Can Mizzou’s Green-Beckham justify the hype?

Ben Frederickson is an award-winning writer for FOX Sports Midwest. His work has appeared in the Columbia Missourian, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the New York Times, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Casper Star-Tribune.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The
Dorial Green-Beckham question hasn’t changed.

It’s
been the same since the sophomore wide receiver at Missouri was a
five-star recruit likened to Randy Moss, a man among boys who ran
roughshod over his competition while claiming just about every record
and award made available to high school kids who play
football.

As we tend to do, we got excited when we
heard about the prodigy from Hillcrest High School in Springfield, Mo.
And as we do when we get excited, we started creating expectations. Big
ones.

Here, we said, is a player who on his way to
becoming an NFL star can do something so rare in college football:
single-handedly win games and influence
seasons.

Inevitably, such expectations led to the
Dorial Green-Beckham question: Will the kid live up to the hype?

His first season came and went and the consensus was
that we must wait. But not anymore. Green-Beckham’s sophomore season
will be the closest we have come to defining his
legacy.

Remember Jeremy Maclin? The former Missouri
wide receiver made quite the splash at Mizzou before joining the
Philadelphia Eagles. After redshirting one year to recover from a knee
injury, he turned in back-to-back seasons that punched his ticket to the
NFL.

Maclin’s 2007 performance ended in 2,776
all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns. In 2008, he did even more, totaling
2,833 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns. Despite playing just two
seasons, he remains Mizzou’s all-time leader in all-purpose yardage.
Former Tiger quarterback Brad Smith, a four-year starter who sits in
second place, is more than 1,000 yards behind.

Maclin
was far from a nobody when Missouri signed him. But his addition made a
ripple compared to the waves Green-Beckham caused in 2012. That process
included enough recruiting letters to kill a forest, a signing ceremony
on national TV and a Missouri fan base so eager to greet its football
savior that it gathered like Beatles groupies when Green-Beckham came to
town.

With Green-Beckham, the extraordinary was
expected.

Unlike Maclin, he was thrust into duty
immediately. The true freshman started slow, but improved late. He
caught 28 passes for 395 yards and five touchdowns — four of which came
during his final five games.

These results made the
quest for an answer difficult, like a scale that refuses to tip. For the
first time in his life, Green-Beckham had been challenged on a football
field. He showed enough to prove he’s not a bust, but he fell
drastically short of legitimizing the unparalleled hype. In need of more
evidence, the Green-Beckham question went without a definitive
answer.

Now, as a new season approaches, it’s time to
dust off the query once more. There’s no sense in tiptoeing around the
importance of 2013. After all, Mizzou realizes what is at stake.
Green-Beckham’s page in the team media guide
reads:

“Considered by many to be the nation’s overall
No. 1 prospect to come out of the 2012 class, he’ll be looking to
establish himself as one of the top receivers in the country after a
solid freshman campaign.”

On Saturday, he showed
another glimpse of greatness. During Missouri’s annual Black and Gold
spring scrimmage, the lanky receiver ran a dig route, caught the ball
and gracefully sprinted 35 yards — the longest reception of the
day.

“I’m getting more and more comfortable with the
game,” Green-Beckham said after it was over. “This upcoming season, a
lot of that is going to show.”

Maybe Green-Beckham is
good, but not great. Maybe he is great, but not as as great as our
imaginations led us to believe. Or, maybe he will surpass even the
loftiest expectations.

Will the kid live up to the
hype?

An answer should come this year.

You can follow Ben
Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred) and contact him at
frederickson.ben@gmail.com