It’s no secret the Missouri Tigers struggled mightily in their first year in the brutal SEC. A 5-7 overall record and 2-6 in conference play won’t win you much support from the boosters if you’re head coach Gary Pinkel. While I do think the Tigers will be improved this year, they’re still not where they need to be talent wise. This is painfully evident when you look at their top pro prospects eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Cornerback E.J. Gaines is arguably their top prospect. At 5’10”, 195-pounds, Gaines has enough size for the position, especially when you consider how thickly built his frame is. He’s got good hips to turn and run with receivers and does a good job anticipating routes, usually getting a good jump on the ball. He doesn’t have a ton of interceptions (three in the last three years), but he does get his hands on the ball a lot (31 passes broken up over that span).
Gaines is hindered at the moment with a strained patellar tendon in his left knee, but most are anticipating a quick recovery. Assuming Gaines can stay healthy, I could see Gaines going as high as the third round.
Defensive end Kony Ealy, an underclassman, is next up. Ealy may have more upside than anyone on the Tigers roster not named Dorial Green-Beckham. At 6’5”, 275-pounds and running an estimated 4.7 40-yard dash, he easily passes the eyeball test. Ealy had a solid season in 2012 with 37 tackles, 10 TFLs, 3.5 sacks and a very impressive seven passes broken up, but still needs refinement. He’s very clearly an elite athlete, that much is evident as you see one play, but he needs to use his speed more. He’s a strong guy, but his speed is a more efficient weapon than his strength, and too often gets locked into battles without shedding. I think if he sticks around for his senior year he could be a second rounder, but if he leaves early, as many are predicting, he’s more of a fifth rounder.
Wide receiver L’Damian Washington is probably the only other Missouri prospect that will get drafted, and he’ll be a late rounder at best. Washington has good size (6’4,” 205 pounds) and speed (4.4 40), but he’s never been ‘The Guy’, always staying in complimentary roles. It’s true he’s got excellent big-play ability, even by NFL standards, but many question his route running and consistency. He’ll benefit from defenses giving the majority of their attention to Green-Beckham in 2013.
There’s a few other fringe prospects for the Tigers; guys like DE Michael Sam, MLB Andrew Wilson, WR Marcus Lucas, QB James Franklin and tackle Justin Britt will all be looking to have breakout senior campaigns in the efforts of raising their draft stock. Even still, Pinkel knows he needs more pro-prospects than this to win the SEC East.
Next year could be much better in terms of draft-eligible prospects for Mizzou, especially if Ealy stays and Green-Beckham takes the next step in his development as expected.