The past 20 years of Mizzou football have gone from incredible lows to the precipice of immortality and pretty much everywhere in between. The school has had 43 NFL draft selections and 12 consensus All-Americans during that time. So many of these players have helped contribute to the rise of Missouri football as a program but there are several underrated players that deserve recognition as well.
The fact is, successful college football programs are typically built on the back of high-level recruiting, keen talent evaluation and player development. Missouri, as much as any school in the country, has benefitted from taking 2 and 3 star recruits and turning them into superstars (ie Sean Weatherspoon, Danario Alexander, Chase Coffman, Martin Rucker and many more).
Top 10 Underrated Tigers 2001-2018
1. Zack Abron (RB 2000-2003)
Although not recruited by Gary Pinkel, Abron helped carry the load for the Mizzou offense for the bulk of his career. Unbeknownst to most Tiger fans, Abron still ranks second in school history in both total rushing yards (3,198) and touchdowns (39). His records were broken by none other than Brad Smith and Abron’s accolades should be held in very high regard as his toughness and leadership helped usher in a new era of Mizzou football in the Pinkel era.
2. Brian Smith (DE 2003-2006)
The name “Smith” is synonymous with sacks at Mizzou and no one did it better than undersized defensive end Brian Smith. Smith unseated fellow sack master and 1st round NFL draft pick Justin Smith as the school record holder with 31.5 career sacks. The Tigers went to bowl games in three of Smith’s four years and he was a part of the teams that would eventually build Missouri into a national power.
3. Stryker Sulak (DE 2005-2008)
Sulak would earn All Big 12 honors as a junior and senior at Mizzou. He was a high-level contributor from the time he stepped on the field as a freshman and helped anchor a prolific pass rush during this era. His career sacks (22.5) rank third in school history and his 10.5 sacks in 2008 helped lead Missouri to a second consecutive Big 12 North title. Stryker Sulak is not an easy name to forget, yet it still feels like doesn’t receive the praise that he deserves.
4. James Kinney (LB 2000-2003)
Linebacker James Kinney was another Larry Smith recruit that flourished under Gary Pinkel. Many will remember Brad Smith’s legendary performance against Nebraska in 2003 as Missouri broke a 25-game losing streak to the Huskers, yet Kinney made eight tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack, and he both recovered one fumble and forced another in that game. Not to be forgotten, Kinney is also the leading tackler in school history with 434, a fact that likely eludes many casual Tiger fans.
5. Will Franklin (WR 2004-2007)
“The Helicopter” seems to be a bit of a forgotten cog from one of the most prolific offenses in school history (2007). Sure Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander, Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker were all tremendous stars, but Franklin was vastly underrated. He was a solid contributor from 2005-2007, averaging 800 yards receiving during this time and managed to grab 49 balls for over 700 yards and 4 TD’s in 2007. While his NFL career didn’t last long, he should be remembered as a key part of Missouri’s turnaround during the Pinkel era.
6. Ish Witter (2014-2017)
Witter was never about style points or fanfare, but he had quite an underrated career. After seeing limited action as a freshman, Witter quietly worked hard to remain a viable option in Missouri’s backfield. Witter’s rushing yards increased every year and he capped off his career with a 1,000 yard season in 2017 and helped the Tigers return to a bowl game. You may be shocked to find that Witter is also the ninth leading rusher in school history with 2,418, a true testament to his work ethic and perseverance.
7. J’Mon Moore (WR 2014-2017)
One of the more polarizing players in recent memory at Mizzou, J’Mon Moore absolutely has the on-field accolades on his side. There is no doubt that Moore had his share of ups and downs in college, from circus touchdown catches to key drops and fumbles, but his 2,477 career yards put him fourth all time at Mizzou. Moore racked up an impressive 2,100 yards in his last two seasons in Columbia and was a major part of Josh Heupel’s up-tempo, air-raid offense. In the end, Moore probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves for a very good career that ended with a total team turnaround and bowl appearance in 2017.
8. Kendial Lawrence (RB 2009-2012)
Similarly to Ish Witter, Kendial Lawrence did nothing but improve and outwork people during his four years in Columbia. Lawrence makes the all-underrated team based on his every improving numbers (he finished with 21 rushing touchdowns, good for 10th all-time). It’s also worth mentioning that he also broke the 1,000 yard mark as a feature back in 2012, stepping in for an injured Henry Josey during a season that featured numerous offensive woes.
9. Lorenzo Williams (DT 2004-2007)
Not only did “big Zo” produce big on the field but he was a major part of the attitude and culture change that helped Mizzou rise to national prominence in 2007. As a senior, Williams earned 1st team All-Big 12 honors with his 12.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks during a season that saw Missouri vault to #1 in the national polls. The biggest play of his career came on a safety late in the game to seal the victory for Mizzou against rival Kansas in a clash for Big 12 North supremacy.
10. Aarion Penton (CB 2013-2016)
Penton was as solid as they come when it comes to being a reliable cover corner. He was thrust into action early in his career and continuously and unceremoniously locked down his side of the field time and again. His 10 career interceptions are good enough for seventh in school history. Penton’s 5 picks in 2015 were the fifth most in history and his consistency is much deserving of Mizzou fan adulation.
Honorable Mention All- Underrated
- OL Tony Palmer
- OL Adam Spieker
- WR Jared Perry
- DE Jacquies Smith
- WR Bud Sasser
- K Jeff Wolfert
- LB Sean Doyle
- OL Tyler Luellen
- OL Max Copeland
- LB Jamonte Robinson
- OL Elvis Fisher
- LB Brock Christopher
- WR Tommy Saunders
- LB Andrew Wilson
- CB Carl Gettis