Mizzou football: An ESPN ‘Tight End U’ group returns this year

COLUMBIA, MO - SEPTEMBER 2: Albert Okwuegbunam
COLUMBIA, MO - SEPTEMBER 2: Albert Okwuegbunam /

ESPN didn’t rank Mizzou football in its ‘Tight End U’ schools for no reason.

Albert Okwuegbunam is back.

He could be the top tight end taken in next year’s draft, and has a great chance of being a first-round pick as the best player at his position in the country.

On Jan. 10 this past winter, the star redshirt junior announced his decision to return to Missouri.

That’s big.

Okwuegbunam would have been a borderline first-round pick had he stayed in the 2019 Draft. A healthy year gives Okwuegbunam and the Tigers a chance to do more damage on the offense.

He missed the final four games of 2018 with a shoulder injury, but had 43 catches for 466 yards and six touchdowns before his year ended. His freshman season, Okwuegbunam recorded 11 TDs on 29 receptions. He’ll be the top target for senior quarterback Kelly Bryant.

The 6-foot-5 tight end was carted off the field this week with a knee injury, but returned to practice Wednesday.

CBS has Okwuegbunam as its No. 18 player on the big board for the 2020 NFL Draft. And he leads what could be a stacked position for the Tigers, one that was noted in ESPN’s “Position U” article last month.

Behind Okwuegbunam is Daniel Parker. The converted defensive end caught six passes for 63 yards with a touchdown last year, but it was his blocking that sparked most attention.

He looks to improve on his ability to be a receiver, as his blocking skills tops the chart for Mizzou tight ends. Those blocks could be even more important this year as Mizzou has its eyes on more ground-game work.

Parker was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team in 2018. There was an accident on the original roster release last week, but Parker is a tight end, not a defensive end.

Bryant said he didn’t know Parker never played tight end until last year. More time at the position will only benefit Parker to be a complete tight end.

Messiah Swinson is a name to follow, again.

The redshirt freshman missed all of last year with an ACL tear he suffered in training camp. Swinson had expectations to be the No. 3 tight end before last August.

If the 6-foot-7, 230-pound tight end returns where he left off, he could be the next big tight end to come out of Columbia. With Parker used as a blocker, it’s possible Swinson’s abilities get him on the field more in passing situations.

Brendan Scales played in eight games last year. After some injuries, Scales made it on the two-deep roster toward the end of the year.

Alongside Logan Christopherson, the two battled for playing time last camp and are doing the same this summer.

Niko Hea and Zac Schachtner round out the talented group.