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Banking on Stars vs. Mining for Gold in Missouri’s Recruiting Classes

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Based on ratings, are the players who end up contributing for the Tigers the ones we’d expect?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt
Cale Garrett: long, reflective nature-walk taker and proud continuer of the tradition of Missouri players who come out of relative obscurity to post extremely productive college careers.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a well-worn trope by now and one that, anecdotally, bears out as true: Missouri finds its stars from the depths of the unheralded.

Whether it be Danario Alexander or Sean Weatherspoon, Justin Britt or Michael Sam, Kevin Pendleton or Charles Harris, the Tigers just seem to have a knack for plucking players out of obscurity and making them into outstanding college performers.

But what about the guys at the other end of the recruiting class? The ones who, by their pedigrees, should end up among the ranks of the Tigers’ top players and — wouldn’t you know it — they do?

From Drew Lock to Terry Beckner, from Evan Boehm to Kony Ealy, from Chase Daniel to Sheldon Richardson, they do as well.

I wanted to look at how a Tigers team developed from a talent standpoint and which end of the recruiting rating spectrum ended up holding the most weight, so I took all of Missouri’s signees from 2014-18, plotted them all together and year by year by 247Sports composite rating and saw how many games and starts came from which constituencies.

For each year, I divvied up the class around its average rating. For the overall list, I divvied everyone up around the Tigers’ average prospect rating from 2014-18 (.8516), then I also split them into thirds by individual rating (123 prospects total, so a top 41, middle 41 and bottom 41).

Here’s what I got.

Overall (2014-18)

Average Rating: .8516
Top Half Players (% Total): 57 (46.3)
Starts (% Total): 319 (45.8)
Games (% Total): 922 (45.1)
Bottom Half Players (% Total): 66 (53.7)
Starts (% Total): 377 (54.2)
Games (% Total): 1121 (54.9)

Pretty normalized, right? From the percent of total players in each half, the percent of total starts and games is about in line with the number of guys starting and playing. This would lend a little more credence to the “Missouri finds a disproportionate amount of diamonds in the rough” argument because you’d expect that, if the players were rated higher, they would take up a disproportionate percentage of the team’s games and starts.

Now let’s see what happens when we split those 123 prospects into thirds. Each third, remember — by virtue of being a third — makes up 33.3 percent of all players on the list.

Top Third

Bottom Limit: .8576 (Walter Palmore)
Starts (% Total): 271 (38.9)
Games (% Total): 647 (31.7)
Biggest Hits: Terry Beckner (.9918), Drew Lock (.9553), Brandon Lee (.9000), Terez Hall (.8637), Johnathon Johnson (.8615)
Biggest Misses: Darvis Holmes (.9566), Andy Bauer (.9306), Natereace Strong (.8959), DaRon Davis (.8875), Marquise Doherty (.8786)

So, thanks to some big-timers, this top group is more than holding its weight when it comes to starts. But, also thanks to some big-time whiffs, not when it comes to games, the sort of depth-building measure.

A moment here, too, to talk about Darvis Holmes. Like, what in the world happened at 247 headquarters with him? This is his listed composite, mind you, and it’s higher than Drew Lock’s. And Rivals had him as a 5.5 3-star. So, um, what happened there?

Mid Third

Bottom Limit: .8407 (Spencer Williams)
Starts (% Total): 282 (40.5)
Games (% Total): 774 (37.9)
Biggest Hits: Emanuel Hall (.8498), Paul Adams (.8493), DeMarkus Acy (.8467), Tre’Vour Simms (.8457), Trystan Castillo (.8446)
Biggest Misses: Grant Jones (.8453), Harry Ballard (.8444), Tavon Ross (.8436...I guess?), Justin Smith (.8431), Trey Bladwin (.8420)

This, I feel, is where Missouri really differentiates itself. Not the big star guys. Not the out of nowhere guys. The ones that not many other Power-5 programs besides Missouri want but who end up being multiyear starters once they get to campus. You can see it in the outsized percentages of starts (22 percent better than its players share) and games (14 percent better) it takes up. Larry Rountree (.8435) is in this group as well. He’s pretty good.

Bottom Third

Bottom Limit: .7858 (Walter Brady)
Starts (% Total): 143 (20.5)
Games (% Total): 622 (30.4)
Biggest Hits: Kendall Blanton (.8388), Chris Turner (.8360), Kevin Pendleton (.8334), Cale Garrett (.8073), Corey Fatony (.7939)
Biggest Misses: Tyrell Jacobs (.8398), Thomas Richard (.8372), Mike Fairchild (.8360), Jerod Alton (.8359), Marvin Zanders (.8334)

Though, to be fair, can you really call people from this group “misses?” When the recruiting rankings didn’t exactly set up beaucoup expectations in the first place? Missouri has gotten some nice players from these ranks recently, but not a ton of consistent starters or even contributors.

Here’s my work, if you wanted to check it out: