Position Reset: Wide receiver
The second Missouri football season of the Eli Drinkwitz era has come and gone. The Tigers started the 2021 campaign slow, losing early swing games at Kentucky and Boston College and getting blown out by Tennessee, but then rallied late to win six games and attain bowl eligibility. After falling to Army on the final play of the Armed Forces Bowl, Mizzou finished the season 6-7.
Now, it's time to take stock of the roster. Missouri, like virtually every other team, has already seen several players enter the transfer portal since the season ended. More attrition is expected. In this series, we'll go position by position to break down which players are expected to return and where the team could stand to add a difference-maker. In this edition, we take a look at wide receiver, where Missouri's recruiting haul, led by five-star Luther Burden, has generated quite a bit of optimism.
Entering the 2021 season, Missouri fans were excited about a remade wide receivers room. The coaching staff had brought in a couple new speedsters in Mookie Cooper and Dominic Lovett, and the hope was that, along with the crop of second-year players, they could infuse some more big-play ability into the receiving corps.
While the quarterback position certainly deserves some of the blame, that didn't really come to fruition. Missouri's three most experienced wideouts — Keke Chism, Tauskie Dove and Barrett Banister — retained most of the playing time, actually playing more as the season progressed. And no one emerged as a consistent weapon in the wide receiver corps. Running back Tyler Badie led the team in catches. No wide receiver reached 600 yards or scored more than three touchdowns. Perhaps most telling, no Missouri player recorded a 100-yard receiving game all season. The staff has once again signed a much-hyped trio of pass-catchers, headlined by Burden, and will hope to get more dynamism from the receiver room next year.
Departing: Keke Chism, Barrett Banister, Boo Smith, Micah Wilson
Chism, a former graduate transfer from Division-II Angelo State, led Missouri's wideouts in receptions with 41 and touchdowns with three last season. He also played nearly 79 percent of the offensive snaps on the season, so his departure will open up quite a bit of playing time. Banister played the majority of the snaps in the slot. The sure-handed senior caught 31 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown on the season. Banister has one season of eligibility remaining, but he has not announced whether he plans to return for a sixth season at Missouri. Smith was the one receiver who did show some big-play burst, as he averaged 24.4 yards per catch on the season. But the former walk-on wasn't used much on offense, touching the ball just 10 total times. Wilson, a former quarterback, largely functioned as a blocker.
Returning: Tauskie Dove, Mookie Cooper, JJ Hester, Chance Luper, Dominic Lovett
While Dove lacks the speed of Cooper or Lovett, he has emerged as Missouri's best downfield threat over the past two seasons due to his contested catch ability. Dove caught 38 passes for 576 yards last season. Look for him to start again next season as the lone upperclassman among the receiving corps.
Each of the other returning wideouts flashed ability in 2021 but couldn't turn it into consistent production. Cooper, a former four-star recruit who transferred to Missouri after one season at Ohio State, missed three games due to a foot injury. Cooper beat everyone deep for a 60-yard touchdown against South Carolina, but aside from that one play he caught just 15 passes for 126 yards on the year. Lovett started several games as a true freshman but saw his playing time wane as the season progressed. Across the final six games of the year, he caught a combined six passes for four yards. Luper, too, disappeared down the stretch. He caught 21 passes for 201 yards and a score across Missouri's first seven games then never touched the ball again. Lastly, Hester made a couple explosive plays, catching long touchdowns against Southeast Missouri and North Texas, but had some issues with drops. Luper and Hester recorded the two highest drop rates on the team, according to Pro Football Focus.
Incoming: Luther Burden, Mekhi Miller, Ja'Marion Wayne
The expectations seem to get higher every day for Burden. The nation's No. 1 wide receiver and No. 5 overall prospect in the 2022 class scored a 75-yard touchdown and also returned a punt 44 yards in Sunday's Under Armour All-America game. Burden put up ridiculous numbers at East St. Louis high this season, catching 71 passes for 1,190 yards and 23 touchdowns while scoring another 10 touchdowns as a return man. He'll enroll at Missouri in time for spring practices and is expected to compete for a starting spot right away, both at wideout and punt returner.
But the Missouri staff is excited about more than just Burden in the 2022 class. Wayne played all over the field for his Parkway West high school squad. As a senior, he threw a touchdown, rushed for 12 and caught 10. He should infuse some athleticism into the receiving corps. Miller has been billed as a polished route-runner who can play both out wide and in the slot. He, too, plans to enroll at Missouri in January.
Projected Starters: Dove, Burden, Cooper
Missouri will almost certainly continue to rotate wide receivers, allowing five to seven guys to see meaningful snaps each game. But two of the three starting spots seem relatively secure — and yes, we expect one of those to go to Burden, even though he hasn't even arrived on Missouri's campus yet. The slot position is the biggest question mark. Drinkwitz showed this season that he wants to find ways to get the ball into Cooper's hands, so if he can stay healthy throughout the offseason, we'd give him the edge to lead the way there. But Hester and Luper both lined up in the slot quite a bit this season, as well, and should push Cooper for playing time. Don't count out Miller, either.
Spring Practice storyline to watch: Which of the young players can step into a larger role? The coaching staff talked ultimately showed this season that it trusted the experienced guys more. But with Chism and, likely, Banister no longer on the team, some underclassmen are going to have to see their roles expand. Spring practices should give us our first look at who takes over those snaps.
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