Happy portal season, friends! Eli Drinkwitz is staying busy, adding yet another transfer to the Tigers’ 2022 roster. And he doesn’t appear to be done just yet.
The commitment shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Drinkwitz and his staff have been looking for a tight end via the portal to replace Daniel Parker Jr., Mesiah Swinson and Niko Hea after Swinson and Parker’s transfer, and Hea’s medical retirement.
The portal has become college football’s version of free agency. Similar to the NFL, when a team loses a player or multiple players at a respective position, the coaching staff now looks for his replacement via the portal. That was the case for the Tigers last year at cornerback and linebacker, and it remains the case this offseason... well, at a number of positions.
Missouri has added nine known transfers at the writing of this piece. The new transfers play running back, tight end, offensive guard, center, defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, cornerback and safety.
It should come as no surprise Missouri also lost players this offseason via transfer at tight end, tight end, defensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback and safety. They also lost key contributors at running back, center and linebacker. The additions aren’t exactly random.
Stephens is simply the latest, and one which comes out of necessity given the Tigers’ lack of scholarship options at his position.
Where he fits: Well, he’ll fit squarely into the mix at tight end. Missouri lost three tight ends from the roster since the end of last season: Swinson, Parker and Hea. The Tigers added a 3-star prospect out of Lee’s Summit in Max Whisner and now Stephens via the transfer portal. The only other tight ends currently on the roster for 2022 are Ryan Hoerstkamp and Gavin McKay, both of whom saw very limited action a year ago.
When he’ll play: The expectation should be for Stephens to play right away. He’ll likely battle McKay for playing time. Hoerstkamp and Whisner are your prototypical “in-line” tight ends. They’ll do the dirty work in the running game and run up the seam in the passing game.
Meanwhile, McKay and Stephens both profile as “move” tight ends. They’ll likely spend the majority of their time in the slot, off the line of scrimmage. Drinkwitz loves to use his tight ends in different ways and adding a different skillset to the group should allow him to do exactly that.
What it all means: Missouri needed to make an addition at tight end. It’s just not feasible to get through the season with three scholarship players at the position, especially when none of them have a history of producing at this level.
Stephens had 15 receptions last season for Buffalo. Parker and Swinson had 17 receptions combined last year for Missouri. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Stephens is able to replace their production with Hoerstkamp filling Niko Hea’s role in which Hea finished last season with 18 receptions for 145 yards.
It’s also entirely possible Missouri changes the way it operates next season. Drinkwitz has a history of utilizing multiple tight ends, but he’s a bright offensive mind with the ability to adapt his offense to his personnel. The Tigers suddenly have a plethora of options at wide receiver, including Barret Banister, Tauskie Dove, Dominic Lovet, Mookie Cooper, JJ Hester, Chance Luper and the incoming Luther Burden. Missouri could use more 4-wide formations to optimize the talent on the field, which would result in fewer multi-tight end formations.