Tommy Saunders earned the respect of fellow players and coaches when he earned a scholarship in 2005 after walking on to the Missouri football team in 2004. The short, scrappy, do-it-all receiver ended his Mizzou career ranking top-10 all time in both receptions and yards, production that will be very hard to replace. More importantly Saunders unmatched leadership will be sorely missed in 2009. In comes senior receiver Jared Perry to try and replace what Saunders gave the Tigers both on the field and in the locker room for the past 4 years.
Saunders in 2006: 25 receptions, 271 yards, 2 touchdowns
Saunders in 2007: 41 receptions, 397 yards, 1 touchdown
Saunders in 2008: 72 receptions, 833 yards, 7 touchdowns
As you can see, Saunders got considerably better throughout his 3 seasons, becoming a key component to the Tigers’ offense in 2008. Perry has had similar success in his junior year to Saunders in his junior season (Perry had 41 receptions for 567 yards and 4 TD’s last year), so he could be due for a similar senior season. These numbers would be more than acceptable for a speedy #2 threat in a young offense. The two receivers are similar in size and playmaking ability as both can go over the middle in traffic to make the tough catch.
The wide receiver product from La Marque, Texas is one of the few veterans that the Tigers will have in 2009 so he must take over a leadership role on the offense similar to one that Saunders had last season. Saunders was one of the most respected players on the team in 2008 because of his “never say die” mentality and his toughness on the field. There is no doubt that Perry has the talent to match the production that Saunders provided last season, but I find it hard to believe that anyone can replace the heart that Saunders showed in his career at Mizzou (and that isn’t a knock on Perry at all). If Perry takes a large leadership role on the offense this season, it can only mean good things for young players like Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson, Andrew Jones and Blaine Gabbert.
Although Perry missed all of spring practice this year due to a right shoulder injury that required surgery, the 6’1” senior should be 100% healthy for the season opener in St. Louis. Perry should see a large spike in his receptions and receiving yards this season mainly because of his speed and Blaine Gabbert’s supreme ability to throw the deep ball.
I see Perry as one of the breakout guys on the offense this season. Not many people know much about him, but if he has a 70 catch, 800-yard season like Saunders had last year, maybe he will get a look in the NFL as an undrafted free agent. I’m expecting that if he stays healthy, he will produce comparable numbers to Saunders’ numbers last season, if not more. I am very confident in Blaine Gabbert’s playmaking ability, so I think these new faces at receiver will have a lot of balls to catch this year.