The Missouri Tigers are entering the first season under head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who came to Columbia via Appalachian State. It’s still too early to predict what the Tigers will look like in Drinkwitz’s system, but there are some predictions we can make based on how the Mountaineers fared in 2019.

However, there will also be some big shoes to fill, as a number of key players graduated out of the program or left early for the NFL Draft. TE Albert Okwuegbunam, DL Jordan Elliott and OL Trystan Colon-Castillo declared early, while key players like OL Yasir Durant, QB Kelly Bryant, WRs Jonathan Nance and Johnathon Johnson, LB Cale Garrett and others are gone, too.

The offensive line will be a huge area of concern, as will the defensive line, but elsewhere there is plenty of talent coming back. So, for now, let’s take a look at the 5 most important returning players for 2020.

1. Larry Rountree III, RB

Rountree didn’t have the best 2019 season, running for only 829 yards and 9 touchdowns. He added 70 yards as a receiver, but both numbers should go up in Drinkwitz’s offense.

Last season, Darrynton Evans was a huge part of the Appalachian State offense, rushing for 1,480 yards and 18 touchdowns and adding 198 yards and 5 scores as a receiver. That will be the model for Rountree to follow if he earns the starting job.

I think 2019 was a fluke for Rountree, who should be ready to have a great final season in Columbia. As the top returning player on the offense, Rountree should be heavily featured this fall.

2. Nick Bolton, LB

Bolton was the breakout star of the 2019 season, recording a team-high 103 tackles to go with 2 interceptions and 1 touchdown. He also defended 7 passes and recorded a sack.

The Tigers really needed someone to step up after Cale Garrett got injured, and Bolton did just that. He’ll be a junior in 2020 and looks ready to be the leader of the defense.

He’ll need another linebacker to step up alongside him, but for now, having Bolton in the mix is a good start for Mizzou.

3. Jalen Knox, WR

Knox is another offensive player who took a step back in 2019, catching only 19 passes for 307 yards and 1 touchdown. He had 27 catches for 419 yards and 3 scores in 2018. As he prepares for his junior season in 2020, he has to play better.

Knox has shown flashes of being a deep threat in the model of Emanuel Hall, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together. A lot of this will rely on the quarterback this fall, but if Knox is able to form some chemistry with Shawn Robinson this spring, it’ll be a huge boost to the offense.

Mizzou’s leading receiver had 458 yards in 2019. Appalachian State’s offense under Drinkwitz had 3 receivers eclipse that mark last year. Knox should be up in the 800-yard range, if not higher, if all goes according to plan this fall.

4. Tyler Badie, RB

I mentioned Rountree above, but Badie is just as important to the offense. He’s just important in different ways. Badie is just as comfortable running routes out of the slot as he is taking a handoff in the backfield.

Once Badie gets the ball in his hands, he’s explosive and shifty. He can cut on a dime and has the speed to leave defenders in the dust:

He and Rountree make a very good tandem, complementing each other’s strengths really well. Former OC Derek Dooley didn’t utilize that very well in 2019. A lot of pressure will be on Drinkwitz to get the most from these talented backs in 2020.

5. Adam Sparks, CB

With Christian Holmes transferring and DeMarkus Acy out of college eligibility, the Tigers need to reload at the cornerback position. Sparks was a backup last season, but he’ll need to step into a much bigger role this fall.

Jarvis Ware and Sparks figure to be the starters unless a younger player steps up, so Sparks will need to improve upon his 17 tackles and 1 pass breakup from 2019. Ware turned in 33 tackles and 4 pass breakups, but neither he nor Sparks recorded an interception.

They’ll need to be more opportunistic in 2020 and will also have to cut down on his pass interference penalties. He has the talent, but he needs to put it all together as a senior this fall.