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Mizzou’s most sought-after NFL prospects ever, and how their careers panned out

With the draft set to take place this week, let’s take a look back at some of the best Tiger players that have had their names called early in the draft.

FBC-KANSAS-MISSOURI Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Tyler Badie will hear his name called within the first two days of the 2022 NFL Draft. Akayleb Evans should hear his shortly after, and there are plenty of other Mizzou football players that are eager to find out where they end up this weekend.

In the spirit of draft weekend, let’s throw it back to when the Tigers had some of the top prospects at the draft, and how they fared in the league.

Via Mizzou Athletics

5) Joe Moore, Running Back

Hometown: St. Louis, MO

Picked: Round 1, #11 overall (1971)

Drafted By: Chicago Bears

Teams Played For: Chicago Bears (1971, 1973)

Years as NFL starter: 0

College Stats (1968-1970): 453 carries, 2,244 rushing yards, 5.0 yards per carry, 15 touchdowns

Career Timeline: The oldest player on this list, Joe Moore paved the way for future Mizzou star running backs. He set the single-season rushing mark for the Tigers which stood for 19 years in 1969 with 1,312 yards on the ground. A shoulder injury derailed a senior season in which he was one of the leading rushers in the nation through five games, and he almost certainly would have set plenty more records that year.

Moore was drafted by the Chicago Bears but had a short stint in the NFL, only playing two seasons. He was inducted into Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, and he has gone on to coach football at the high school level in St. Louis, as well as track and field.

Via Mizzou Athletics Newspaper Archive

4) Morris Towns, Offensive Tackle

Hometown: St. Louis, MO

Picked: Round 1, #11 overall (1977)

Drafted By: Houston Texans

Teams Played For: Houston Oilers (1977-83), Washington Redskins (1984-86)

Years as NFL starter: 4

College Stats (1974-1976): 1st Team All-American (1976)

Career Timeline: Towns was arguably the most accomplished offensive lineman in Missouri history by the time his career was over, and may still be. He earned his first letter as a sophomore and excelled in his junior season against some top-tier competition.

His real triumphs come in his senior season, however. He was a first team All-American for a team that managed to take down #8 USC, #2 Ohio State and #3 Nebraska all on the road.

His stellar senior campaign earned him a spot with Houston Oilers, and he went on to have a successful 9-year career in the NFL. He was an engineering student at Mizzou and has worked as a civil design engineer in Texas after his time with football. He was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

INSIGHTBOWL Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

3) Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback

Hometown: Ballwin, MO

Picked: Round 1, #10 Overall (2011)

Drafted By: Jacksonville Jaguars

Teams Played For: Jacksonville Jaguars (2011-13), San Francisco 49ers (2014-16), Arizona Cardinals (2017), Tennessee Titans (2018), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2020-21)

Years as NFL starter: 2

College Stats (2008-2010): 60.9 completion percentage, 6,822 passing yards, 7.3 yards per attempt, 40 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 132.6 QB rating

Career Timeline: The greatest Missouri quarterback of all time (that’s safe to say, right?) was highly sought-after coming out of high school. Gabbert was a 5/4-star recruit with offers from Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, Nebraska, and many others. He initially chose Nebraska, but a Huskers coaching change got him to stay home, and the Mizzou faithful could not be more thankful.

Gabbert played sparingly his freshman campaign, learning from veteran Chase Daniel. It was only a matter of time until he broke onto the scene, however, as he threw for 313 yards with 4 touchdowns (one rushing) against Illinois to kick off his sophomore campaign. He threw for a career-high 468 yards against Baylor later that year, and was one of the top quarterbacks in the nation by season’s end. He earned second team All-Big 12 Honors, but perhaps even more impressive was that - all while he was dominating on the field - he was a first team All-Academic athlete in the Big 12.

Gabbert led an upset of #1 Oklahoma in his junior season, ending a 7-game losing streak to the Sooners. While his 2010 season did not match the numbers he put up the previous year, he still solidified himself as an NFL prospect.

Gabbert was drafted early by the Jaguars, but after two seasons, he never really found his footing as a starter. In turn, Gabbert has been able to live out of the most envied jobs in the world: NFL journeyman. He has bounced around the country over a 10-year career as a quality backup for those that need it. He currently is on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster.

FBC-SDSU-MISSOURI Photo by Mike Ransdell/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

2) Aldon Smith, Defensive End

Hometown: Kansas City, MO

Picked: Round 1, #7 overall (2011)

Drafted By: San Francisco 49ers

Teams Played For: San Francisco 49ers (2011-14), Oakland Raiders (2015), Dallas Cowboys (2020)

Years as NFL starter: 4 (1 Pro Bowl)

College Stats (2009-2010): 79 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, 1 interception, 5 pass breakups,

Career Timeline: While not highly-touted coming out of high school (3-star), Aldon Smith certainly was sought-after at the end of his collegiate career.

Smith redshirted his freshman season before starting 11/13 games as a redshirt freshman. He recorded 60 tackles and 11 sacks in a breakout season, earning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and was a Freshman All-American. Smith recorded 48 tackles and six sacks as a redshirt sophomore.

Despite only two years of play, Smith had shown on film that he was NFL-ready. The 49ers took a chance on him, and he delivered. He played in 50 games over five seasons, recording 152 tackles and 44 sacks. Smith finished second behind Von Miller in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, and then followed that up with a Pro Bowl season in 2012.

Off the field troubles plagued his career, however, and ultimately it was what defined it. Smith was first arrested in 2012 after the season for suspicion of driving under the influence. In 2013, Smith crashed his truck into a neighborhood tree and was arrested on suspicion of DUI again. He then entered rehab, came out of it, and then turned himself in for owning three illegal weapons after a house party which saw multiple people injured and Smith himself stabbed.

In 2014, he was arrested for suspicions of making false bomb threats in the LA airport, although no charges were filed. He was then suspended by the NFL for 9 games for violating the substance-abuse policy of the NFL, and the following offseason was arrested on hit-and-run, DUI, and vandalism charges. Smith was released by the 49ers and signed with the Raiders, but after a couple of seasons and plenty more legal trouble, including multiple charges (DUI, domestic violence, and false imprisonment, to name a few) he was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. Even though he signed a 1-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys in 2020, he still has yet to be reinstated by the NFL.

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Missouri Tigers

1) Justin Smith, Defensive End

Hometown: Jefferson City, MO

Picked: Round 1, #4 Overall (2001)

Drafted By: Cincinnati Bengals

Teams Played For: Cincinnati Bengals (2001-07), San Francisco 49ers (2008-14)

Years as NFL starter: 14 (5 Pro Bowls)

College Stats (1998-2001): 183 total tackles, 37 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks

Career Timeline: If anybody is the poster child for Mizzou football, it is Justin Smith. The local mid-MO product was an absolute force in high school, winning a state title and earning all-state honors. While in Columbia, he did much of the same.

Across a 4-year career, Smith was a 2x All-Big 12 selection, a first team All-American as a junior in 2000, Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and set the career sacks record at Mizzou with 22.5 (now sits as #2).

The accolades were one thing, but it was his mindset that people so respected. Smith was noted to always run conditioning drills with defensive backs in order to keep himself in top shape, and he had an endless motor on the field. Nobody took more pride in donning the black and gold than Justin Smith, and he showed that every time he took the field.

The Cincinnati Bengals scooped him up as the fourth overall pick of the 2001 NFL Draft, and he finished a 7-year career with them as #4 in sacks for the franchise all-time.

In San Francisco was where he really shined, as he made five straight Pro Bowls from 2009-2013. To go along with that, he played in a whopping 185 straight games and played in the 2013 Super Bowl against the Ravens. Unfortunately, a left shoulder injury ended his noteworthy career and forced Smith into retirement.

He was known as the lovable “Cowboy” in the NFL, and he continues to be a major proponent for football and the state of Missouri.

This quote from the great Vic Fangio sums him up perfectly: “I think the one thing that defines him is that he’s just a warrior in the truest sense of the word,” former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told the Sacramento Bee. “He played a whole season last year (2014) with half an arm. There are a lot of guys that wouldn’t have even gone out there. But the guy loves football, loves playing, loves competing. He’s definitely in my personal top three or five Hall of Fame (players) that I’ve been around.”