Last week was all about the departing seniors, as the pro prospects who shaped Missouri’s 2024 season went and starred in their showcase draft prep games. (Seriously, how fun has it been reading all the love for legendary Tiger Darius Robinson?)
But spring ball will be here before we know it, so let’s take a look at — and rank — the potential impact that these nine veteran newcomers will have on the field this fall. If you asked me to rank by long-term potential, the list would look a little different. After all, three players (Noel, Carroll, and Flagg) will only be in Columbia for one season each, meanwhile some, like, McClellan and Smith, have incredible blue-chip recruiting profiles to tap into as they blossom as Tigers.
1.) Left tackle Cayden Green — Missouri’s transfer class will be relied upon to fill some massive shoes, and no one has as singular an assignment as Cayden Green replacing Javon Foster at left tackle. Other positions have multiple options or a rotation of veterans; Green will be on a high-profile island replacing Foster as a run-game key and protecting Brady Cook’s blind side. Foster was magnificent for three years, and this year he was both Mizzou’s best run blocker AND best pass protector according to PFF grading. Green was, well, green as a true freshman in Norman, but will continue to mature in Columbia as he works with position coach Brandon Jones. Green has the kind of recruiting pedigree and early track record to indicate he can blossom into a capable Foster replacement starting this fall.
2.) Running back Nate Noel — I am very high on Nate Noel’s ability to be a game-changing runner for Mizzou in his lone year in Columbia. Noel is a game breaker, and has proven himself to be one of the best backs in the country on a per-carry basis during his time in Boone. He brings big play speed in a way that was sometimes missing with Schrader: Mizzou’s run game finished only 88th in explosiveness. Noel’s injury history hints that he won’t be able to replace Schrader’s workman-like role, but he will have a major impact on the team by adding a new big-play wrinkle to the field.
3.) Cornerback Toriano Pride — Like Joseph Charleston, Mizzou’s first defensive back transfer from Clemson, Pride projects to slot immediately into a starting role and make a major impact. With the loss of Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw to the NFL, Mizzou will have to replace arguably the best cornerback tandem in school history. Pride can’t replace both, but his overall profile suggests he will be able to contribute star-level play on the perimeter immediately — and Missouri will need him to do so.
4.) Middle linebacker Corey Flagg — I like Chuck Hicks, I really do. By all accounts, he is a great leader for the team and his ability to battle back from so many injuries is inspiring. But there were times against high major opponents that #30 didn’t look like he belonged on the field, either in making tackles against the run or in coverage. If Corey Flagg can step in and play at a Chad Bailey in 2022 level, that will go a long way to firming up the middle of the Missouri defense.
5.) Running back Marcus Carroll – Mizzou’s other fifth-year Sun Belt East running back had a slightly different story at his first stop in college ball. While Nate Noel has shown since 2020 that he is a game-changer when healthy, Carroll mostly waited in the wings for three years while other ballcarriers got a chance. That changed in 2023, when he had a Schrader-like breakout season as a workhorse, finishing tough drives and closing out wins for Georgia State. Carroll will get the first crack at replicating The Shredder’s tough running, and he has the experience with zone-blocking schemes to provide a reasonable facsimile.
I’m going to do this next batch of defensive line transfers as a set, by position.
6&7) Interiors Chris McLellan and Sterling Webb – There are plenty of opportunities for big bodies to make an impact in the defensive interior rotation after the losses of Jayden Jernigan, Josh Landry, and Realus George. Mizzou will be much younger at this position next year, as a pair of juniors arrive to compete with their own in-house prospects. This room has a lot of upside, and not a lot of proven commodities after Kristian Williams. Webb flashed real interior pass-rushing skills at New Mexico State; if that skillset can translate to the SEC then he will be a serious hidden gem for this team. If I had to guess, I would venture that Webb will finish with a few more pass-rushing statistics like sacks and pressures than McClellan, but the Florida transfer will have a bigger impact on the field thanks to his space-eating and gap-filling ways. He is primed for a breakout season under Al Davis’ tutelage.
8&9) EDGEs Zion Young and Darris Smith – This pair is the biggest unknown for how they will impact the 2024 team, in my opinion, but that is fine because they are also stepping in to the most well-stocked position room of all of the groups listed here. Johnny Walker Jr will be one of Missouri’s best players next season, veteran Joe Moore is back, and all-galaxy recruit Williams Nwaneri is joining the gang in the summer. Are Young and Smith going to be depth pieces, like Moore this year or, say, Tre’Vez Johnson was this year at safety? Or will one of them prove to be an instant-impact piece like Kristian Williams and Ty’Ron Hopper were two years ago?
Young’s role will be more straightforward: he will likely slot into a classic defensive end role, perhaps taking Nyles Gaddy’s snaps, or perhaps more. Smith is an X-factor. He has outside linebacker versatility and could carve out a more unique role, especially if new coordinator Corey Batoon is going to play three linebackers together more often than Blake Baker did. Perhaps there is a Hopper-like havoc machine role in Smith’s future, as an athletic freak, or perhaps he blossoms as a pass-rusher. He also left the Georgia team last year during the middle of the season; so a high-level contribution is by no means a sure thing as he looks to restart his career.
Mizzou’s winter portal class is full of high-upside players, some proven, some with work to do to establish themselves in the SEC. It’s a class ready to drive the team towards the goal of “why stop now?” and with many of the 2023 “something to prove” group moving on, there will be plenty of opportunities for this batch of nine players to make their mark on the 2024 season.