By Zac Ellis
Throughout the offseason, SI.com will spotlight several teams, players and coaches with something to prove heading into the 2013 season. To check out every edition of this series, click here.
The hype surrounding wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham leading up to National Signing Day 2012 was insurmountable: The Springfield, Mo., product and consensus No. 1 overall recruit set national high school records with 6,353 career receiving yards and 75 touchdowns. He racked up 2,233 receiving yards and 25 scores during his senior season at Hillcrest High, averaging a whopping 171.8 receiving yards per game and 18.8 yards per catch, and fielded offers from the likes of Alabama, Arkansas and Oklahoma, among others, before eventually signing with hometown Missouri. Given the early comparisons to Calvin Johnson and the airborne recruiting tactics Gary Pinkel used to land him, Green-Beckham was expected to become an immediate star. His rare blend of size (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) and athleticism was primed to overwhelm even vaunted SEC defenses.
However, DGB's reality never fully caught up to his hype. Though Green-Beckham did manage to lead Mizzou in receiving touchdowns (five) in 2012, he finished just fourth on the team in catches (28) and receiving yards (395), respectively, and he started only one game. Moreover, Green-Beckham landed in legal trouble midway through the season. He was suspended for the Tigers' 19-15 loss to Vanderbilt on Oct. 6.
The crown jewel of coach Gary Pinkel's signing class showed glimpses of greatness, but he hardly lived up to his billing. Now, entering his sophomore season, Green-Beckham could be on the verge of a breakout campaign.
Even amid the disappointment of Missouri's 5-7 season, Green-Beckham showed the ability to progress as the year wore on. He caught multiple passes only once in his first five games, but he averaged 4.2 catches and 53.4 yards over his final five contests. Green-Beckham corralled four of his five touchdowns passes in the Tigers' final three games -- highlighted by his impressive 25-yard scoring grab on fourth-and-12 to force overtime against Tennessee:
In fact, that progression appears to have spilled over into spring practice. Green-Beckham put together an impressive spring, as he caught eight balls for 135 yards in one scrimmage, including a 50-yard catch-and-run. Having a year of SEC experience under his belt should only further that cause; the Tigers played six of the top eight total defenses in the SEC in 2012, an obvious upgrade over the competition Green-Beckham faced in high school. It's also worth pointing out that injury-plagued quarterback James Franklin was inconsistent for most of last season. He missed three games in 2012 and saw both his production and accuracy drop from his 2011 numbers.
Franklin's job security is far from guaranteed this fall, as Pinkel has yet to pick a winner in the quarterback competition between Franklin, sophomore Corbin Berkstresser and redshirt freshman Maty Mauk. He said he won't name a starter until fall camp. But the receiving corps as a whole is more experienced: The team's top two receivers, Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington, both return, and Green-Beckham has started to emerge as the leader of the group. “He’s a different guy,” Pinkel told the AP this spring. “He catches the ball so well, he can turn an average play into a big play, and I think we’re starting to see really how good he can be.” DGB's ability to find a groove late last season is a very encouraging sign. Given his talent and prolific past, Green-Beckham could emerge as an All-SEC candidate if Missouri's offense stays healthy.