It’s fall camp time! As your Missouri football Tigers begin their fall practices to get ready for the season, Rock M Nation will begin going through each position to take stock of the depth and project the position for the season.
It’s time to break down the offensive position with the highest accumulation of offensive talent: the wide receivers.
The Returning Starter
Touchdown Luther. Local star. Chip pitch man. Newly minted slot receiver. Heisman trophy winner? Historically, one of Missouri’s two 5-star recruits ever successfully signed out of high school - and one of two former 5-star receivers on this year’s roster - Burden is the unequivocal star of the Tiger football team and a guy looked to as a break out star in 2023.
With the transfer out of All-SEC receiver Dominic Lovett, Missouri hit the portal to bring in some guys to replace Dom’s elite pass catching ability. Eli Drinkwitz came back with two: Theo Wease, Jr., a former 5-star from Oklahoma whose usage waned after an injury; and Dannis Jackson, a 4-star recruit who managed 35 targets in four years at Ole Miss.
The Returning Backups
Mookie Cooper is former 4-star transfer from Ohio State who has seen various levels of usage over his two years on campus.
Mekhi Miller was a mere freshman last year who made multiple memorable - and game saving - plays late in the season.
Demariyon “Peanut” Houston was a JUCO transfer who was heavily featured in the loss to Wake Forest to close out the season.
Chance Luper had a tantalizing season in 2021 but missed ‘22 with an illness that kept him on the sideline all year. Luper is still recovering and on a medical redshirt scholarship.
Ja’Marion Wayne was a freshman last year and, despite playing primarily wide receiver in high school, was sent to join the safety rotation for the ‘22 season. He’s now back with the receiving corps for ‘23.
Josh Manning is a local blue-chip recruit who projects as a big possession-type receiver at the collegiate level.
Marquis Johnson likes to talk about how fast he is and seems perfectly built as a potential slot receiver who gets sent on deep 9-routes.
Daniel Blood was a versatile, do-everything receiver in high school who can hopefully be able to keep that versatility in college or find a niche to thrive in.
Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we? Replacing Dominic Lovett is not going to be easy. Lovett was one of the most productive wide receivers on a per-snap basis in all of college football last year. He finished with Pro Football Focus’ third best offensive rating among all Power Five wide receivers to finish with at least 30 targets. His 2.94 yards per route run was sixth among P5 receivers behind only Johnny Wilson (Florida State), Jaylin Hyatt (Tennessee), Trey Palmer (Nebraska), Marvin Harrison, Jr. (Ohio State), Quentin Johnston (TCU) and Emeka Egbuka (Ohio State) (min. 30 targets). That’s a who’s who of college football’s best receivers last year.
Replacing Lovett’s production one-of-one is probably a pipe dream. Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be the plan. What Missouri’s staff hopes to do instead is to replace Lovett’s production in the aggregate with added depth to a group that lacked it in a serious way a year ago.
Depth is part of the improvement. More clear and coherent roles is another. Mizzou tried to play way too many slot receivers last year. Lovett, Cooper, Burden, Houston and Barrett Banister all did their best work out of the slot.
That’s a lot of players battling for snaps in a rather limited role. And when you have Lovett, well, the role is pretty much filled. Add ‘Third and Banister’ into the mix, and, well, the snaps are pretty much spoken for.
Slot reps in 2022:
- Dominic Lovett - 245
- Barrett Banister - 202
- Everyone other Mizzou WR, combined: 392
The result was Burden lining up out wide on 85 percent of his snaps. Cooper was outside on 62 percent of his snaps. That’s not the best usage of those players. The coaching staff knew it, but there really wasn’t any legitimate alternative.
The natural attrition of college football now allows for Missouri’s receivers to be in their best position to succeed. Burden and Cooper should get more opportunities in the slot, along with Houston. Incoming transfers Dannis Jackson and Theo Wease, Jr. are both comfortable winning against man coverage from an outside alignment. They both serve as “burners” who can open up space for the slot receivers, tight ends and running backs to win on shallow routes, especially across the middle.
Mekhi Miller is a name to keep an eye on. He can play inside and out. Ja’Marion Wayne is a favorite of mine, and he projects to fill an outside wide receiver role as well. I wouldn’t sleep on freshman Joshua Manning carving out a role outside, either.
Missouri had some talented receivers last year, but the roles just never seemed to fit. Getting the right players into the right roles this season should unlock their full potential. I’m expecting a much more efficient season out of Burden now that he can operate out of the slot. Jackson and Wease are going to come down with some big plays, even if they don’t get massive volume. Miller and Manning are the two receivers I think will find a way to surprise some fans.
Replacing Lovett will not be easy. But this group has the talent and the depth to make things a whole lot easier for whoever ends up starting at quarterback for the Tigers.