ran an edge pressure. (Jordon’s) got to alert the pressure and execute the call,” Drinkwitz said. “He’s got to relay that information down to the rest of the offensive linemen and does it perfectly, and we execute versus a pressure which is something that is hard to do.”
That Memphis game was the only significant number of snaps he played during this season at 21, but expect that number to increase with Stephens exhausting his eligibility.
On the defensive side, Missouri saw Marvin Burks, Jr. play a key rotational role in a stacked secondary. Burks collected 13 total tackle and a sack during the regular season and saw most of his action against South Dakota and Memphis, allying over 20 snaps in each game. He generated a 82.3 tackling grade according to PFF in the dome against Memphis. Shamar McNeil and Phillip Roche also saw some time in the defensive backfield while Daniel Blood snagged two receptions for 20 yards against LSU.
What’s happening to the blue-chippers?
It’s been worth pointing out how blue-chip recruits under Eli Drinkwitz haven’t been able to see the field. Yes, not all recruits pan out and stars do not always mean everything, but prior to this season, the only blue-chip recruit to regularly see the field from the 2022 class a season ago was Luther Burden III. The year prior it was Dominic Lovett and Daylan Carnell.
As previously mentioned, both Norfleet and Burks saw high snap counts throughout the season. The other blue-chip recruits from last year’s class include Gabarri Johnson, Joshua Manning, and Logan Reichert [Editor’s Note: Gabarri Johnson has since entered the transfer portal.] Those players were limited to no action, which proved to be a good problem. Yes, it’s good to see some freshman be able to set up, but a wealth of talent kept the youngsters off the field. Three question marks coming into this season — offensive line, quarterback and wide receiver room — proved to be some of the strongest units on the roster.
Reichert will likely have the opportunity to compete at the guard position in 2024. Javon Foster and Xavier Delgado leave a big void on the left side of the offensive line, and at 6-foot-9, 369 pounds, the size alone makes him very appealing.
It’s early, but is ‘23 is shaping up to be the best class since 2020?
With the amount of positive production from the 2023 recruiting class, it appears to be shaping up as the best class since Drinkwitz took the helm in 2020. That class included Jaylon Carlies, Brady Cook, Ennis Rakestraw, Johnny Walker, Kris Abrams-Draine, and Harrison Mevis, all guys who in some ways have contributed to this year’s 10-win season. Looking at this 2023, there’s a good case to say that five have in some way stood out so far and there’s room to add to that list.
It’s important to remember that recruiting classes can take time: Cook didn’t become a starter until December 2021; Walker only emerged as a starter this year; Abrams-Draine switched to defensive back after a season. It’s only right to still continue to give the 2023 class the time it deserves. What we have seen so far, however, has been promising.