The definition of cliché is a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. I hope you’ll forgive me for using a tried and true cliché: Recruiting is all about relationships, baby.
I know, I know. Not particularly original. But it’s a cliché for a reason, and it just helped Missouri land another top out-of-state recruit.
Please, allow me to explain.
Eli Drinkwitz’s first and only year as a head coach prior to his time at Missouri came at Appalachian State, which is located in the great state of North Carolina. The Tigers’ linebackers coach, D.J. Smith, is one of just three holdovers from Drink’s staff with the Mountaineers.
Smith’s presence has proven critical for the Tigers in recruiting linebackers from North Carolina over the past two seasons. Carolina hasn’t exactly been a pipeline of talent for the Tigers over the years. In fact, the only recruits from North Carolina to commit to Mizzou in the Rivals era (2000-2019) prior to Drinkwitz’s arrival were Larry Rountree III and Gerald Nathan, Jr.
Linebacker Dameon Wilson added his name to that list in the 2021 class. Four star linebacker Xavier Simmons is the latest North Carolina recruit to commit to the Tigers. In other words, the Tigers have landed as many linebackers from North Carolina in the last two years as they did total commits from North Carolina from 2000-2020.
Relationships, folks, they’re important.
And, in this case, they helped the Tigers land one heck of a player.
Rivals rates Simmons as a 3-star player, and the 43rd best linebacker in the country. He’s listed as their 16th rated player in the state of North Carolina. 247 Sports is a bit higher on Simmons. Their services have Simmons is listed as a 4-star athlete, the 22nd best linebacker in the country and the 7th best player in the state of North Carolina.
Regardless of where you look, Simmons is viewed as a heck of a player and a great addition to Missouri’s 2022 recruiting class. Simmons is the 13th known commit in the ‘22 class, which is now rated 25th nationally by Rivals and 15th by 247 Sports.
Where he fits: Simmons is an intriguing chess piece for the defense. He reminds me a bit of Devin Nicholson in that he’s not your prototypical linebacker build. He’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, and that looks about right on film. He’ll definitely add weight in college, but his length combined with his athleticism allows Simmons to add extra value as a pass rusher.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if Simmons’ initial contributions are as a sub-package defender on obvious passing downs. Eventually, like Nicholson, he could develop into a more significant contributor on base downs.
When he’ll play: Missouri has a potentially massive transition coming at the linebacker position, so Simmons could see the field sooner rather than later. Alldredge is entering his final year of eligibility. Nicholson and Chad Bailey each have one more season to play. After that, the Tigers have a whole lot of unknowns at the position in Dameon Wilson, Will Norris, Jamie Pettway and Zach Lovett.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Simmons could see the field in certain situations as a redshirt freshman in 2023. With his athleticism, though, he could come in and contribute on special teams right away.
What it all means: The Tigers get longer, faster and way more explosive at linebacker with the addition of Simmons. He’s a unique athlete with a frame that reminds me of Nicholson, but a game that reminds me of former Mizzou linebacker Terez Hall. He’s constantly playing downhill and he looks like he’s shot out of a cannon while doing so.
Xavier Simmons plays like he's been shot out of a cannon. Super impressive playing downhill. Reminds me a bit of watching Terez Hall's game coming out of high school. Heat seeking missile. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/lPvAzdNDAb— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) August 17, 2021
That’s an exciting player to watch in high school. It makes for an interesting transition in college, though. Simmons will be asked to read far more keys in defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ system, so it could take some time to make that transition in the base defense.
All of the tools are there. And maybe the mental transition will be easy as can be. It’s just impossible to know that portion of his game until he arrives on campus. For now, Mizzou fans have every reason to be excited about another significant addition to an already stellar recruiting class.