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Sophomore Surge: Three Tigers set to take leaps forward in their second seasons

A side effect of top-tier recruiting classes is that we don’t get to see some of the highly-touted players until later down the line.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

When you have highly-touted freshmen recruits having to wait their turns behind experienced stars, then you know you’re doing something right as a football program.

That’s the case for the Missouri Tigers, as Eliah Drinkwitz and Co. have now reached the level of being able to sit talented newcomers for a year or two before they have to significantly contribute. This creates high-quality roster depth and ensures that those players are well-prepared when their time comes.

True, there are individuals like Luther Burden III and Williams Nwaneri that will demand playing time in their first seasons because they are simply that good. That’s another great problem to have.

But, there are plenty of freshmen from last season’s team that are set to take on even larger roles after learning from the elders that spearheaded the 2023 squad.

I took a look at three who I believe are set to become household names in 2024:

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Marvin Burks Jr.

Safety | St. Louis, Mo.

6-foot-1 | 201 lbs.

2023 Stats: 16 total tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 74 kick return yards on 4 returns

We saw plenty of flashes from Mr. Burks, who burst onto the scene with four tackles and a sack in the first game against South Dakota before recording five tackles against Memphis. He played sparingly through the remainder of the season, but Burks typically stepped up and performed well when his number was called.

He’s already got a great frame to play at safety in this league, and the former 4-star recruit showed that he has the physicality and instincts to tread water as a true freshman. Burks has a ways to go in terms of his development in coverage, but he is not afraid to get close to the line of scrimmage and hit anybody that crosses his path. He’ll likely be another “havoc” player for this defense down the line, as Burks fits a similar mold of Daylan Carnell in terms of his size and speed.

He also has potential as a kick returner, and I can see Burks improving in that regard with more reps next season.

With the significant amount of snaps that Burks received last season, it’s safe to say that this coaching staff trusts him and that they plan on him being a more prominent member of the 2024 unit. A host of players will likely compete for that free safety spot that Jaylon Carlies left vacant. Even if he doesn’t win the job, expect to see Burks rotating in frequently.

Logan Reichert

Offensive Guard | Kansas City, Mo.

6-foot-6 | 369 lbs.

2023 Stats: Redshirted

The true debut of the “Big Ticket” — as Reichert has become known within the program —has been long awaited, and Tiger fans figure to see it in 2024.

With a wingspan that approaches 6-foot-10 to go along with that size, Reichert is more than a figurative elephant in the room (I mean that in the nicest way possible.) He played at multiple spots in high school but his play style figures to translate to guard at this level.

I couldn’t think of a better player to learn from than Xavier Delgado at left guard, and that’s exactly what happened as Reichert redshirted in 2023. He should be mentally and physically ready for the trials and tribulations that come with competing in the trenches of the SEC.

Despite the imposing frame, Reichert is a legitimate athlete. The former high school basketball player has great footwork and often takes opposing defenders off-guard with his range of motion. The spot he plays in will largely depend on where Cayden Green ends up sliding to, be it either left guard or tackle.

Joshua Manning

Wide Receiver | Lee’s Summit, Mo.

6-foot-2 | 199 lbs.

2023 Stats: Appeared in 12 games on special teams

It’s a loaded wide receiver room yet again for Mizzou in 2024, as every receiver that caught a pass last season will return for another go-round.

But, that doesn’t mean that Manning can’t continue to work his way up the rotation. He saw the field sparingly on offense last season, but Manning bided his time on special teams and earned the respect of the coaching staff and players alike through it.

The rangy receiver has elite straight-line speed thanks to his track background and made a living as a downfield threat in high school. Fellow freshman Marquis Johnson appeared to fill that role for the Tigers last season, and I can see Manning taking a page out of Johnson’s book and making his impact as a splash-play receiver.

The depth chart is still loaded, and therefore I would be foolish to believe that Manning could post 20+ catches and become a starting wide out. But, he should see the field offensively more in 2024, and I can foresee Kirby Moore attempting to utilize him in a similar way to how he did Johnson in ‘23.

At the end of the day, the fact that a player the caliber of Manning is going to be hard-pressed to earn snaps is a great sign for this program. The depth of the WR room is among the best in the nation, and those two should only benefit as upperclassmen because of it.

Other sophomores who could take big leaps in 2024: Daniel Blood, Phillip Roche, Brayshawn Littlejohn, Jordon Harris