Welcome to the next installment of this series that will take us from the dog days of summer all the way up until kickoff against South Dakota. I’m ranking 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 their 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 important 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 the first opportunity to start at Mizzou, either as young players filling in for veterans or highly-touted transfers.
Previous articles in the series:
Now that I have reached the core of the starting lineup in the countdown, I have moved away from batching players together to create themes, and I am just listing the best and most important Tigers for the upcoming season. These are your star players, ones with both high expectations and room to grow. Their performance, their leadership, and their health will determine both the team’s floor and the team’s ceiling.
10: Johnny Walker Jr, Junior, Defensive End
Defensive end is the only position in the Missouri defense with more questions than answers. The offseason losses of Isaiah McGuire (NFL draft), DJ Coleman (matriculated), and Trajan Jeffcoat (transfer) leave the position wide open. Newcomers Joe Moore and Nyles Gaddy have already been mentioned in this series, and Darius Robinson and his position change to end will appear soon (spoiler alert). Walker is the in-house candidate for a breakout season after a few years in the program; he looked solid in an expanded role in the bowl game against Wake Forest.
If the pass rush production is diminished from the end position this season, coordinator Blake Baker will need to rely on linebackers and safeties to create pressure on quarterbacks, which could lead to more coverage breakdowns. A breakout season as an edge rusher from Walker to pair with the veterans Gaddy and Moore will go a long way to letting Baker run the kind of defense he wants.
9: Javon Foster, Graduate, Offensive Tackle
Javon Foster has been a rock at left tackle for a few seasons now, and another repeat performance from the veteran will be critical for Operation: O-Line Rebuild to be successful. Foster played well as the unit deteriorated around him last season; he might have the highest floor of performance of any player on the team. He is reliable, a preseason all-SEC selection, a team leader, a PFF grading darling, and likely an NFL draft pick. If he takes another step forward in his last year in Columbia, he could become a top tier draft prospect and lead the success of the new look offensive line.
8: Sam Horn, Redshirt Freshman, Quarterback
In full disclosure, when I mapped out this series back in early summer, I had Sam Horn number one with a bullet. But I have revised the list a touch and moved him down as he is firmly entrenched in a position battle with incumbent Brady Cook. Horn is the golden child, the fan favorite, the blue chip prospect….and maybe not the best choice for the job? His ceiling is higher than Cook’s, but it seems likely that his floor is lower, too. They will share the job in the first two games of the season, and I’m sure the online discourse around their play will be healthy, rational, and uplifting.
The narrative is actually pretty clear: if Missouri is content on offense to play complementary football with a game-manager at quarterback, Cook is the guy. But if this unit is going to take a major leap forward in explosiveness and run something similar to Kirby Moore’s offenses at Fresno State with Jake Haener, Horn is the one who can provide that game-breaking arm talent. Let the message boards burn.
7: Armand Membou, Sophomore, Offensive Tackle
Membou was forced into action last fall as a true freshman, and his play was a pleasant surprise. He filled in at multiple positions on the offensive line, and his performance was good for a teenager in the SEC. His role is growing this season as a true sophomore; all indications are that he has beaten out veteran Eastern Michigan transfer Marcellus Johnson for the right tackle spot. This is good news for two reasons: it shows Membou is flourishing, and the precocious talent is ready for a star turn and to seamlessly replace Foster in 2024. It also gives optimism that the interior of the line is taking a big step forward, since the staff feels comfortable enough with their pieces at guard and center to let Membou work at tackle.
6: Daylan Carnell, Sophomore, Defensive Back
It’s time for the breakout season. After a cup of coffee in 2021, Carnell flashed his ballhawk reputation last year while rotating at the STAR position with Martez Manuel. STAR is a nickel back/overhang position that has myriad responsibilities in defending modern college football offenses. Carnell led the team with three interceptions, and showed impressive coverage skills. The taller, leaner Carnell will have to make improvements to replace Manuel’s solid play in the box, particularly as a pass rusher, but his work on the perimeter already outpaces what the veteran Manuel could provide. Carnell adds heaps of upside to an already excellent secondary, and his ability to stuff a stat sheet and take the ball away will be critical if Blake Baker’s defense is ready to take another leap forward and join the nation’s elite.
Previously in this series:
40: DJ Wesolak, Redshirt Freshman, Linebacker
39: Connor Tollison, Sophomore, Center
38: Riley Williams, Junior, Punter
37: Dreyden Norwood, Redshirt Sophomore, Cornerback
36: Tyler Stephens, Senior, Tight End
35: Triston Newson, Freshman (JUCO), Linebacker
34: Jake Garcia, Sophomore, Quarterback
33: Tavorus Jones, Redshirt Freshman, Running Back
32: Mekhi Miller, Sophomore, Wide Receiver
31: Nyles Gaddy, Redshirt Junior, Defensive End
30: Xavier Delgado, Graduate, Offensive Guard
29: Josh Landry, Graduate, Defensive Tackle
28: Jayden Jernigan, Senior, Defensive Tackle
27: Joe Moore, Junior, Defensive End
26: EJ Ndoma-Ogar, Junior, Offensive Guard
25: Joseph Charleston, Senior, Safety
24: Realus George, Graduate, Defensive Tackle
23: Jaylon Carlies, Senior, Safety
22: Kristian Williams, Senior, Defensive Tackle
21: Chad Bailey, Senior, Middle Linebacker
20: Ryan Hoerstkamp, Sophomore, Tight End
19: Bence Polgar, Graduate, Center
18: Dannis Jackson, Junior, Wide Receiver/Mookie Cooper, Junior, Wide Receiver/Demariyon “Peanut” Houston, Senior , Wide Receiver
17: Marcellus Johnson, Graduate, Offensive Tackle
16: Nathaniel Peat, Graduate, Running Back
15: Cody Schrader, Graduate, Running Back
14: Kris Abrams-Draine, Junior, Cornerback
13: Ennis Rakestraw, Junior, Cornerback
12: Ty’Ron Hopper, Senior, Linebacker
11: Harrison Mevis, Senior, Kicker