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2023 40 Most Important Tigers: 40 to 36

As we creep towards the football season, we begin a series counting down the 40 most important Tigers on the roster. Who are the players that will define this season in Columbia?

Georgia v Missouri Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

Welcome to the first in a new series that will take us from the depths of media days all the way up until the kickoff of the season. I’m going to rank the top 40 footballing Tigers for the 2023 season, counting down five a week as we approach Labor Day weekend.

This idea is blatantly ripped off from a Florida State outlet, Noles247, which did its own ranking. I liked the concept and wanted to do it for our Tigers, so thanks to the team over there for the inspiration.

What defines an important player? Excellent play, of course, especially at key positions. Players who have high ceilings and low floors: high variance could define how a specific position group performs. Players at positions that are thin on the depth chart, or looking to rebound after a tough season. Players getting their first opportunity to start at Mizzou, either as young guys stepping in for departed veterans or as highly-touted transfers.

A lot of factors went into these rankings, so this is hardly an exhaustive statistical ranking. We’re working on vibes and gut feelings, here. What players will define the floor or ceiling of this team?

We start today with our 40-36 entries on the list. Let’s get right to it.

40: DJ Wesolak, Redshirt Freshman, Linebacker

2022 stats: Saw action in five games, did not record any stats.

Wesolak is here as one of the sole representatives of pure youth upside on a defense loaded with veterans. He was a four-star recruit out of Boonville and was a powerhouse defensive end when he signed. However, he slid over to linebacker during the fall season, as there was not much work available in a deep defensive end room. That room is thin this year, and suddenly linebacker looks stout. Wesolak could provide an instant jolt of pass-rushing ability from the edge, which is a question mark entering the season. If he earns significant playing time, the former blue-chipper could make plays for the defense; there’s also a chance he plays sparingly this fall with eyes to 2024 and beyond.

39: Connor Tollison, Sophomore, Center

2022 stats: Started 12 games

Tollison was forced into action as a redshirt freshman after Bence Polgar was tabbed ineligible. He struggled mightily in his first year in a big-boy league, getting pushed around and grading poorly in both PFF’s pass- and run-blocking grades. With transfers incoming and Polgar returning, Tollison should be used only in a reserve role, allowing him to continue adding beef to his still-developing frame. He had an impressive offer list coming out of high school, even if his first taste of major college football action was discouraging.

38: Riley Williams, Junior, Punter

2022 stats (at FCS Towson): Second Team All-CAA, 16 50+ yard punts, 13 downed inside the 20

Riley Williams arrives in Columbia from Australia by way of Towson University; he was a solid punter for those Tigers and should be a fine replacement for Jack Stonehouse. It’s essential to have good specialists, and the Tigers appear to have a competent pair.

37: Dreyden Norwood, Redshirt Sophomore, Cornerback

2022 stats: 312 snaps, 13 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 sack

Norwood had a clear grasp of the third cornerback role behind the tandem corners of Ennis Rakestraw and Kris Abrams-Draine. His work on the outside was solid, and another season of productive rotation play should have him lined up to be the man in 2024. Rakestraw and KAD were ironmen for Blake Baker’s defense in 2022 – both played over 700 snaps – and another developmental step forward for Norwood could mean fresher legs for the starters as the season progresses.

36: Tyler Stephens, Senior, Tight End

2022 stats: 5 catches, 54 yards, 1 touchdown.

The offensive line drew most of the ire from the fanbase, but make no mistake: this was a bad tight end room last year. Eli Drinkwitz did little to upgrade this position on the transfer market, opting to run it back. The veteran Stephens played the most of this batch last year, but overall the unit was no threat in the receiving game and the run blocking was so poor the staff often had to rely on a sixth offensive lineman in their stead. Look, no one is asking for this group to be as good as Georgia’s, or even UCLA’s, but it is important to return to competence at the tight end position. Stephens developing into a playable option as a run blocker will be a big stride forward to a better offense overall in 2023.