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Assessing Transfer Portal Quarterbacks for Mizzou Football

An in-depth look at the resumes of potential QB targets for Eli Drinkwitz and Missouri football

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Arkansas at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Monday, December 5th, the NCAA transfer portal officially opened for business for football players. As expected, a host of student-athletes entered their names, looking for new homes. While Missouri fans will certainly be disappointed by star receiver Dominic Lovett’s pending exit, the portal has been a great source of talent for coach Eli Drinkwitz in his tenure in Columbia. He added key contributors in the 2021 season and successfully overhauled the defense heading into the 2022 season.

However, Drinkwitz did publicly whiff on his efforts to land a quarterback upgrade on the veteran market last offseason. The three most public flirtations all chose different landing spots than the friendly confines of Faurot Field: JT Daniels (West Virginia), Jayden Daniels (LSU), and Gerry Bohanan (South Florida). This became even more exasperating for the Tiger partisans as incumbent Brady Cook slogged through a long season, and former blue-chip recruits Sam Horn and Tyler Macon were deemed by the staff as unable to contribute during the current season.

But the 2023 offseason is an opportunity for a mulligan, and Missouri could use an infusion of quarterback talent. With that in mind, let’s run down some quarterback transfer candidates, and check if they would be worth the effort for Drinkwitz and his staff to chase. We’ll divide our list of quarterbacks into three tiers: Don’t Bother, Might be Worth the Chase, and YES, PLEASE GO ALL IN.

This exercise is only going to focus on FBS players with experience. Missouri will have two unproven prospects in for spring ball – Sam Horn and the incoming Gabarri Johnson – and a third would hardly be necessary.

(DISCLAIMER: I’m not a scout or a scheme guy; I haven’t broken down film or charted their throws. What I have done is research their past production and possible reasons for transfer, as well as how they might fit in the Missouri quarterback room.)

Before we get into the “real” first tier, let’s quickly look at something I’ll call: “Wouldn’t It Be Funny…..Nah…..” This list gives us three names:

  • Brett Gabbert, Miami of Ohio – our old QB’s little brother!
  • Connor Bazelak, Indiana – We had some good times, didn’t we? And some bad times. Go be the 2023 MAC Player of the Year, Connor. Please.
  • JT Daniels, West Virginia and Georgia and USC – Daniels has an arm that could elevate Missouri’s passing attack, but a number of factors prevent him from being a fit for Mizzou in 2023: his complete lack of mobility, his declining production, his injury history, his NIL demands, his spurning of Mizzou once before. Thanks, but no thanks.

Okay, so our real first tier is “Don’t Bother:” 17 guys who have FBS experience but would not represent a meaningful upgrade for Mizzou. Most of these guys were solid players at the Group of Five level, backups or occasional starters for a Power Five team, or failed P5 starters looking for better opportunities.

  • Group of Five players: Chandler Rogers, ULM; Collin Schlee, Kent State; Daniel Richardson, CMU; Davis Brin, Tulsa; John Paddock, Ball State; Layne Hatcher, Texas State
  • Power Five backups: Alex Padilla, Iowa; Haynes King, Texas A&M; Jack Tuttle, Indiana; Jason Brown, Virginia Tech; Jordan McLoud, Arizona; Luke Altmeyer, Ole Miss; Malik Hornsby, Arkansas.
  • Power Five starters: Jeff Sims, Georgia Tech; Mike Wright, Vanderbilt.
  • Colorado group: Brendon Lewis, Colorado; Owen McCown, Colorado.

None of these players have proven to better than Cook, or shown more upside than Horn and/or Johnson. No reason for Missouri to chase them in lieu of more important needs.

Moving on, let’s look at ten experienced quarterbacks that make up my “Might Be Worth the Chase” tier. This group won’t completely reset Missouri’s expectations for the quarterback room, but would likely be an upgrade and would be worth some modicum of effort. I wouldn’t sell the farm – either the NIL budget or your entire staff’s man hours – to land them, but would happy to see them become Tigers.

(A note on stats: I’ve used some underlying metrics rather than typical box score numbers. Rush yards are with sack yardage removed. I’ve included Pressure to Sack percentage as Cook allowed far too many pressures to end with him on the ground, and avoiding those negative plays will be a huge key for Missouri’s 2023 success. Lastly, PFF’s passing grade is for 2022 only since they don’t have career grades; all other stats are career FBS numbers.)

Reed is a fascinating prospect; he thrived in D2 before leading WKU’s high-octane offense for one year. He has a big arm talent and a gunslinger reputation. I became infatuated with Braylon Braxton on this project; he put up strong numbers as a true freshman on a go-nowhere team at Tulsa. Mikey Keene is a young, raw talent who was a poor fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense. I could see any or all of them having an impact at the Power Five level, but ultimately I think Missouri is looking for a more short-term proven option than a scratcher ticket.

Smith, Card, and Calzada have flashed both potential and problems as rotation quarterbacks in the Lone Star State. None of them would deserve the keys to the car, no questions asked, but could be an upgrade over Cook landing in a new situation.

Spencer Sanders is an interesting case after long up-and-down career in Stillwater. He led a team that was literally inches away from winning the Big 12 title game last year, but has had some period of poor play and is turnover-prone. His dual-threat talents and ability to avoid sacks would be a nice fit.

Moving on to our final tier, “YES PLEASE, go all in:” four options who are clear, immediate upgrades from Day 1 on campus. Missouri should chase these guys and try to have them wearing black and gold in 2023.

All of these players are from the ACC, and all of them had difficult 2022 seasons despite solid career performances up to this point. Let’s take a look at each.

Brennan Armstrong is the best player on this list. His production cratered in 2022 when his team moved away from Robert Anae’s QB-friendly system, but this is the best available quarterback on the market. It would be a coup for Missouri to land him, and he would instantly raise their ceiling.

Devin Leary overlapped with Eli Drinkwitz at NC State for a year, and he had a fantastic career in Raleigh. It’s fair to hope the two are fond of each other from recruiting days and Leary’s redshirt year. His season-ending shoulder surgery opened the door for freshman MJ Morris to take the reins, and so Leary is looking for a new home to finish his college career. He is a truly excellent college quarterback and a reunion with Drinkwitz makes a ton of sense.

Kedon Slovis had a rough year in Pittsburgh in Pat Narduzzi’s caveman football system. But his career numbers from his time in USC’s Air Raid offense are spectacular. He is a true pocket passer and would not offer much in the way of scrambling.

DJ Uiagalelei would be following in a well-trod path: benched by Dabo Swinney at Clemson for a 5-star freshman, and head to Missouri to reinvigorate career. The tools are top-notch for Uiagalelei, even if his performance didn’t reach the expectations set by recent Clemson signal-callers. The accuracy is some concern, but everything else is world-class; in college, you can make that work. He would be great as a different vintage of Tiger, and Missouri fans should hope they get to put in the work learning how to pronounce his name. It’s oo-ee-UHN-guh-luh-lay, folks.

There are a lot of ways for Missouri to upgrade their team in the transfer portal this offseason: impact players at offensive line, edge rusher, and slot receiver will be prioritized. There are a number of candidates at quarterback who could improve Missouri’s overall play, but only a handful of available players that could truly raise their ceiling significantly.