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As Missouri prepares to kick off fall camp practices for its second season under head coach Eli Drinkwitz, a sense of normalcy has returned. Drinkwitz’s debut season got delayed and de-railed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but after the Tigers managed to go 5-5 against an all-SEC schedule, fans are optimistic to see what he can do in year two.

Drinkwitz and Missouri will start fall camp practices the first week of August. So, every day over the next couple weeks, we will break down each of the team’s position groups. Today, we look at the Tiger tight ends.


Daniel Parker Jr. will once again headline the Missouri tight end group.
Daniel Parker Jr. will once again headline the Missouri tight end group. (Jordan Kodner)

The Starters

Missouri didn’t get a ton of production from its tight ends a season ago, at least in the receiving game. The staff will hope a group that looks largely the same from a personnel standpoint can take a step forward after a full offseason with Drinkwitz and position coach Casey Woods.

The two tight ends who saw the most playing time a season ago are both back in 2021 in Daniel Parker Jr. and Niko Hea. Parker, entering his fourth season at Missouri, started his career on the defensive line before making the switch to tight end. He’s known more as a blocker than a receiver, although he caught 15 passes for 140 yards in 2019. He only had eight receptions a season ago, but that resulted in part from a myriad of ailments. Parker missed much of offseason practices due to an eye infection that initially looked like it might end his football career, then played in only five of Missouri’s 10 games due to a concussion. Tiger fans will hope that Parker is healthy and can get back to opening holes in the running game this season.

Hea will likely once again serve as Missouri’s primary pass-catching threat from the tight end spot. The former high school wide receiver caught 14 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns last season, his second at Missouri. Health is a little bit of a concern for Hea, as well. He missed all of spring practices after undergoing surgery to clean up an undisclosed injury, but is expected to be back to full speed for fall camp.

The Backups

With Logan Christopherson, who played regular snaps as Missouri’s third tight end a season ago, opting for a medical retirement following spring practices, there should be snaps available behind Parker and Hea. The most experienced of the players vying for that role will be Messiah Swinson, who is back for his fourth season. At 6-foot-8, Swinson has all the physical makings of a red zone threat, but he’s yet to put it all together and make a consistent impact during games. Perhaps this will be the year.

A couple newcomers will likely push for playing time, as well. In-state product Ryan Hoerstkamp enrolled early and thus was able to participate in spring practices, so he could have a leg up on learning the offense. Memphis native Gavin McKay is another player who primarily played receiver in high school. He’ll likely have to add a bit of weight to his 6-foot-3 frame, but it’s possible he could do so in time to become the receiving threat the tight end group has been lacking this season.

Camp Storyline to Watch

Can any of the tight ends become a more consistent force in the passing game? Assuming he’s healthy, Parker should continue to be a valuable run-blocking asset. But Missouri’s offense could use more receiving production from its tight ends, especially near the end zone. Red zone passing was a weakness for the team last season, and the emergence of someone at the tight end position would give Connor Bazelak another weapon in goal-to-go situations. That could come in the form of Hea taking the next step or someone like Swinson or McKay emerging — Missouri just needs someone to step up.

PowerMizzou Prediction

We think Hea and Parker are pretty clearly locked in as Missouri’s top two tight ends, assuming both are healthy. But the Tigers will need at least one other player from the position group to play regular snaps. While it’s always possible Swinson could finally tap into his high upside, we’re picking Hoerstkamp to fill that void and play a role similar to Christopherson last season: a blocking and receiving hybrid who spells Parker and Hea and can line up alongside them in jumbo packages.

Previous Position Breakdowns