University of Missouri

Missouri running back Damarea Crockett declares for NFL Draft, will skip senior season

Missouri Tigers running back Damarea Crockett (16).
Missouri Tigers running back Damarea Crockett (16).

Missouri lost an underclassman to the NFL Draft on Monday, but not the one many were expecting.

While tight end Albert Okwuegbunam remains undecided on his decision to turn pro, junior tailback Damarea Crockett announced his intention to declare himself eligible for the NFL Draft. In a Twitter post, Crockett thanked the MU coaching staff and his teammates for their support.

“My journey here at Mizzou has been nothing less than amazing from beginning to end,” Crockett said.

A 1,000-yard rusher as a true freshman, Crockett struggled to stay healthy his last two years at Missouri, missing six games last season to a shoulder injury and the last two in 2018 to a right ankle/leg injury he suffered at Tennessee. For the 2018 season, he rushed for 709 yards and seven touchdowns while splitting carries with sophomore Larry Rountree III, who eclipsed 1,000 yards. Should Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn return to college, Rountree will be the Southeastern Conference’s second-leading returning rusher.

Crockett a Little Rock, Ark., native who was passed on by the Razorbacks before committing to MU, was expected to be a major part of Derek Dooley’s offense in 2019. The Tigers could favor the run more this year with the addition of former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant. Despite saying throughout his MU career how much the Razorbacks motivated him for not offering him a scholarship, Crockett will have never played against the Hogs in his college career because of injuries and a marijuana citation his freshman year that led to a one-game suspension.

While Crockett went out of his way to thank former offensive coordinator Josh Heupel in his post, he left out Dooley. Crockett said throughout the season that he was fine splitting carries and earned praise from head coach Barry Odom after MU’s upset win over No. 13 Florida for his leadership.

A team source told The Star that Odom’s staff was surprised by Crockett’s decision, especially because the NFL Draft Advisory Board suggested he return to MU. The board either grades players as a first- or second-round pick or advises them to stay in school.

Had Crockett returned, Missouri would have brought back all four tailbacks on its roster for next season, including rising sophomores Tyler Badie and Simi Bakare.

Missouri is still awaiting word from Okwuegbunam, who missed the end of the season due to injury and has a week to decide whether he wants to declare for the draft. His departure would be another tough loss for an MU team that is expected to flirt with 10 wins in 2019. The early entry deadline for the NFL Draft is Jan. 14.

Crockett rushed for 2,252 yards and 19 touchdowns with the Tigers. His career rushing yardage ranks No. 12 in program history while his average 5.9 yards per carry ranks second among running backs at MU with at least 200 carries.

Crockett’s draft stock is tough to forecast. He could do himself some favors in his pre-draft workouts but will still likely be ranked behind players such as Alabama’s Damien Harris and Kentucky’s Benny Snell, among others.

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.