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Missouri Football Spring Preview: Who becomes the Tigers' go-to receiver? Anyone?

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It's day three of spring practice, and we're talking about receivers.

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Wide Receivers

Seniors Juniors Sophomores Freshman Class of 2016
Chris Black 6'0 190 J'Mon Moore (R) 6'3 190 DeSean Blair (R) 6'3 190 Richaud Floyd (R) 5'11 165 Dimetrios Mason 6'0 180
Eric Laurent 6'3 215 Nate Brown 6'3 205 Keyon Dilosa (R) 6'3 200 Justin Smith (R) 6'7 200 Harry Ballard (R) 6'2, 180
Dominic Collins 6'3 175 Emanuel Hall 6'3 196 Jon Johnson (R) 5'8 174
Ray Wingo (R) 5'11 175
Gone:

Wesley Leftwich

Returning Starters:

Nate Brown (27-326, 4 TD), J’Mon Moore (29-350, 3 TD),

Other Returning:

Eric Laurent, DeSean Blair, Keyon Dilosa, Emanuel Hall, Ray Wingo, Richaud Floyd, Justin Smith, Johnathan Johnson

Newcomers:

Chris Black, Dominic Collins, Dimetrios Mason, Harry Ballard, Early Enrollees: Chris Black

Recap: There weren't a lot of positives to recap regarding this group. A lot of Mizzou’s offensive struggles last season stemmed from iffy performances at the skill positions. Within the receiving corps, drops were a concern. Matt Harmon, who writes for NFL.com and does extensive work on charting receivers has a lot to say about the subject:

Without a doubt the most egregious of these is when someone starts the evaluation of a wide receiver with their drop issues.

"Well, it’s pretty important for a wide receiver to catch the football." "He just drops too many passes." "He can’t catch." I’d rather you scrape all your nails over a whole school’s worth of chalkboards than hear one of those phrases be your leading point in a debate about a wide receiver’s merit.

Dropped passes tend to stand out in our memories, but last year was a confluence of poor coaching, injuries, timing issues and quarterback play. Fans acknowledged Mizzou’s offensive line was bad and that Maty Mauk and Drew Lock struggled, yet ignored the impact both had on Missouri’s wide receivers. J’Mon Moore played through a shoulder injury that should have ended his season, while other receivers had similar injuries that quietly contributed to their poor play. Nate Brown had a nice game against a pretty bad South Carolina team. Cam Hilton made a mid-season switch to receiver and looked like a natural catching passes from his roommate, Lock.

Predictions: A lot of changes. I feel confident that Chris Black will be a starter, likely from the slot position, but after that there's not enough from last year to base opinions on -- there was so much fluidity due to injuries and offensive struggles that the whole group is a giant question mark. Because there are so many possibilities, and the position is so muddled, I'm going into a little more detail here than in previous preview predictions.

Justin Smith (#8), Keyon Dilosa (#15) J'Mon Moore (#6)

The X-receiver, or "boundary receiver," is the guy who lines up on the closest sideline, which means there's less space to run routes. That's what J'Mon Moore has been for his three years on campus. He's somewhat demonstrated that when he's focused, he can make highlight plays like this catch against Kentucky. It's probably the most difficult position because the receiver has to fight through press coverage and has smaller windows to work in.

The Z-receiver, or "field receiver," is the guy who lines up on the wide side of the field, thus giving him more "field," or space, to operate. That's where I believe Nate Brown is a more natural fit. The Z doesn't usually have to beat a press but if he can get open the QB has to accurately throw the ball the furthest distance with the most time for defenders to make a read. This is why so many of the routes are either drag/slant routes narrowing the distance the ball flies in the air, or post/out routes where the QB can use the sideline to reduce risk.

There's a host of guys after those two who all have talent but never really showed the consistency to become starters last year. DeSean Blair showed great hands last fall with a couple of great catches and reminds me a lot of L'Damian Washington in terms of build and skills. I believe he should play Z, but he got some reps at X last fall when Moore got into a little trouble.

Last fall, we were certain a true freshman would play, but we weren't guessing it'd be Emanuel Hall. But Hall came on toward the end of last season and has the build and skills to be an X receiver. After Hilton (who has moved back to safety this spring), Hall showed perhaps the best chemistry with Lock. Keyon Dilosa is someone I compare to Marcus Lucas in that he has good size and is a solid athlete but can struggle with "focus drops." Dominic Collins was brought in to compete for the backup position at either the X or the Z. I'm hoping Jonathan Johnson is healthy enough to become the primary backup slot receiver and kick/punt returner. Ray Wingo has speed for days, and he or Richaud Floyd could be ready to go if Johnson isn't healthy.

Justin Smith (pictured) is very tall

Yesterday, I talked about Missouri's first practice and one of the things I mentioned was how 6'6" Justin Smith stood out and deserved the nickname "Godzilla". Turns out word got back to him.

From Smith's twitter:

Richaud Floyd's twitter:

Linebacker Ferrod Gardner:

Seems that's settled then.

Dimetrios Mason looks like a slot guy who should redshirt this year, while Harry Ballard, at the time of this writing, looks like a prototypical X receiver who might have to redshirt due to the NCAA's academic redshirt policy.

That's a lot of words. Here are my spring predictions in visual chart form:

Z or "Boundary" Receiver Y or "Slot" Receiver X or "Field" Receiver
J'Mon Moore (R) 6'3, 190 Chris Black 6'0 192 Nate Brown 6'3, 205
Emanuel Hall 6'3, 195 Jon Johnson (R) 5'8, 174 Dominic Collins 6'3, 175
DeSean Blair (R) 6'3, 190 Ray Wingo (R) 5'11, 175 Keyon Dilosa (R) 6'3, 200
Eric Laurent 6'3 215 Richaud Floyd (R) 5'11 165 Justin Smith (R) 6'7, 200
Harry Ballard (R) 6'2, 180 Dimetrios Mason 6'0 180

What to Watch: Missouri brings back basically everything at wide receiver, which is why they rank fairly high in returning experience. Andy Hill’s move back to coaching wide receivers should go a long way toward leveling out the level of play from the group and might help the problems they had with outside blocking.

Players will have to adjust to a new offensive scheme and with that will come some hurdles that we can't foresee and might mean certain guys above no longer fit. Will we finally see the four-star potential from Nate Brown? Is Chris Black a solution in the slot? Does anyone separate themselves from the pack and become a go-to receiver? Mizzou spent a lot of time trying to manufacture explosive plays in the passing game because they knew they couldn’t be efficient -- how does that change this year?

(It will be interesting to follow fans' view of Moore this year considering his role in the boycott/protests in November. Charles Harris and Anthony Sherrils were also prominent in the protests, but their success on the field may have limited fans' possible negative feelings toward them. Moore's up-and-down year might have made him more of a target.)