Burden’s arrival headlines Mizzou’s retooled receiver corps | Mizzou Sports News

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri added some high-grade weapons to the passing game in 2021, but Eli Drinkwitz still leaned heavily on his trusted veterans at the wide receiver positions. Three upperclassmen from the receiver 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 blend young and old. Dove is back for his fifth season at Mizzou. Banister returns for a sixth year. Four sophomores who each showed bursts last fall will be part of the mix.

But when spring practices begin Friday and culminate with the March 19 spring game, all eyes will turn to one player at wide receiver. Luther Burden III might not have his No. 3 jersey number by then — under Drinkwitz, newcomers have to earn their numbers in practice — but the five-star recruit will command attention with every route, every catch and, if he lives up to his nickname, every touchdown.

“Touchdown Luther,” along with fellow freshman receiver Mekhi Miller from Overland Park, Kansas, enrolled in January and will participate in spring drills as part of a receiver group that Drinkwitz has rebuilt from scratch in two years.

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Of the 12 scholarship receivers and tight ends on the roster this spring, only two were part of the program when Drinkwitz arrived after the 2019 season.

This spring, he hands the receivers over to newly hired position coach Jacob Peeler, who came from Texas State where he served as offensive coordinator and previously coached receivers at Ole Miss, including current NFL standouts A.J. Brown and DK Metcalf. Special teams coordinator Erik Link will now coach the tight ends.

“All those guys in that (receiver) room have an opportunity to improve, and I really feel like Jacob can walk in with instant credibility because of what he’s been able to prove and do in his past places and gives those guys an opportunity to really shine and figure out who they are,” Drinkwitz said. “I think the thing I’m really excited about is Jacob’s mentality and how he goes about coaching that position. We’ve got to improve. There’s not one area on the football team that I think is competing at a high enough level right now. That room’s got a lot of talent in it. Considering where we walked in to where we’re at now, I feel really good about that opportunity for those guys and for us to continue to grow.”

In Dove and Banister, the Tigers return two reliable playmakers. Banister’s 93 career receptions leads the team by a wide margin. More than half his catches — 48 over the last four years — have gone for first downs. On 124 career targets, he’s dropped just three passes, per Pro Football Focus.

Dove’s 924 career yards on 70 catches are the most among returning players.

Dominic Lovett and Mookie Cooper, former local prep stars from 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, played through a foot injury all season, missed three games and finished with 17 catches — zero drops — for 194 yards and a touchdown. Lovett was on the field for 278 snaps but quarterbacks targeted him just 36 times, resulting in 26 catches for 173 yards. The freshman could never seem to uncork the big play. The average depth on his targets was just 5.9 yards downfield. His lone touchdown came on a designed running play.

J.J. 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 grabbed 21 balls for 203 yards in just nine games.

Where does Burden fit into the mix? He played all over the field during his breathtaking high school career at Cardinal Ritter and East St. Louis, where over four years he caught 232 passes for 4,868 yards and scored 81 touchdowns.

Whatever position he plays, he’ll be expected to produce immediately, even if Drinkwitz and his staffers publicly temper their thoughts.

“A lot of people can’t go in and play as a freshman because the speed and the physical part. But Luther’s no little guy,” former Cardinal Ritter coach Brandon Gregory said. “Coach (Darren) Sunkett does a great job with his weight program (at East St. Louis), but when he gets into Mizzou’s program, he’s 195, 200 pounds now but he’ll easily get to 205, 210 because he’s already a bigger statured kid. From a physical standpoint, he’ll give himself a chance to touch the field on day one.”

The tight end position is a different story. The Tigers have to 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 returning scholarship tight end who saw the field last year, all of 71 snaps scattered across four games. Drinkwitz found an experienced tight end in the transfer portal, Buffalo’s Tyler Stephens, and figures to look for more before the season kicks off.

p align=”center”Wide receivers backs at a glance

p align=”center”Returning players

Tauskie Dove, senior: No TDs last year but averaged 15.2 yards per catch.

Barrett Banister, senior: Mr. Reliable — more like Dr. Reliable heading into his sixth year at Mizzou — will become the seventh Mizzou wideout to go over 100 career receptions in program’s SEC era.

Mookie Cooper, sophomore: Ohio State transfer provided the best efficiency rating when targeted (121.8) among team’s returning receivers.

J.J. Hester, sophomore:Big-play threat averaged 18.8 yards on his dozen catches, caught the season’s longest pass, 65-yard slant and run from Tyler Macon vs. SEMO.

Dominic Lovett, sophomore: What happened in season’s second half? He caught 26 balls for 173 yards but just six catches for 4 yards over the season’s last six games.

Chance Luper, sophomore: Enjoyed breakout preseason camp but targets fell off late in the year.

p align=”center”Newly arrived

Luther Burden, freshman: Five-star receiver is the team’s highest-rated recruit (6.1 by Rivals.com) since Dorial Green-Beckham in 2012.

Mekhi Miller, freshman: Three-star prospect gets early jump on the offense by enrolling early.

p align=”center”Coming soon

Ja’Marion Wayne, freshman: The 6-4 playmaker did it all at Parkway West as a senior: 413 receiving yards, 651 rushing yards, 22 touchdowns, 54 tackles, five interceptions, four fumble recoveries.

p align=”center”So long, farewell

Keke Chism: Former D-II transfer led receivers with 41 catches, five drops last year.

Boo Smith: Explosive wideout rarely saw the ball (11 targets on 70 snaps) but averaged 24.4 yards per reception.

Micah Wilson: Converted quarterback used primarily as blocker in run game.

Jay Maclin: Entered transfer portal midway through season, resurfaced at North Texas.

p align=”center”Tight ends backs at a glance

p align=”center”Returning players

Ryan Hoerstkamp, redshirt freshman: Played 56 snaps in final two games but preserved redshirt season.

Gavin McKay, redshirt freshman: No offensive snaps in 2021.

Kibet Chepyator, senior: Walk-on saw the field in bowl game.

Shawn Hendershot, sophomore: Walk-on played some vs. SEMO.

p align=”center”Newly arrived

Tyler Stephens, junior: Buffalo transfer split time as slot receiver and inline tight end in 2021, caught 15 balls on 26 targets for 157 yards.

Max Whisner, freshman: Lee’s Summit native averaged 16 yards per catch in high school.

p align=”center”So long, farewell

Daniel Parker Jr.: Block-first tight end transferred to Oklahoma after catching 41 passes over four years.

Niko Hea: Medically retired, led tight ends with 24 targets, 18 catches last season.

Messiah Swinson: Transferred to Arizona State, caught seven passes last two seasons.

Part of a series highlighting positional depth on the Mizzou football team. Next up: offensive line

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