Welcome to the next installment of this series that has taken us from the dog days of summer all the way up until kickoff against South Dakota. I have ranking the top 40 footballing Tigers for the 2023 season, counting down five a week as we approach the first game, and today I wrap up the series.
This idea was 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:
What have I learned over the course of this exercise? I mapped out the Top 40 at the beginning of the summer, and had to make a few tweaks along the way due to injuries and camp reports. In hindsight, I would like to have Connor Tollison (39) much higher; I didn’t see him keeping the center job to be honest. I also had an eye towards Ryan Hoerstkamp having an increased role at tight end, but that does not appear to be in the cards.
The lack of overall movement needed is good. The team stayed healthy during preseason camp, and the roster is chock full of veterans. Most roles are well defined, with only a few position battles to hammer out. If the high-ceiling players are ready to break out, this team will surpass expectations.
Let’s finish the countdown with the Top 5. These are your most important Tigers: starters at critical positions who have already shown a good baseline of production, and must be ready to take another step forward if this team is going to overachieve.
5: Luther Burden, Sophomore, Wide Receiver
The blue chip purveyor of potato chips was a Mizzou superstar the moment he committed to the program, but this season is when his production will actually match his reputation. Luther was explosive but understandably inconsistent as a true freshman, and often struggled with press coverage against bigger, older, and stronger SEC corners. He is moving off of X and into the slot receiver position, where he will be more comfortable and where players feast in Eli Drinkwitz’s offense. All indications point to Luther Burden stocks to the moon this season.
4: Darius Robinson, Graduate, Defensive Line
When I made this list, I put most of the upperclassmen returning defensive starters in the teens — the TyRon Hoppers, Kris Abrams-Draines, etc. These players had already displayed a high ceiling on good position groups and had little else to prove. Robinson would have received a similar treatment, except his newly expanded role means he has a chance to make an even bigger impact this fall.
Robinson will work at defensive end this season, to help bolster a thin position and showcase his versatility. With a deep interior lineup and an unproven set of ends, the vision is that Robinson will help set the edge on early downs and move inside to collapse the pocket on passing downs. On paper, this should be a boon for Blake Baker’s rotations and for Robinson’s draft stock. Time will tell if the move is actually worthwhile, and if it actually helps raise the overall performance of the defensive line as a unit.
3: Theo Wease, Senior, Wide Receiver
Last season’s wide receiver corps was a band with five drummers. Everyone did the same thing. With Dominic Lovett transferring to Georgia and Barret Bannister matriculating, the redundancies have been minimized. Burden gets to move into the slot, and Wease takes over at X, a position that suits him well as a prototypical tall, galloping perimeter threat. The former five-star recruit and Oklahoma Sooner will help redefine this passing game: if he and Burden are both stars, this offense could really take off. If not, expect more game management football.
2: Brady Cook, Junior, Quarterback
Despite all his flaws in his first year starting, Brady Cook is going to get every shot to win this job again, his loudest critics be damned. There’s a real chance Cook is much improved in his second year starting: players improve year-to-year, especially quarterbacks. His shoulder is healthy, his offensive line should be much improved, his receivers fit together better, and the offensive scheme and playcalling should be elevated. Brady Cook might be fine? Brady Cook might be fine! But if he isn’t, and he still holds on to the job because the other options are even less prepared, then God help us all.
1: Cam’Ron Johnson, Junior, Offensive Line
Houston transfer Cam’Ron Johnson is the Number One most important Tiger for the football season. No matter which quarterback lines up for the meat of the schedule, the interior of the offensive line must make tremendous strides to protect him, and that is what Johnson arrived on campus to do. The former all-conference guard gave center the ol’ college try during the offseason, but ultimately he will stick at his natural position. Johnson provides an instant upgrade at right guard, bolstering a troublesome spot last season. His veteran presence provides leadership and healthy competition to the young guns Connor Tollison and Armand Membou. This offensive overhaul only works if the line is vastly improved, and that only works if Johnson makes the kind of sweeping impact he was brought in for. With so much swinging on his performance this season, he is the #1 Most Important Tiger of 2023.
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
10: Johnny Walker Jr, Junior, Defensive End
9: Javon Foster, Graduate, Offensive Tackle
8: Sam Horn, Redshirt Freshman, Quarterback
7: Armand Membou, Sophomore, Offensive Tackle
6: Daylan Carnell, Sophomore, Defensive Back