Remember Missouri’s #TightEndU reputation during the late aughts? I do. It was awesome. Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman would catch over 800 yards in passes each and be the perfect redzone target for Chase Daniel. Michael Egnew carried that torch a little while longer, ending up with over 1,000 career yards in catches and earning unanimous 1st Team All-American status. But even with the brief glimpse of tight end magic from Albert Okwuegbunam, it’s been awhile since the Tigers have had a truly game-breaking tight end. Albert O came close from a touchdown standpoint but was never a good enough blocker or open-field threat and had injuries cut two of his season short.
In fact, the last time Missouri had a tight end finish his career with over 1,000 yards receiving was Michael Egnew in 2011. He was also the last Missouri tight end to finish a season with over 500 yards, getting 523 in his senior year. Furthermore, the last tight end to have more than 50 catches in a year was Chase Coffman in 2008.
Now, a tight end doesn’t need 50+ catches, 500+ yards, and 10+ touchdowns to be effective; they can also be an athletic blocker for the running game and don’t need to be constantly involved in the passing game to be useful. I won’t speak for all Missouri fans but...I don’t know...I just feel better when a Missouri offense has a giant receiver playing tight end that earns reliable targets and can move the ball as well as haul in touchdown catches.
None of the guys listed below have shown the ability to do both (yet), but they all have experience. Let’s take a look at the 2020 tight end roster.
Daniel Parker, Jr.
DPJ came to Mizzou as a defensive lineman, but was able to utilize his offensive lineman skills effectively as a big, mobile, road-grading tight end. He reliably made it on the field in 2018 as he logged several bulldozing blocks for Dooley’s offense, but was asked to do a little too much in 2019 once Albert O went down. He has decent hands but he won’t ever outrun someone in a straight up sprint, and wasn’t always in a position to convert downs. The fact that he is playing at all is a miracle, but the thing that he’s shown to be the best at is to attach to the end of the line and destroy some fools in the running game. If Coach Drinkwitz wants to use him as a pass catcher as well, that’s fine by me, but DPJ’s strength will always be in the run blocking scheme.
The Untested Olds
Brendan Scales and Logan Christopherson
Scales and Christopherson have been on campus at Mizzou for a combined 9 years; they also have combined for one passing target and one catch for one single yard. Scales saw the field some in ‘17 while Albert O was breaking out, but was passed up by DPJ his sophomore year. Meanwhile, Christopherson has seen the field a few times as a blocker, but that’s about it. Much like every other position in this preview, all of these guys will probably see the field at some point, but one of these two specifically will need to step up to provide some elder reliability for the tight ends. Scales was rumored to be on the verge of a breakout year in 2019 before breaking his foot in fall camp and missing most of the season. Here’s hoping he can rekindle that breakout magic and share a little bit with Christopherson.
The Young Guns
Messiah Swinson and Niko Hea
Messiah Swinson became a victim of the “Odom Bump” his freshman year of 2018 where coaches raved about his athleticism and how he’d be a huge weapon...and then he tore his ACL in fall camp and barely saw the field in 2019. He’s certainly built like a redzone threat, akin to the big receiver-tight end types that box-out in the red zone and bully smaller safeties and slower linebackers in open field passing concepts. Whether that’s actually how he’ll play will be decided later, but I will have my eye on him and how he is utilized.
And then you get the wildcard, Niko Hea. Hea was an unknown to the recruiting services when he committed to Mizzou but quickly earned a 3-star rating. Because of the quiet nature of his recruiting, he was filed as an afterthought in my mind, but it was hard to ignore him when he consistently found himself on the field towards the end of 2019. His catch rate and success rate weren’t great, but he did assert himself as a nice second blocking tight end. If he carves a niche as a H-back utility guy that would be great, letting a second tight end take over the pass catching responsibilities. But given the Hea was an 18-year old freshman on the field, and Swinson has rarely been on the field, all the unknown potential is right there for the proving.