The NFL Draft is one of my favorite times of the year. Part of that is due to my NFL fandom (Go Chiefs!), but it’s also a pleasure to see former Mizzou players realizing their dreams with an opportunity to make life-changing money in the NFL.
Those opportunities, though, have become rarer over the past couple years. There have been just three former Mizzou players drafted in the 2022 and 2023 NFL Drafts, combined.
Mizzou Football Players Drafted ‘17-’23
|2019||7||Terry Beckner Jr.||DT|
This is where we get to the big disclaimer. Players that transferred from Mizzou to another school before entering the draft don’t count for this criteria. It’s also important to note that players received an extra ‘COVID year,’ which extended eligibility for players who were part of the team in 2020, leading to some “super seniors.”
NIL deals have also thrown a wrench on players declaring for the NFL Draft. Kids who previously might have been a borderline day three pick with the possibility of going undrafted are now returning to school for the opportunity to earn guaranteed money through NIL deals with their respective colleges.
This brings us to Mizzou’s current crop of NFL Draft prospects. Isaiah McGuire was the lone Tiger to hear his name called in the 2023 draft, but I would set the over/under for Mizzou players to hear their name called during the 2024 draft at 6.5. If that sounds like a big number, that’s because it is. The last time Missouri had at least seven players drafted was 1981. Mizzou had six players selected in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Who could those players be? Let’s take a look at the most likely candidates.
Offensive Tackle Javon Foster:
Javon Foster had the best pass blocking grade of any SEC offensive tackle in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, Foster had a top five pass blocking grade by PFF among all FBS offensive tackles to take at least 50 percent of their respective team’s snaps. Not bad!
Aren’t many OL in this year’s draft our staff is more excited to see than @MizzouFootball LT Javon Foster (@_ybvon), who jumps off tape w/ movement skills to be a starting NFL left tackle. We expect a big jump from Foster in Year 2 as a starter. #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/yououpsQ39— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) September 10, 2022
Foster has played more than 1,800 snaps for the Tigers over the past two seasons, and he returns in 2023 as a third year starter at left tackle with both production and projection. He has good length, and appears to have the necessary athleticism to be a draftable offensive tackle, potentially higher than many fans suspect.
Defensive Tackle Darius Robinson:
The only SEC interior defensive linemen with a better pass rush grade than Darius Robinson in 2022, according to PFF, are South Carolina’s Tonka Hemingway and Kentucky’s Deone Walker. Robinson has all the necessary traits to translate to the next level, and his availability to kick outside to play on the edge on standard downs will appeal to NFL teams — especially those running a traditional 3-4 defense.
Mizzou DL Darius Robinson found out a few days after the bowl game he was invited to the NFL combine. He’d be doing interviews in Indy today; instead he’s in CoMo talking about a reloaded defense. “We know what we’ve got.” pic.twitter.com/d97aclFulO— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) March 1, 2023
I’m not sure where Robinson will land in next year’s draft. There have been an average of seven interior defensive linemen taken per year in the top 100 picks over the past three drafts. Another productive season and some impressive numbers at the NFL Combine would go a long way to boost Robinson’s draft stock. Regardless of how high he goes, I would be quite surprised if he’s not selected.
Linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper:
If you asked me midway through Missouri’s season who would be their highest drafted player in 2023, I would have gone with Hopper. Drew Sanders (Arkansas) was the only SEC linebacker to finish last season with more pressures than Hopper, as tracked by Pro Football Focus. Hopper was everywhere for the Tigers, especially early in the season. However, he did have some issues with missed tackles and he needs a bit of work against the run.
Mizzou LB Ty'ron Hopper continuing his excellent season— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) October 1, 2022
Fla. transfer forced Georgia fumble after a long run with a Peanut Punch
Hooper has been the Tigers' best defender and is an NFL draft prospect
Despite his limitations as a run defender, Hopper is the ideal modern day NFL linebacker with the ability to impact the game on obvious passing downs. The biggest thing holding him back will be his lack of size (he’s listed at 221 pounds). There have only been 25 linebackers weigh in at the NFL Combine at 225 pounds or lighter to be drafted in the last 20 years. That’s basically an average of one per year, with none being drafted higher than the 34th pick. The ceiling for Hopper is likely as a day two (2nd-3rd round) pick, but I think he could be a key rotational player for a team if he lasts until day three. Some added bulk and an improved season against the run would go a long way for his draft status.
Cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine:
You know what NFL teams like from their cornerbacks? Ball production. Abrams-Draine certainly had some ball production last season, finishing tied for the fourth most pass breakups in the SEC. Abrams-Draine is a perfect slot cornerback at the next level, but he spent the vast majority of his snaps on the outside at Missouri. That versatility is something NFL teams will value.
My Top 10 Cornerbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft I A Thread— MRCROCKPOT (@mrcrockpot) November 29, 2022
#10 Kris Abrams-Draine (1/10)
Pros: WR to CB convert, spent time both in the slot and outside, outstanding change-of-direction ability
Cons: Needs to improve against the run, smallish#NFLDraft #NFLDraft2023 #KeleeRingo pic.twitter.com/VZUizURTVY
I would be surprised if Abrams-Draine doesn’t join Akayleb Evans and E.J. Gaines as the lone Missouri cornerbacks drafted in the past 30 years. It’s a short list, and one Abrams-Draine deserves to be on. The biggest issue for Abrams-Draine will be his size. He’s listed at 180 pounds. Only seven cornerbacks that light have been drafted in the top 100 in the past decade, with all of them running a 4.4 40. Another strong season of production in the SEC would go a long way... as would some really impressive numbers at either the NFL Combine or Mizzou’s Pro Day.
Other Names to Watch:
- OL Marcellus Johnson - The Eastern Michigan transfer has a chance to prove at Missouri that he can play along the interior of the offensive line. That’s the kind of positional flexibility NFL teams value for depth pieces along the offensive line.
- Safety Jaylon Carlies - This is probably unfair to Carlies. He’s one of my personal favorite Mizzou players to watch. He’s had games where he puts on teaching tape of how to run the alley as a safety. That said, he has had some tough moments in coverage. His size and speed should help his case, and a strong season with Mizzou could up his draft stock in a meaningful way.
- CB Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. - I thought there was a real chance Rakestraw would declare for the draft this season, but I think it was smart to come back for another year of production against SEC competition. He took a massive step this past year, finishing the season with 10 pass deflections and looking like a legitimate #1 corner for Mizzou. His length is his greatest asset, and it’s something NFL teams will value.
- Nickel Daylan Carnell - This is one to keep an eye on. I’m not sure it will happen. Carnell has three years of eligibility remaining, so he certainly doesn’t need to declare for the draft. In fact, the odds would probably be against it. This is his first season as a starter, and he’ll need to produce in a big way to take the step. That said, he has the size and speed that will translate to the league. He’ll need to improve in coverage, but his ability as a box safety is hard to deny.
Those are my picks. Who do you see as Mizzou’s most likely NFL Draft selections in 2024? How many players on the 2023 Missouri football team will hear their names called and their dreams realized? I’ll set the over/under at 6.5, but only time will tell.