Can Mizzou’s Green-Beckham justify the hype?

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