Welcome to the next installment of this series that will take us from the dog days of summer all the way up until kickoff against South Dakota. I’m ranking the top 40 footballing Tigers for the 2023 season, counting down five a week as we approach Labor Day weekend.
This idea is blatantly ripped off from a Florida State outlet, Noles247, which did their own ranking. I liked the concept and wanted to do it for our Tigers, so thanks to the team over there for the inspiration.
What defines an important player? Excellent play, of course, especially at important positions. Players who have high ceilings and low floors: high variance could define how a specific position group performs. Players at positions that are thin on the depth chart or looking to rebound after a tough season. Players getting the first opportunity to start at Mizzou, either as young players filling in for veterans or highly-touted transfers.
Previous articles in the series:
This week’s theme is: Offensive X-factors.
This is the last week where I batched the players in together to create a theme – once we hit the top 15, I plan to just cover the top players all together.
Missouri’s season will be defined by the offense makeover, if new coordinator Kirby Moore and his charges can rise to the occasion and complement the excellent defense. A host of transfers join forces with a veteran group of returnees, a formula that worked wonders for Eli Drinkwitz and Blake Baker last season in turning around the defense in one year. This group will help provide depth to raise the offense’s floor, but breakout seasons from some of the players on this list would go a long way to generating a truly dangerous scoring threat.
20: Ryan Hoerstkamp, Sophomore, Tight End
While neither Eli Drinkwitz nor Kirby Moore have shown the tendency to have tight ends that stockpile targets and receptions, it’s still an important position. Especially against the big and athletic defenses of the SEC, having a versatile player that can add numbers in the run game or be a receiving threat. Last year’s roster was so sorely lacking that player that the Tigers even trotted out a true freshman offensive lineman to play snaps at tight end. When I mapped out this series, Hoerstkamp seemed like probably the best bet to take a step forward in development this year, although reports from camp indicate that one of the youngsters Max Whisner or Brett Norfleet could also be the guy. Missouri doesn’t need a Travis Kelce at tight end, hell, it doesn’t even need a Michael Egnew. But a Sean Culkin would be nice.
19: Bence Polgar, Senior, Center
In full disclosure, I originally mapped out this list in early summer. At the time, before we gleaned insight at SEC media days and before preseason camp opened, the interior offensive line was a huge unknown. There has been more clarity since, and Polgar’s name hasn’t rung out this month. The Buffalo Transfer missed the 2022 season because of academics, but could factor into the depth at offensive line. Improved play in the trench is paramount for these Tigers, and Polgar’s presence — either on the field himself or as depth/chart competition — will be a push towards that result.
18: Dannis Jackson, Junior, Wide Receiver | Mookie Cooper, Junior, Wide Receiver | Demariyon “Peanut” Houston, Senior , Wide Receiver
Okay, I’m cheating and taking all three. Last year’s receiving corps was a good selection of names on paper, but on the field it was a group of redundant slot receivers who did not complement each other’s game at all. You don’t build a supergroup out of four bass players. With Luther Burden moving to slot and Theo Wease taking over at x, the lineup will be more traditionally built. This opens up opportunities for a trio of former Power Five transfers to make their mark in Columbia. Cooper looks set to start at y, and Peanut’s potential is exciting as a deep threat similar in build and skillset to Wease. Jackson has flashed impressive elusiveness in camp, and could remake his career after a disappointing campaign in Oxford. Burden and Wease are set to hold down the top two roles, but this trio of veterans will have opportunities as well, and at least will bring a better selection of talents to the band.
17: Marcellus Johnson, Graduate, Offensive Tackle
Just like a transfer portal rebuild was needed on the defensive line after the 2021 season, so too was an offensive line rebuild needed in Columbia after last fall’s miserable effort up front. Enter Marcellus Johnson, a multi-year starter at left tackle at Eastern Michigan. Yes, it’s just a little MAC school and the mighty SEC represents a major step up in competition. But Missouri faithful should take solace that Johnson started and thrived at Chris Creighton’s EMU program, which is built on physicality, bullyball, and excellent play in the trench. Marcellus might be the less ballyhooed of the two Johnson transfers on the offensive line, but his ability to lock down the right tackle spot will be a major ingredient in this unit taking a step forward.
16: Nathaniel Peat, Graduate, Running Back
Peat was Missouri’s most impressive back in September of last fall, but he found himself out of the rotation by midseason thanks to a few costly fumbles and his inconsistent running style. He is the fastest offensive player on the Tiger roster, and his name — which is Nathaniel, not Nate, by the way — has carried the day in preseason camp. Optimism abounds in preseason practice, and the current belief is that a better offensive infrastructure and a better offensive line will lead to a career year for the Columbia native.
Previously in this series:
40: DJ Wesolak, Redshirt Freshman, Linebacker
39: Connor Tollison, Sophomore, Center
38: Riley Williams, Junior, Punter
37: Dreyden Norwood, Redshirt Sophomore, Cornerback
36: Tyler Stephens, Senior, Tight End
35: Triston Newson, Freshman (JUCO), Linebacker
34: Jake Garcia, Sophomore, Quarterback
33: Tavorus Jones, Redshirt Freshman, Running Back
32: Mekhi Miller, Sophomore, Wide Receiver
31: Nyles Gaddy, Redshirt Junior, Defensive End
30: Xavier Delgado, Graduate, Offensive Guard
29: Josh Landry, Graduate, Defensive Tackle
28: Jayden Jernigan, Senior, Defensive Tackle
27: Joe Moore, Junior, Defensive End
26: EJ Ndoma-Ogar, Junior, Offensive Guard
25: Joseph Charleston, Senior, Safety
24: Realus George, Graduate, Defensive Tackle
23: Jaylon Carlies, Senior, Safety
22: Kristian Williams, Senior, Defensive Tackle
21: Chad Bailey, Senior, Middle Linebacker