A Cotton bowl preview between two former conference members, Missouri takes one of the best defenses in the country to match up with Oklahoma State's always impressive passing attack, lead this year by Josh Stewart and Clint Chelf.
Michael Sam and Kony Ealy are the studs on the defensive line, while Justin Gilbert and EJ Gaines are the two feature defensive backs to watch on opposing teams.
Michael Sam, DE, Missouri, #52
Breaking out in his senior season, Michael Sam established himself early this season as a premiere edge rusher and finished with an SEC leading 10.5 sacks on the year. Sam doesn’t have a great counter, but he wins with a plus getoff, low pad height and excellent body positioning in his rush. Most effective when stunting to the inside, Sam is a gap shooter that lives in the backfield. Working to attack half-a-man and using his hands efficiently, Sam has overcome his length deficiencies with sound technique and quickness out of the gate.
(JR) Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri, #47
Ealy is an extremely impressive looking specimen, with the size, speed, and explosive traits to be an ideal 4-3 end prospect. Able to burst and run the arc is a trait scouts desire out of defensive ends, but Ealy can do so at 6’5, 275 pounds. He’s a freak athlete with the chase speed to run down ball carriers from the backside. Ealy is unrefined in his hand use and allows blockers into his framework too easily, and moreover could benefit from an additional season at Missouri. Still, he’s likely to bolt for the NFL if given a 2nd or 3rd round advisory grade.
(JR) Markus Golden, DE, Missouri, #33
Golden serves as Michael Sam’s primary backup and I’d argue he’s the better pro prospect. Equally gifted with first step burst, Golden is more flexible in the ankles and hips, giving him the ability to bend the edge at a higher level. He’s well built throughout his frame but doesn’t appear as a tightly wound as his teammate Sam. Expected to return for his senior season, Golden is certainly a name to remember moving forward.
(JR) Shane Ray, DE, Missouri, #56
The quickest and twitchiest rusher of this modern day fearsome-foursome, Shane Ray sets up blockers with an outside rush and redirect inside in a flash. Ray can get burned with his own lateral quickness, as he routinely sidesteps and attempts to work around blockers rather than maintaining gap responsibility. As Kony Ealy’s backup, Ray’s darting style offers a difficult change of pace for opposing offensive tackles.
E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, #31
A sound zone corner that feathers well between zones, E.J. Gaines transitions to ball quickly thanks to clean footwork and an understanding of how to position himself downfield. Gaines is physical in coverage, but also a willing and able tackler that defends the sideline with reliability. In man coverage, he’s latches onto the hip pocket of opposing receivers and importantly showcases the ability to turn, locate and make a play on the ball in-air. Gaines looks like a starter at the next level and should be regarded as a day two prospect.
(JR) Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State, #5
Stewart is quick, shifty and explosive out of the slot, where he’s showcased the ability to get upfield to attack down the seams or create yards for himself in the underneath passing game. #5 also pitches in as a return specialist, where he housed two punts and earned 2nd team all-conference honors. Missouri better come to balance and wrap up better than they did versus Auburn in the SEC title game, or Josh Stewart will be creating explosive plays for this Oklahoma State offense.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State, #4
Allowed to play far more man coverage than years past, Justin Gilbert made a solid bounce back from a down 2012 season. He mirrors with ease off the snap and presents a stellar combination of length, speed and redirect skills as a bigger cornerback prospect. The difference in 2013 has been tighter, more compact footwork when playing off the line of scrimmage and decisive reads in off coverage, as he’s quicker to read, react and close on routes with proper angles to the throw. As a kick returner, Gilbert possesses blue chip top end speed and can access that speed right away. He’ll have to improve as a tackler and be more physical in disengaging from blockers, but this corner has the tools to be a big time player at the NFL.
Others to watch:
James Franklin, QB, Missouri, #1
(JR) Henry Josey, RB, Missouri, #20
L’Damian Washington, WR, Missouri, #2
Marcus Lucas, WR, Missouri, #85
Justin Britt, OT, Missouri, #68
Andrew Wilson, ILB, Missouri #40
Donovan Bonner, OLB, Missouri, #8
(JR) Braylon Webb, S, Missouri, #9
Clint Chelf, QB, Oklahoma State, #10
Jeremy Smith, RB, Oklahoma State, #31
Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State, #87
Parker Graham, OG, Oklahoma State, #71
Calvin Barnett, DT, Oklahoma State, #99
Tyler Johnson, DE, Oklahoma State, #40
Shaun Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma State, #11
Caleb Lavey, ILB, Oklahoma State, #45
Daytawion Lowe, S, Oklahoma State, #8