The Missouri Tigers enter the 2019 season with a load of new pieces and the unknown. Will this transfer market destination that they have built work?
The Missouri Tigers have been surprisingly good ever since they entered the SEC with Texas A&M in 2012. It’s been a good fit for the Eastern Division, as they have been fierce competitors, winning the division in back to back seasons (2013 and 2014, respectively).
After head coach Gary Pinkel’s retirement prior to the 2016 season, the Tigers hired Bary Odom to be his successor, a move that was questioned by the experts. It appears to have worked out as Odom developed quarterback Drew Lock into a second-round prospect, and the Tigers have competed fiercely again the past couple of seasons.
All of that being said, the Tigers enter 2019 with a lot of uncertainties. The departures of Lock, wide receiver Emanuel Hall and running back Damarea Crockett don’t exactly leave the cupboard bare but take a significant chunk of the Tigers offense away.
Missouri has reloaded well by experts standards. Having added former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant and transfer free agent wide receiver Jonathan Nance from Arkansas, this offense has become very intriguing as we look at their 2019 status.
What the Missouri Tigers lost from 2018.
Four-year starting quarterback Drew Lock is gone. His career at Missouri leaves him as a Tiger-legend, having set every passing record he could have possibly dreamed of setting during his time in Columbia.
Drew Lock was the leader of the offense. He had a gunslinger mentality, always bouncing back from difficult plays and games and performing at a professional level. He was good enough that the Denver Broncos deemed it necessary to select him early in the second round of the NFL Draft.
His favorite target, Emanuel Hall, has departed for the big leagues as well. Hall led Missouri in receiving yards and tied the lead for receiving touchdowns last season, gaining 828 yards and scoring 6 touchdowns. Hall was a big frame receiver who was lethal moving down the field. His 22.4 yards per catch average proves that.
Damarea Crockett split the backfield with Larry Rountree but was by far the better pass game contributor. He ran for 709 yards last season and scored 8 touchdowns.
What Missouri is going to try to run in 2019
Kelly Bryant appears to be the successor to Lock, and brings with him from Clemson his dual-threat quarterback ability. Over 29 games and 18 starts, Bryant passed for 3338 yards, while rushing for 973 yards and being responsible for 32 scores. While these numbers are good, they certainly are not mind-boggling. Considering the team he was playing with and a load of top-level talent surrounding him, one would expect the numbers to be significantly better.
Bryant is a completely different type of quarterback than Drew Lock was. He’s a running quarterback, not a drop back and throws from the pocket type of a guy. This is going to call for a more run-centric type of an offense, centered around Bryant and Larry Rountree.
Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley has never run this type of offense throughout his whole career. Dooley worked Lock into a great quarterback and had a pretty good one as the head coach at Tennessee in Tyler Bray that shared a lot of similarities to Lock. This running quarterback deal is something terribly new to him.
This type of offense has worked to some degree in the SEC, as long as the offensive line is physical enough. Auburn has seen great success when the front is up to par. Alabama saw it with Jalen Hurts, and Florida with Tim Tebow.
Now to say that Missouri will see this type of success because of Bryant’s arrival would not be entirely accurate. Bryant has serious shortcomings that prevented him from playing in a National title.
Bryant flashes the ability to make good and accurate throws. He has done so plenty so far. However, when asked to sit in the pocket and make throws, he doesn’t do that so well.
Why are you trying to force this throw? Kelly Bryant, again, struggling from the pocket.
Look at the wonky release too. It has to be one of the strangest releases that I have ever seen. pic.twitter.com/8FCrjhK7NN
— John D. A. Vogel (@johndavogel) June 29, 2019
Not only does he look uncomfortable throwing from the pocket, but his decision-making isn’t crisp either. It hasn’t appeared to have gotten better yet either:
Kelly Bryant tries to make a throw from the pocket but seriously? What is this?
He looks terribly out of place and uncomfortable. Quite amazing to think that he started a full year at Clemson.
Bryant is by far at his best outside of the pocket and when the play has broken down pic.twitter.com/Du95gh3o9B
— John D. A. Vogel (@johndavogel) June 29, 2019
He looks so uncomfortable trying to make a throw from the pocket. He bounces as he works through his progressions with no subtilty, landing into a stance much too wide and throws from this difficult platform, straight into the trailing cornerbacks legs. Incredible throw (full sarcasm intended).
Kelly Bryant is most effective and at his best when outside of the pocket and on the move. He creates plays. He itches for the play to break down so he can get out of the pocket.
Clemson defeated many teams with Bryant at the helm, 16 of the 18 games he started were wins after all. However, Bryant’s team was a little more stacked than the roster he has at Missouri, and yet his production still lacked in 2017.
The receivers at Missouri
As previously mentioned, Emanuel Hall has departed for the NFL. That doesn’t leave the cupboard completely barren, though. Senior Jonathan Nance transfers over from Arkansas, where he missed most of the season due to an injury in 2018. He had 10 starts in two seasons at Arkansas, netting 547 yards and averaging 14.1 yards per catch. Nance is a solid slot option, only 6’0″ and 190 pounds, he has good quickness and consistent hands. Here he is in the Missouri spring game:
Jonathan Nance is quick, and a very decent slot receiver. Because of Kelly Bryants shortcomings, i would fully expect to see Nance used very often in these types of plays. pic.twitter.com/kwMzkwDtZm
— John D. A. Vogel (@johndavogel) June 29, 2019
Jalen Knox was a true freshman last season who was pressed into playing with Hall’s injury. He ended up doing very well for himself, and secured a starting job, starting 8 games. He’s built very similarly to Nance, but is more reliable as a deep option.
Johnathan Johnson returns too, currently projecting as a day three NFL Draft pick. He’s the smallest of the projected starting trio, listed at 5’10” and 210 pounds. He generally plays more as a wide receiver two and has very reliable hands.
What seems to be missing here is the prototypical SEC hulking big wide receiver, the clear cut number one guy. Knox is the closest there is to that guy, but he’s still just a sophomore. Knox showed potential last season, but not to that kind of a role.
The Tight Ends
This is where junior tight end Albert Okwuegbunam will have to play a major role. Okwuegbanum was projected to be an early-round pick as a redshirt sophomore last season, but he elected to stay in school another year and further cement his stock.
He’s a hulking 6’5″ 255 pounds and a good receiver. He struggles to bring any real significance to the running game, as he really is simply a receiving threat and doesn’t block very well. He caught 43 passes last season, gaining 466 yards and 6 touchdowns across 9 starts.
While Kendall Blanton moved on to NFL ranks, sophomore Daniel Parker appears primed to be the next tight end two on the roster. A former defensive lineman, Parker has transferred over to the offensive side of the ball and threatens to be a force in run support.
The running game
Dual-threat running back Damarea Crockett has moved on, but Larry Rountree, Mizzou’s leading rusher last season, returns. Rountree ran for 1216 yards while splitting the backfield last season, averaging 5.4 yards per run and scoring 11 touchdowns. He doesn’t bring any significant passing threat, and should be sharing the backfield again – this time it will be with Kelly Bryant.
Rountree showed good patience and field vision as a runner last season – oftentimes busting for long runs. He is a threat at all times to go the distance with the rock. His efforts last season earned him third-team All-SEC honors.
Behind Rountree is sophomore Tyler Badie, who looked very good in limited time last season. Badie averaged 4.9 yards per attempt for 437 yards last season and scored two touchdowns. Missouri should use Badie in Crockett’s old role, splitting time in the backfield getting most of the third-down work.
The offensive line returns three starters from last season, but the left guard and the right tackle are both brand new. Both projected starters are sophomore. There are 78 career starts on the offensive line currently, as all three returning starters haven’t missed a game in the past two years.
What to expect in 2019
Missouri’s schedule in 2019 is intriguing. They open the season on the road in Wyoming, have other away games in Nashville against Vanderbilt, Lexington against Kentucky, one in Georgia and the last against Arkansas. West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and South Carolina all travel to Columbia to take on the Tigers at home.
Much of the lesser talent in the conference Missouri has to play on the road, so it can be assumed that the Tigers may drop one game out of the Arkansas/Kentucky/Vanderbilt group. Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee all prove to be formidable opponents this season.
I firmly believe that most of the potential success of this team rests on the performance of Kelly Bryant. Despite his shortcomings and potential flaws, it’s up to the Tigers to build an offense around his skill set that allows Bryant to flourish to the best of their abilities. To be honest, I’m not entirely certain that is something Dooley is capable of doing.