Well that was some fun, huh?
Early Signing Day has come and gone and [peaks nervously] Mizzou still has a consensus top 20 recruiting class in the country (19 at Rivals, 11 at 247.) If you’d have told Tiger fans that a few years ago, how shocked would you be?
From the Ennis Rakestraw commitment, to last year’s top 25 class, to the heights of 2022, recruiting has been the brightest of bright spots for Eli Drinkwitz at Mizzou. And while Wednesday felt pretty cut-and-dry, it was the culmination of two years of excellent work by him and his staff. Surely they’ll take an evening to celebrate before hitting the road once again tomorrow. Hey, there’s a portal to investigate!
Here are three big takeaways from Early Signing Day, two of which are Mizzou-specific and one which deals with the big story of the day.
1. No surprises... OK, fine, one surprise
At the beginning of the day, we expected Missouri to sign 16 or 17 recruits, all of whom had verbally committed to the Tigers. At the end of the day? That’s exactly what happened.
Signing days like Wednesday can be boring for fans. We’re conditioned to expect the unexpected and gobble up the drama of last second flips and surprise commitments. There was plenty of that on Wednesday (more in a minute), but Missouri generally avoided big surprises, the one exception being the commitment of 4-star defensive end DJ Wesolak.
Believe it or not, boring can be a good thing. Depending on what Eli Drinkwitz does with the remaining two months of this cycle, this could turn out to be Missouri’s highest rated class ever... after three straight seasons of .500 football. That’s an impressive achievement, especially considering the staff locked most of the commits up early. If the staff hopes to continue elevating Mizzou’s ‘crootin game, holding onto commitments like this will be a major key.
2. Borders “locked down”? Maybe, maybe not
We probably go a little too far when we say that any coach has “locked down” the border i.e. kept the top high school talent in state. High school athletes are individuals, not fish in a school all swimming in the same direction. They make their own decisions about how close they want to be from home, what schools they idolized, their respective career paths, etc.
Since Eli Drinkwitz came to Mizzou, much has been made about his renewed efforts at recruiting the Show Me State. Those efforts have paid off spectacularly, with nine of Wednesday’s 15 signees coming from in-state or just outside of the borders. Three of the class’ top five prospects are St. Louis area natives. The Missouri kids span from Kansas City to St. Louis to Boonville, representing all areas of the state.
However, there’s always more that could be done. Seven of the state’s top 10 recruits committed elsewhere this cycle, including 4-stars Kevin Coleman (still uncommitted), Tyson Ford (Notre Dame), Domonique Orange (Iowa State) and Cameron Epps (Oklahoma State).
This isn’t a criticism of the staff or a knock on the players Missouri did sign. You’re not going to get every kid you want to come play for you, and sometimes roster makeup dictates that you have to pick and choose which players you really want to prioritize. But there’s still more talent to be tapped in Missouri’s borders. Hopefully, Eli Drinkwitz continues to secure them; the talent coming out of Missouri will play a large role in Drink’s long-term success as the Tigers’ head coach.
3. NIL is changing the recruiting landscape
Mizzou’s NSD may have been boring, yet the national landscape was anything but. The foundations of the sport were rocked around noon when the country’s top recruit, ATH Travis Hunter, spurned his nearly-two-year commitment to Florida State at the very last minute and committed to... Jackson State University. Yes, the FCS program currently helmed by Deion “Prime” Sanders.
This is an incredibly complex situation, one that broaches the topics of the coaching carousel, paying players and especially the role of historically black colleges and universities in college athletics. But the big story here is how Name, Image, and Likeness laws have shifted the way we need to think about college football.
Did Barstool help orchestrate a million-dollar signing day flip of the nation’s top recruit?— Front Office Sports (@FOS) December 15, 2021
Travis Hunter flipped from Florida State to Jackson State, home to HC Deion Sanders — who now works with Barstool. pic.twitter.com/IaaMGvrXHt
First, and this goes without saying most of the time, **** Barstool.
Second, the rumored NIL deal for Hunter ranges into the millions, a number unheard of even in the days of “illegally” paying players. Far be it from us to determine whether or not Hunter will be worth that money. But it’s impossible to not see how these sorts of deals are seismically impactful or, at the very least, useful in evening the ground on which all schools stand. Hunter likely would have made excellent money in NIL deals at Florida State, but clearly his longtime commitment didn’t mean much with the money on the table.
As we continue into this era of NIL investment, be prepared for more stories like this. Be it at HBCUs, middling power conference schools like Missouri or major brands like Texas, NIL is going to play a vital role in the recruitment of countless athletes.