It’s fall camp time! As your Missouri football Tigers begin their fall practices to get ready for the season, Rock M Nation will begin going through each position to take stock of the depth and project the position for the season.
It’s time to break down the offensive position with perhaps the most question marks: the tight ends.
The Returning Starter
Although his snaps waned in the last four games of the year, the 2022 starting tight end by snap counts was former Buffalo transfer Tyler Stephens. You’ll remember him from his one-handed grab against Georgia and countless run blocking.
The Returning Backups
Team HORSEWHIZ - aka Ryan Hoerstkamp and Max Whisner - featured only one guy seeing snaps, Hoerstkamp, while the other took a redshirt year. However, The Horse slowly started taking over starting duties as the year went on and was one of only two Mizzou tight ends that return this year who have caught a pass as a Tiger.
Brett Norfleet is the second blue-chip football/baseball recruit Eli Drinkwitz has taken in the past two years, following Sam Horn in the previous recruiting class. The tight end/defensive end prospect from Francis Howell is slated for tight end as that’s the position that needs a long term talent infusion the most.
Similarly, Jordon Harris was a 3-star tight end/defensive end out of Pine Bluff, Arkansas who actually spent much more time as an edge rusher than a pass catcher. However, for reasons listed above, he’ll currently be working out with the tight ends.
Quick! Can you recall Missouri’s best season by a tight end not named Albert Okwuegbunam since the Tigers joined the SEC?
Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
It was Sean Culkin’s unforgettable 2016 season in which he finished with *checks notes* 24 receptions for 282 yards.
Remember when the Tigers were TE-U? Eh, ‘bout that. The Tigers’ tight ends combined last season to catch 10 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. That’s obviously not ideal. But it’s a reality the Tigers have been living the past few seasons.
Missouri’s leading receiver at TE by season:
- 2022 - Tyler Stephens - 5 receptions, 54 yards, 1 touchdown
- 2021 - Niko Hea - 18 receptions, 145 yards, 2 touchdowns
- 2020 - Niko Hea - 14 receptions, 130 yards, 2 touchdowns
- 2019 - Albert Okwuegbunam - 26 receptions, 306 yards, 6 touchdowns
- 2018 - Albert Okwuegbunam - 43 receptions, 466 yards, 6 touchdowns
- 2017 - Albert Okwuegbunam - 29 receptions, 415 yards, 11 touchdowns
- 2016 - Sean Culkin - 24 receptions, 282 yards, 0 touchdowns
- 2015 - Sean Culkin - 16 receptions, 139 yards, 1 touchdown
- 2014 - Sean Culkin - 20 receptions, 174 yards, 1 touchdown
- 2013 - Eric Waters - 8 receptions, 72 yards, 1 touchdown
- 2012 - Eric Waters - 4 receptions, 27 yards, 0 touchdowns
So, is that going to change in 2023? I have my doubts, for two reasons. First of all, Missouri is remarkably young at the position. Camp reports seem to suggest Max Whisner, Brett Norfleet and Jordon Harris are the top contenders to see playing time at the position in 2023. Tyler Stephens will still have a role. We’ll see what comes from my personal favorite, Ryan Hoerstkamp.
Regardless of how the playing time shakes out, the players are either older and lack production or younger and need development. The odds of anyone emerging as a legitimately productive pass-catcher are slim.
Missouri’s new play-caller is another reason I’m skeptical of a significant bump coming at the position. Kirby Moore’s tight ends finished with a total of 34 receptions last season. I’m sure some of that was a lack of options. But some of it was also a product of Moore’s willingness to spread things out and get the ball into his playmakers’ hands while they’re in space. That tends to lead to fewer opportunities for tight ends unless your tight end’s name is Brock Bowers. And, let’s be honest, there’s only one Brock Bowers in this world.
Fresno State TE Production (Snaps) in 2022:
- Raymond Pauwels Jr. - 21 receptions, 185 yards, 2 touchdowns (485 snaps)
- Jake Boust - 5 receptions, 23 yards (353)
- Tre Watson - 8 receptions, 80 yards (199)
- Kamron Beachem - 0 receptions (19)
There is legitimate reason for optimism within Missouri’s tight end position group. Norfleet has upside both in the run and pass game. Harris is a prospect the Tigers seem high on. Whisner comes with some serious size at 6-foot-4 and more than 240 pounds. Whit Hafer, a member of Missouri’s 2024 recruiting class, is another potential blocking tight end.
The future is bright. The present requires some patience. I don’t know when Missouri’s #TightEndPassGame will return. I just know that day is not likely to be today.