Eli Drinkwitz knows the importance of having a strong defensive line. His first full recruiting class featured five defensive ends and two defensive tackles. He added another two defensive tackles and DJ Wesolak in the 2022 recruiting class. He got a quick start to add more talent to D-Line Zou when Troy Buchanan’s 3-star defensive end Jahkai Lang became Missouri’s second known commitment for the 2023 class when he committed to the Tigers back in December.
The Drinkwitz staff seems to have a “type” at defensive end. Guys like Tyrone Hopper, Trajan Jeffcoat, Isaiah McGuire, and Daniel Robledo aren’t crazy “twitchy” athletes. They aren’t natural speed rushers bending around the edge and flying toward the quarterback. Instead, they win with power. Lang fits into that category as well. He’s a physical presence, listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds as a high school junior. His film is littered with plays he makes behind the line of scrimmage, most of which start with him shedding multiple blocks before arriving at the quarterback or the ball-carrier.
Where he fits: This is something worth monitoring. Lang will almost certainly start at defensive end, but it shouldn’t come as a shock if he eventually kicks inside - especially on passing downs. Ky Montgomery took a similar (although more accelerated) path when he arrived at Mizzou. Based on reports, Montgomery is already spending a good amount of time at defensive tackle.
That doesn’t mean this is a sure thing. It’s possible Lang follows in Jonathan Jones’ footsteps instead, and ultimately stays on the edge as a quality run and pass defender. That’s one of the things that stands out on Lang’s film immediately. He clearly takes pride in the way he plays against the run. He’s particularly impressive against outside zone runs. He has the ability to stack and shed blockers with the best of them, stringing out the run toward the sideline and ultimately coming down with the ball-carrier gaining little to no yardage.
When he’ll play: This is hard to know. Missouri is about to enter a transition period at defensive end. Trajan Jeffcoat and Isaiah McGuire technically have another year of eligibility due to the Covid season, but both could decide to move on after the season. Tyrone Hopper will be gone after the year. That means players like Johnny Walker Jr., Travion Ford, Jonathan Jones, Arden Walker and DJ Wesolak could have their opportunity to shine starting in 2023. Could Lang work his way into that mix sooner rather than later? It’s possible.
The more likely scenario, though, is that he sits behind the loaded defensive line class from 2021 for a period of time before eventually getting his chance to shine. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. The defensive line classes got out of whack there for a time at the end of Barry Odom’s tenure, but it appears things are getting back to normal and the typical development curve is the way to go once again.
What it all means: Lang is considered a top 15 player in the state of Missouri in the 2023 class, according to Rivals, and one of the top three defensive linemen in the state for the class. He fits the mold of a typical defensive lineman for Drinkwitz. He’ll have the ability to come in and compete for a depth role right away, and eventually a starting role either along the interior or on the edge, depending on Missouri’s plans and needs along the defensive line.