COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri added high-quality weapons to the passing game in 2021, but Eli Drinkwitz still relied heavily on his trusted veterans at wide receiver positions. Three upper-class men in the receiving group saw the field the most last fall, Keke Chism (757 snaps) and Tauskie Dove (687) on the outside, and Barrett Banister (317) in the slot.
This year, the Tigers will continue to mix young and old. Dove is back for its fifth season at Mizzou. Banister returns for a sixth year. Four sophomores who each showed shards last fall will be in the mix.
But when spring training begins Friday and culminates with the March 19 spring game, all eyes will be on a wide receiver player. Luther Burden III may not have his No. 3 shirt number by then – under Drinkwitz newcomers must earn their number in training – but the five-star rookie will draw attention to every route, every catch and, if he lives up to his nickname, every touchdown.
“Touchdown Luther,” along with fellow first-year wide receiver Mekhi Miller of Overland Park, Kansas, signed up in January and will participate in spring drills as part of a group of wide receivers that Drinkwitz has rebuilt from zero in two years.
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Of the 12 scholarship recipients and tight ends on the roster this spring, only two were on the program when Drinkwitz arrived after the 2019 season.
This spring, he hands over receivers to newly hired positional coach Jacob Peeler, who came from Texas State where he served as an offensive coordinator and previously coached receivers at Ole Miss, including current stars of the NFL AJ Brown and DK Metcalf. Special teams coordinator Erik Link will now lead the tight ends.
“All of these guys in this (receiving) room have room to improve, and I really feel like Jacob can come in with instant credibility because of what he’s been able to prove and do in his past places. and gives these guys the opportunity to really shine and find out who they are,” Drinkwitz said. “I think what really excites me is Jacob’s mentality and how he goes about leading this position. We need to improve. There is not a single area in the football team that I think is competing at a high enough level right now. This piece has a lot of talent. Considering where we are got to where we are now, I feel really good about this opportunity for these guys and for us to continue to grow.
In Dove and Banister, the Tigers fire two reliable playmakers. Banister’s 93 career receptions lead the team by a wide margin. More than half of his catches — 48 over the past four years — have been first downs. Of 124 career targets, he’s dropped just three assists, per Pro Football Focus.
Dove’s 924 career yards on 70 catches is the best among returning players.
Dominic Lovett and Mookie Cooper, former homegrown prep stars for East St. Louis and Trinity Catholic, respectively, hoped to stretch the field with explosive plays last year, but their production was spotty at best. Cooper, a transfer from Ohio State, suffered a foot injury all season, missed three games and finished with 17 catches — zero drops — for 194 yards and a touchdown. Lovett was in the field for 278 snaps, but quarterbacks only targeted him 36 times, which resulted in 26 catches for 173 yards. The freshman never seemed to uncork the big play. The average depth on his targets was just 5.9 yards down the field. His only touchdown came on a designed run play.
JJ Hester split time between the outside and inside receiver spots and made the most of his 12 catches, averaging nearly 19 yards per reception with two touchdowns. Chance Luper was in and out of the lineup, but caught 21 balls for 203 yards in just nine games.
Where does Burden fit into the mix? He played all over the court during his jaw-dropping career at Cardinal Ritter High School and East St. Louis, where in four years he caught 232 passes for 4,868 yards and scored 81 touchdowns.
Whatever position he plays, he will be expected to produce immediately, even if Drinkwitz and his collaborators publicly temper their thoughts.
“A lot of people can’t play first grade because of the speed and the physical part. But Luther is not a little guy,” said Brandon Gregory, former coach of Cardinal Ritter. “Trainer (Darren) Sunkett is doing a great job with his weight program (at East St. Louis), but when he comes into Mizzou’s program, he’s 195, 200 pounds now, but he’ll get to 205, 210 easily. because he’s already a bigger kid. From a physical point of view, he will give himself a chance to hit the pitch from day one.
The tight end position is another story. The Tigers must replace the top three players from last year as Daniel Parker Jr. and Messiah Swinson both transferred to Oklahoma and Arizona State, respectively, and Niko Hea medically retired from the sport . That leaves Ryan Hoerstkamp as the only purse tight end who saw the field last year, all 71 snaps scattered over four games. Drinkwitz has found an experienced tight end in the transfer portal, Buffalo’s Tyler Stephens, and some numbers to look for before the season starts.
Wide receivers at a glance
- Tauskie Dovesenior: No touchdowns last year, but averaged 15.2 yards per catch.
- Barrett Rampsenior: Mr. Reliable — more like Dr. Reliable entering his sixth year at Mizzou — will become the seventh Mizzou to pass more than 100 career receptions in the program’s SEC era.
- mookie cooperYear 2: Transferring from Ohio State provided the highest efficiency rating when targeted (121.8) among the team’s returning receivers.
- JJ HesterSophomore: The big-play threat averaged 18.8 yards on his twelve catches, caught the longest pass of the season, a 65-yard oblique and a Tyler Macon leak against SEMO.
- Dominique Lovett, sophomore: What happened in the second half of the season? He caught 26 balls for 173 yards, but only six catches for 4 yards in the final six games of the season.
- Luck Lupersophomore: I enjoyed the small group pre-season camp, but the goals dropped at the end of the year.
- Luther’s BurdenFreshman: The five-star receiver is the highest-rated rookie on the team (6.1 per Rivals.com) since Dorial Green-Beckham in 2012.
- Mekhi MillerFreshman: A three-star prospect gets an early jump on offense by signing up early.
- Ja’Marion WayneFreshman: The 6-4 point guard did it all at Parkway West as a senior: 413 receiving yards, 651 rushing yards, 22 touchdowns, 54 tackles, five interceptions, four fumble recoveries.
- Keke Chism: The former D-II transfer led receivers with 41 catches, five drops last year.
- Bou Smith: The explosive wide rarely saw the ball (11 targets from 70 snaps) but averaged 24.4 yards per reception.
- Micah Wilson: Converted quarterback used primarily as a blocker in the running game.
- Jay Maclin: Transfer portal entered mid-season, resurfaced in North Texas.
Tight ends at a glance
- Ryan HoerstkampRedshirt freshman: Played 56 snaps in last two games but preserved the redshirt season.
- Gavin McKayredshirt freshman: No offensive snaps in 2021.
- Kibet Chepyatorsenior: Walk-on saw the field in a game of bowls.
- Shawn Hendershotsophomore: Walk-on played against SEMO.
- Tyler Stephensjunior: Buffalo transfer timeshare as a slot receiver and line tight end in 2021, caught 15 balls on 26 targets for 157 yards.
- Max WhispererFreshman: Lee’s Summit native averaged 16 yards per catch in high school.
- Daniel Parker Jr..: First block tight end transferred to Oklahoma after catching 41 passes in four years.
- Niko Hea: Medically retired, led tight ends with 24 targets, 18 catches last season.
- Messiah Swinson: Traded to Arizona State, caught seven passes in past two seasons.
Part of a series highlighting the positional depth of Mizzou’s football team. Next step: the offensive line
Previously: running backs, quarterbacks