The 2015 recruiting cycle is complete for the University of Missouri. This will grade out as either Mizzou's best or second-best (behind 2010) class under Gary Pinkel, depending on your recruiting service of choice, and there's no question that the ceiling for this 23-man class is rather immense. Let's run through some of the themes from Wednesday.
Circling the wagons
According to Rivals ratings, Missouri inked the top prospect in the states of Missouri (QB Drew Lock), Kansas (OL AJ Harris), and Illinois (Terry Beckner Jr.). That tidbit, along with the simple fact that Beckner is a legitimate five-star guy, rated as high as No. 2 overall (by ESPN.com), have created what we'll call some pretty good optics. It's 'only' a top-20 or top-25 class, but Missouri just won two straight SEC East titles with, on average, classes ranking 30th to 40th. This is an upgrade on the normal Mizzou class, and analysts are taking notice. ESPN's Desmond Howard and Greg McElroy both talked about Gary Pinkel talking about one of the best talent developers in the country, and #DLineZou was trending on Twitter for a while. Good things!
Let's draw this tidbit out a little further, though. What does it mean to land the top player in each of these three states? Let's get a read on that by looking at previous top guys (according to Rivals).
- 2014: OL Braden Smith (signed with Auburn), LB Clifton Garrett (LSU), OL Brian Wallace (Arkansas)
- 2013: WR Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss), RB Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State), ATH Jerel Morrow (Oklahoma State)
- 2012: WR Dorial Green-Beckham (Mizzou), DT Tommy Schutt (Ohio State), QB Tyler Matthews (TCU)
- 2011: DT Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma), DB Glenn Faulkner (Kentucky), RB Darrian Miller (Kansas)
- 2010: WR Kyle Prater (USC), WR Justin McCay (Oklahoma), OL Nick Demien (Mizzou)
- 2009: RB Bryce Brown (Tennessee), DT Sheldon Richardson (Mizzou), DB Terry Hawthorne (Illinois)
- 2008: QB Blaine Gabbert (Mizzou), LB Arthur Brown (Miami), DT Garrett Goebel (Ohio State)
- 2007: DE Martez Wilson (Illinois), TE Aron White (Georgia), LB Blake Lawrence (Nebraska)
- 2006: QB Demetrius Jones (Notre Dame), DE Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), RB Jake Sharp (Kansas)
- 2005: OL Dan Doering (Iowa), WR D.J. Hord (Notre Dame), QB/WR Kerry Meier (Kansas)
A couple of things here: first, despite a good run of success in this span of time, Mizzou had only landed four of the 30 players in this sample. Mizzou landed three in 2015 alone. Optics!
Beyond that, this is a general reminder that while recruiting rankings are semi-accurate ... they're only semi-accurate. Among these 30 names are stars like Elliott, Treadwell, DGB, Richardson, Hawthorne, Gabbert, A. Brown, Wilson, Clayborn ... solid players like Wallace, Schutt, Phillips, B. Brown, White, Sharp, and Meier ... and minor (or nonexistent) contributors like Matthews, Prater, McCay, Demien, Hord, etc.
By the way, as long as we're looking at precedent, here are the other players who have ranked second in ESPN's rankings (like Beckner): WR Percy Harvin (2006, Florida), WR Julio Jones (2008, Alabama), LB Manti Te'o (2009, Notre Dame), DE Jackson Jeffcoat (2010, Texas), DT Anthony Johnson (2011, LSU), DE Carl Lawson (2013, Auburn), RB Johnathan Gray (2012, Texas), LB Chris Galippo (2007, USC), CB Jabril Peppers (2014, Michigan). All are good, some are stars.
So basically, from an optics and good-headlines perspective, this was a hell of a tidbit for this class. From a performance perspective ... well ... duh ... we'll have to wait and see.
It's one thing for your class to grade out pretty well; it's another for the class to grade out well in the right places. Texas has had great recruiting classes since the beginning of time, for instance, but when quarterback David Ash got hurt each of the last two years, somehow the Longhorns had only Case McCoy and Tyrone Swoopes to fill in for him. Are you getting the right recruits in the right places?
To answer this question for Mizzou's class, let's start by talking about where the biggest needs are going to be over the next couple of seasons. For 2015, the biggest holes on the depth chart come at wide receiver, defensive end, and probably safety. Mizzou loaded up at receiver (Richaud Floyd, Emanuel Hall, Johnathon Johnson, Justin Smith, plus maybe Ronnell Perkins, Cam Hilton, and T.J. Warren) and, potentially safety (Hilton, Warren, maybe Perkins). The numbers were smaller at end -- Nate Howard and JUCO Marcell Frazier are the only definite ends, though it sounds like Josh Moore could end up there (if he qualifies), and one assumes Terry Beckner Jr. will be allowed to play wherever the hell he wants.
For 2016, the biggest need is going to be on the offensive line, where five seniors will depart after thie coming season. Well, Mizzou not only signed four offensive linemen, but signed two JUCO transfers to avoid a sudden glut of redshirt freshmen and sophomores on the depth chart.
And to the extent that quarterback is always a need, well, they got a four-star one of those, too, in Drew Lock.
You could almost worry that Mizzou over-did it at the receiver position, and even with Nate Strong heading to JUCO, numbers didn't necessarily dictate that Mizzou needed to sign three running backs. In theory, overdoing it on one position in one class could cause a shortage in another position in the future. We'll see what happens in that regard.
The DAMN! test
As we've discussed plenty of times, everybody's high school highlight film looks good. If you're signing with a power-conference team, you are probably capable of looking great against high school competition.
That said, there are always some players with better film than others. And in the last two recruiting classes, quite a few players have made me say DAMN!
In 2014, Tavon Ross' athleticism, Nate Brown's smoothness, Thomas Wilson's scrappiness, and Trevon Walters', Ish Witter's and Lawrence Lee's explosiveness were all noteworthy on film. In 2015, there was explosiveness everywhere you looked.
Here are my six favorite signees according to the DAMN! test (and why):
1. Terez Hall (ferocity)
2. Franklin Agbasimere (pursuit and raw athleticism)
3. Johnathon Johnson (speed)
4. Drew Lock (frozen ropes)
5. Richaud Floyd (speed)
6. AJ Harris (he's meeeeeean)
D-line ZOU is real. It's a mentality and a lifestyle to be the best d-line in the nation.— Shane Ray (@X_RAYted56) February 4, 2015
The stars of the class
The stars of the class
When you sign 23+ players, in theory you get one of just about everything. And I have to say, I think I'm more excited about the six front-seven prospects than anybody else.
DE: Marcell Frazier
DT: Terry Beckner Jr.
DT: Tyrell Jacobs
DE: Nate Howard/Josh Moore
LB: Terez Hall
LB: Franklin Agbasimere
Hell, move Howard or T.J. Warren to OLB, and you've got a fully functional front seven with loads of athleticism, upside, and downright ridiculous film.
There are always whiffs and what-ifs. Granted, Signing Day is supposed to be about who you did get, not who you didn't, but as we gauge the success of this class in the future, we will be at least subconsciously comparing the signees to the non-signees.
WR Brandon Martin (Dallas, TX -- decommitted from Mizzou and signed with LSU)
TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe (Suwanee, GA -- decommitted from Mizzou and signed with Florida)
Mizzou ended up with plenty of exciting players to add to the receiving corps, and Martin wasn't expected to qualify anyway, so the immediate loss here is minimal. But Martin in particular has loads of upside, and despite potential qualification issues, it was still disappointing that he chose another school, even if it was for a rather understandable reason (he's from Louisiana, and LSU is LSU).
WR Alex Ofodile (Columbia -- signed with Oregon)
DT Khalil Davis (Blue Springs -- signed with Nebraska)
DT Carlos Davis (Blue Springs -- signed with Nebraska)
TE Hale Hentges (Jefferson City -- signed with Alabama)
There is no shame in losing players to Oregon and Alabama, and the Davis twins had family ties to Nebraska. That Mizzou didn't land these prospects is certainly excusable. Still, if one of them turns into the next Zeke Elliott or Adrian Clayborn, that will add a certain lingering disappointment to the class, even if it indeed thrives.
At one point or another, there were other highly-touted prospects who seemed to be giving Mizzou a serious look. We'll see if any of them end up turning into stars.
COULDA WOULDA SHOULDA
JUCO WR Dede Westbrook (four stars, Brenham, TX -- Oklahoma)
OL George Brown (four stars, Cincinnati, OH -- LSU)
DE Raequan Williams (four stars, Chicago, IL -- Michigan State)
DE Russell Ude (four stars, Atlanta, GA -- California)
DT Darrion Daniels (four stars, Dallas, TX -- Oklahoma State)
LB Darrin Kirkland Jr. (four stars, Indianapolis, IN -- Tennessee)
LB Quarte Sapp (four stars, Alpharetta, GA -- Tennessee)
CB Kris Boyd (four stars, Gilmer, TX -- Texas)
K Austin Seibert (three stars, Belleville, IL -- Oklahoma)
This was a fun cycle
I've said before that following Mizzou is pretty boring. Mizzou is going to send out early offers to tons of prospects who end up getting four- and five-star ratings and signing with blue-blood programs. The Tigers are then going to go after two- and three-star guys who achieve just about as much as the four-star early-offer guys. They're going to land some out-of-nowhere diamonds in the rough -- it's one of the most exciting parts for me, honestly -- and they're going to sign classes that rank between about 30th and 45th. And then they're going to win 8-12 games and play at, on average, a top-15 to top-30 level. There's a formula here.
To a certain degree, that was the case for this class, too. Mizzou offered future blue-chippers like CeCe Jefferson and George Campbell early in the process, and they signed with Florida and Florida State, respectively. While they were still in on some four-star receivers, they landed lower-rated guys like Richaud Floyd and Emanuel Hall and seemed perfectly excited about it. They scored key local guys -- Terry Beckner, Drew Lock -- and missed out on a couple of others. And while this class is going to grade out better than almost any of the Pinkel era, it's still going to be middle-of-the-pack at best in the SEC.
But if Mizzou continues to develop its talent and achieve at a level higher than its recruiting classes, a top-20 or top-25 class might do all sorts of damage.
This was a fun cycle because of the early commitment of Drew Lock, the late commitment of Terry Beckner Jr., and the slow discovery of increasingly insane highlight film for guys like Hall, Agbasimere, and Johnson. And while there were a couple of decommitments, they were minimal. They won't all be like this, but I'll take it, and I can't wait to see which guys break through in areas of need this fall.
On to 2016.