As the 2023 season approaches, we’re asking our football staff to answer a series of questions facing the Mizzou Tigers. Read along to get their takes on who should start, who will shine and who will leave their mark on the season.
Remember those days? When long, strong tight ends roamed the green field of Faurot, lumbering over puny defenders, displaying mammoth feats of strength and athleticism?
Long gone are the days Chase Coffman, Michael Egnew and Martin Rucker. But at this point, I think we’d all settle for a little more Sean Culkin. So the question is...
There are plenty of options for Eli Drinkwitz and Kirby Moore to choose from at the tight end position. Who has the edge to start for Mizzou at tight end?
Parker Gillam, Beat Writer: The tight end spot has seemingly been a missing piece of the Missouri offense since Eliah Drinkwitz arrived, with Niko Hea’s 145 yards in 2021 serving as the best individual season since then. While Drinkwitz—and now Kirby Moore’s—offense does not key in on the tight end position much, you would still like to see more production from the group.
The cupboard isn’t barren, per se, but someone is going to have to step up and establish themselves as the true No. 1. Former Buffalo transfer Tyler Stephens is a solid blocker but is limited in the passing game after recording only 54 yards as the starting tight end last year. To his credit, that one-handed TD snag against UGA was pretty clean.
Greater potential may lie within former 3-star recruit Ryan Hoerstkamp, as he has some athletic ability to go along with his 6-foot-4 frame. After redshirting in ‘21, Hoerstkamp started against NMSU and Arkansas, scoring a 32-yard touchdown against the Aggies. If he can improve as a blocker, the Washington, Mo. product may be the most complete tight end on the team.
Or, maybe incoming freshman Brett Norfleet out of Francis Howell High School could steal the show? The 6-foot-7 Norfleet was a two-sport star in high school (baseball) and was recruited heavily as a 4-star prospect.
At the end of the day, I’d expect the reliable Stephens to continue on as starter, at least for the first three games. Still, the opportunity will certainly be there for Hoerstkamp or Norfleet to prove themselves and take over.
Quentin Corpuel, Staff Writer: If you’re asking me to predict who Mizzou’s starting tight end will be, I’d go with Tyler Stephens. He was the starter last season, and there’s nothing that’s popped up from the offseason that would suggest that any of the other tight ends have separated themselves yet.
If you’re asking me who I’d want Mizzou’s starting tight end to be… boy, if Brett Norfleet’s blocking even just mostly translates to the college level, we’re looking at an awfully high ceiling. Norfleet looked like an NBA center amongst his peers in high school, and when he blocks, he’s shown he can steamroll defenders like Michael Oher’s character did in that one scene in The Blindside. But again, everyone’s bigger at the college level, so I’m not 100% sure Norfleet can serve up pancakes like he did in high school. I’ll just take the boringly diplomatic stance and say that Stephens will be the TE1.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: I have to assume Tyler Stephens has the edge, as it prompted by the question. No one else on the roster has the trust of the staff like Stephens and all the more high-end options are still quite young or too green to count on.
But as Quentin pointed out, Brett Norfleet sure has the goods to tantalize us. He’s got the size, athleticism and pedigree no one in Columbia has had since Albert Okwuegbunam. You’d like to see him break into the rotation early, if only because it shouldn’t be too hard to do so. Whether it’s Norfleet or someone else, it would be nice to see some more stand out moments from the tight ends in 2023.