Why JT Daniels to Mizzou would make a ton of sense
I banged the drum for Auburn.
I wanted to see JT Daniels cross enemy lines and go to The Plains to help Bryan Harsin turn things around in Year 2 after a bizarre first season at Auburn. I sold myself on the idea of Daniels being an obvious upgrade from TJ Finley, Zach Calzada and a trio of guys still waiting to play their first college snap. I loved the idea of Daniels staying in the conference. I bought the balanced approach it would bring with having a backfield duo like Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter.
But it appears I should switch my Daniels wish list to a different SEC school because Harsin appears set on his quarterback room.
So Mizzou it is. Let’s see Daniels end up in Columbia.
If you haven’t been paying attention, you might think that’s an odd fit. But Daniels is reportedly visiting Mizzou this weekend after he took a visit to Oregon State this past weekend. Between those 2 schools and West Virginia, there’s a Power 5 market for the guy who opened as Georgia’s 2021 starter.
That fit, however, isn’t odd at all. In fact, it would make a ton of sense.
Remember when people were baffled that Kelly Bryant picked Mizzou after he was one of the most coveted transfer quarterbacks on the market? Different coaching staff aside, let’s stop overlooking how valuable it is to end up at the right Power 5 program.
Let’s start from the Mizzou side here and why Eli Drinkwitz should put the full-court press on to land Daniels after his anticlimactic finish at Georgia. Let’s also move past Drinkwitz saying “we’re not actively seeking, but we’re not actively shying away from it either,” Drinkwitz said, per Lila Bromberg of The Kansas City Star. That’s a nice way to say that Mizzou would absolutely take on the right transfer because in a post-Connor Bazelak world, that quarterback room is totally unproven.
Brady Cook had a major opportunity getting all the reps in the Armed Forces Bowl. As I’ve said repeatedly this offseason, the opening drive was excellent. We saw mobility, we saw improv skills and we saw someone who could execute a game script. Not so excellent? Going 56 minutes between touchdown drives against a service academy isn’t exactly “I’m the man in charge now” type of stuff.
It’s also OK to like what you’ve seen from Cook and Tyler Macon. Every time they tuck it and run, you can hear every Mizzou fan exhale because of what a relief it can be to have a mobile quarterback. Bazelak wasn’t that, especially post-Kentucky injury.
Is Daniels mobile? He’s not as mobile as Cook or Macon. But Daniels is mobile enough in the pocket to not be a sitting duck, and he soars past Cook, Macon and the departed Bazelak in a pretty key area — stretching the field.
If there was a continued frustration among the Mizzou faithful last year, it was that the offense really couldn’t take those vertical chances. Mizzou was No. 102 in FBS in yards/attempt (6.7), which was No. 13 in the SEC. On top of that, Mizzou had just 18 pass plays of 20 yards in 8 games against SEC competition, which was No. 12 in the SEC.
Is Daniels a perfect passer? No. Three consecutive seasons were riddled with injuries and he hasn’t perhaps developed on the path he once hoped to as the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a high school junior (he skipped his senior year). But man, tell me this isn’t an upgrade over anything we’ve seen from Mizzou in the Drinkwitz era:
J.T. Daniels with an absolute DIME 🤩 pic.twitter.com/ArbKaVfhm0
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) September 19, 2021
Maybe it all worked out like it was supposed to for J.T. Daniels 🤷🏽♂️ pic.twitter.com/sQZAA1BgdN
— Tommy Mo (@2on1FFB) September 19, 2021
George Pickens in the last 4 gms after coming back from injury & JT Daniels taking over:
23 rec on 32 targets, 373 yards, 4 TDs
And these catches… pic.twitter.com/byDeD2U5e5
— Brent Rollins (@BrentRollinsPhD) February 16, 2021
Now you might say, isn’t Daniels a risk for Mizzou? I’d say the risk of not figuring out the quarterback situation is greater than the risk of bringing on Daniels and potentially having Macon or Cook bolt via the transfer portal. Why?
Drinkwitz has done a lot of things right so far. He’s an easy guy for Mizzou fans to root for because he’s not afraid to ruffle some feathers (TBD on what that looks like without Dan Mullen to poke fun at). Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie turned into prolific forces in Drinkwitz’s offense, and in both years, we watched Mizzou take down at least team on a different level in terms of roster talent (2020 LSU and 2021 Florida).
But if there’s a knock, it’s that he hasn’t figured out how to have an above average quarterback. The timing of this heading into Year 3 is interesting. Keep in mind that the athletic director who hired Drinkwitz, Jim Sterk, is no longer the athletic director at Mizzou. As we’ve seen countless times, having a new boss matters when it comes to short- and long-term stability. In a division loaded with teams that seem to be getting better, I’d expect to see Mizzou picked to finish 6th in the East.
Is that my way of saying Drinkwitz is out of a job if his passing game doesn’t take off? Not at all. Crazier things have happened, but it could certainly impact his vibe heading into Year 4.
What could also add to the urgency is the addition of Luther Burden. If you recall, Burden was the No. 1 wide receiver recruit in the 2022 class. He took a visit to Georgia and came back to East St. Louis, Ill. only to announce that he was verbally committed to Drinkwitz’s program. It was his biggest recruiting victory to date. Like, even bigger than that time when Drinkwitz went viral for his celebration after the Ennis Rakestraw commitment on his first National Signing Day.
An SEC freshman to keep an eye on this week: Missouri cornerback Ennis Rakestraw.
Got a strong reaction from Eli Drinkwitz when he picked Missouri over Alabama on National Signing Day. Now set to be an opening game starter for Missouri against Alabama.
— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) September 24, 2020
What’s important to remember with Burden and really all of these big-time recruits is that the transfer rules have changed the game. Burden could theoretically leave Mizzou after a frustrating freshman season and transfer to a big-time program (including one in the SEC) without having to sit a year. Coaches complain that there’s tampering galore. It wouldn’t be very hard to tamper with a player of his caliber — you just have a few players slide into his DMs — and it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if that happened with coaching staffs he already met in the recruiting process.
Don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying I think Burden would have a Year 1 ultimatum for the passing offense. He’s not walking into Drinkwitz’s office and telling him, “Coach Drink, if we don’t have a top-40 passing game, I’ve gotta take my talents elsewhere.”
But still, if you’re Drinkwitz, wouldn’t you want to avoid any scenario like that? Wouldn’t you want to make sure that your prized recruit got to see what it was like to play with a potential NFL quarterback?
I would. Maybe that means I’m in the minority. For all I know, that 4-game sample size from Daniels wherein he had the highest passer rating against the blitz among 2021 returning quarterbacks (via PFF) was just a mirage, and that Clemson, with that all-world defense, exposed some things that perhaps others would.
What seems obvious is that Daniels is pursuing a national search, and he’s locked in on a situation with favorable surroundings. Some questioned the Oregon State visit when the Beavers are in the top 1/3 in FBS in percentage of returning production with one of the rising offensive minds to work with in Jonathan Smith (Daniels immediately got Oregon State fans excited by declining to do the usual recruiting visit photos because he wanted to spend time learning the offense).
Daniels is taking this process seriously, and understandably so. He’s in Year 5. Guys from his 2018 class like Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence are entering Year 2 in the NFL. This could be his last opportunity to show that he can stay healthy and be an elite quarterback for an entire season.
Call me crazy, but I think he could do that at Mizzou. He’d have the benefit of staying in the division he’s had to game plan against the last 2 seasons (he’s still in those scouting rooms when he’s injured). Yeah, he’d have that in the Pac-12, but it’s worth remembering that the time the season starts, it’ll have been 3 years since he started a game in the conference of champions. That’s a lifetime ago in this era. There would absolutely be more familiarity in the SEC.
The surroundings would be better than some probably realize, too. Besides Burden, former Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper and downfield threat Tauskie Dove would become familiar with Daniels. We already know Drinkwitz can scheme the ground game, so he wouldn’t be a sitting duck attempting 50 passes a game.
Speaking of that “sitting duck” notion, Mizzou’s offensive line continues to take unnecessary heat. Javon Foster is one of the league’s top returning left tackles. Daniels would have the benefit of operating behind a Mizzou offensive line that returns 4 starters from a group who only allowed 19 sacks in 13 games (No. 21 in FBS). And that was for a signal-caller who doesn’t have the pocket presence of Daniels.
Does Mizzou have the offensive line of Georgia? No, but there probably aren’t 3 teams in America who have that kind of offensive line.
As of right now, there are 3 teams who have Daniels’ attention. Mizzou should consider itself fortunate enough to be one of them.
And if it’s fortunate enough to be the last one standing, well, all aboard the hype train in Columbia.