clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

JUCO? Uh...no.

How many Sci Martin’s does it take to find a Markus Golden? Is it worth it?

South Dakota State v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Eli Drinkwitz and friends have been on a fiendish tear of scouring the JUCO ranks for additions to the ‘22 class, seemingly taking a page from their basketball brethren and trying to beat the competition by finding market inefficiency in less-looked corners.

But is that, truly, the best way to build a roster in the modern game? Sure, Bill Snyder did it in the ‘80s and ‘90s but those were the days where the veer and options were still viable offenses run by blue-bloods and that’s certainly not the case 30-40 years later.

Well, let’s test the ROI on JUCO recruits for our dear, beloved, University of Missouri football Tigers, shall we? I want to know how many JUCO recruits Missouri has signed, how many earned playing time or started, and if any wound up in the NFL. Then we’ll compare that to Missouri’s high school/transfer recruiting over the same time period and figure out what the difference is.

First off - because I did the research and, dammit, I need someone to look at the dumb work that I did - here’s a list of every single JUCO signee that Missouri has had since the 2001 signing class:

  • 2001 - Ben Frederickson (TE), Tim Starks (ATH)
  • 2002 - Howard Brissette (OG), Atiyyah Ellison (DT), Steve Sanchez (OT), Mau Uiagalelei (LB), Rahman Lockhart (OT)
  • 2003 - Damien Nash (RB), Victor Sesay (TE), Nino Williams (S)
  • 2004 - George Lane (DT)
  • 2005 - Darnell Terrell (CB), Chad Marshall (DE), Louis Pintola (OT), Matt Russell (OT), DeMarcus Scott (DE), Jamar Smith (DE)
  • 2006 - Castine Bridges (CB), Pig Brown (CB), Tremane Vaughns (CB), Justin Brown (CB), Quran Barge (LB), Tommy Chavis (DT), Paul Simpson (WR), Charles Gaines (DT)
  • 2007 - Andy Maples (DT), Justin Garrett (S), Tremane Vaughns (ATH), Jake Harry IV (K), Jason Towson (DE)
  • 2008 - Brian Coulter (DE)
  • 2009 - Joshua Tatum (LB), Jasper Simmons (S), Jarrell Harrison (S)
  • 2010 - Kenronte Walker (CB)
  • 2011 - Sheldon Richardson (DT)
  • 2012 - Markus Golden (LB)
  • 2013 - Duron Singleton (S)
  • 2014 - Kenya Dennis (CB)
  • 2015 - Chase Abbington (RB), Marcell Frazier (DE), Tyler Howell (OT), Anthony Hines (CB), Malik Cueller (OT)
  • 2016 - Nate Strong (RB), Greg Taylor (S), Kyle Mitchell (OT), Dominic Collins (WR), Jack Lowary (QB)
  • 2017 - Walter Palmore (DT), Nate Anderson (DE), Rashad Brandon (DT), Yasir Durant (OT), Malik Young (DT)
  • 2018 - Antar Thompson (DT), Lindsey Scott (QB), Harry Ballard (WR)
  • 2019 - Chris Daniels (DT), Sci Martin (LB), Angel Matute (OT)
  • 2020 - Zeke Powell (OT), Ben Key (DE)
  • 2021 - JaDarrius Perkins (CB), Daniel Robledo (DE), Realus George Jr (DT)

There’s a lot of recognizable names in those mid-to-late aught JUCO signees. Less recognizable names as you progress to modern day, however.

But, again, the game is quite a bit different in 2022 than it was even in 2004 or 2010. So let’s limit our sample size here to the past ten years of JUCOs who’ve had a chance to sign with the Tigers and play, meaning our timeframe is going from all JUCOs signed between the 2012 and 2021 signing classes.

Let’s start at 2012 then! And what a place to start, huh?

2012

Missouri v Texas A&M Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

JUCO Signees: 1 - Markus Golden (Defensive End)

Starters: 1

Multi-year Starters: 1

All-Americans: 1

NFL Draft Picks: 1

Markus Golden is, basically, what fans dream that every JUCO signee will be. Golden hit the JUCO route to get his grades in line and then spent the 2012 season as a backup outside linebacker and special teams player. Then 2013 happened and he was one piece of the four-headed pass-rushing demon that the Tigers deployed in their magical run to the East Division crown and Cotton Bowl championship. Markus was a two-year starter, 2nd Team All-SEC selection in 2014, Citrus Bowl MVP, and was selected in the 2nd Round of the NFL Draft with the 58th pick by the Arizona Cardinals. 270 tackles, 44.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, and an interception in an incredibly efficient, 2-year college career is about as much as you can ask for.

2013

NCAA FOOTBALL: AUG 30 South Dakota State at Missouri Photo by Scott Kane/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

JUCO Signees: 1 - Duron Singleton (Safety)

Starters: 1

Multi-year Starters: 1

All-Americans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 0

The #1-rated JUCO safety of 2013, Singleton arrived in Columbia and immediately cracked the starting rotation for the Tigers. He missed two games in 2013 and 2014 each due to a lingering injury but finished his career with 69 tackles, 4 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup, and 1 forced fumble. He didn’t make any All-American teams or get drafted by the NFL.

2014

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl - Minnesota v Missouri Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

JUCO Signees: 1 - Kenya Dennis (Cornerback)

Starters: 1

Multi-year Starters: 1

All-Americans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 0

With E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder out of eligibility at the end of 2013 - and Aarion Penton still acclimating to SEC play - Missouri desperately needed a second corner with enough experience to see the field and compete immediately and Kenya Dennis was that guy. A team captain in 2015, Dennis was a multi-year starter that finished his career with 96 tackles, 7 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 16 passes broken up, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble

2015

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 28 Missouri at UConn Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

JUCO Signees: 5 - Chase Abbington (Running Back), Marcell Frazier (Defensive End), Tyler Howell (Offensive Tackle), Anthony Hines (Cornerback), Malik Cueller (Offensive Tackle)

Starters: 2

Multi-year Starters: 1

All-Americans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 0

Malik Cueller’s only contribution to the team was getting suspended at the same time as Maty Mauk in 2015; otherwise he never saw the field. Abbington was on the field for 10 games and carried the ball 6 times for 39 yards before transferring to SEMO. Anthony Hines was a late depth addition to the ‘15 class but was mostly a special teams contributor. Tyler Howell started every game at tackle in 2016 and then was usurped by Yasir Durant and became a rotational player for the rest of his career. Marcell Frazier had the best career of this group, finishing with 90 tackles, 31 TFLs, 17.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 pass broken up, but no All-American nods, nor was he drafted.

2016

JUCO Signees: 5 - Nate Strong (Running Back), Greg Taylor (Safety), Kyle Mitchell (Offensive Tackle), Dominic Collins (Wide Receiver), Jack Lowary (Quarterback)

Starters: 0

Multi-year Starters: 0

All-Americans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 0

Nate Strong was a decent third-string back who had a strong performance against Arkansas in 2016 (17 rushes, 52 yards, 2 TDs) but transferred to Southern Illinois. Greg Taylor managed one tackle over 8 games and also transferred away. Kyle Mitchell saw the field on the field goal protection unit but that’s it. Dominic Collins finished his Missouri career with 10 catches for 145 yards and 1 touchdown. Jack Lowary was a break-in-case-of-emergency quarterback signee who only saw time against Missouri State and UConn in 2016.

2017

Missouri v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

JUCO Signees: 5 - 2017 - Walter Palmore (Defensive Tackle), Nate Anderson (Defensive End), Rashad Brandon (Defensive Tackle), Yasir Durant (Offensive Tackle), Malik Young (Defensive Tackle)

Starters: 3

Multi-year Starters: 1

All-Americans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 0

Malik Young made it on campus but the SEC ruled he would not be eligible for competition. Rashad Brandon and Nate Anderson contributed as rotational players on the 2017 squad but saw their playing time wain in 2018. Walter Palmore became a starter for all 13 games in 2018 and, while undrafted, managed to make a few NFL rosters from 2020-2021. Yasir Durant was a multi-year starter who was, surprisingly, not an All-American nor a draft pick but played with the Kansas City Chiefs and is currently on the New England Patriots roster.

2018

JUCO Signees: 3 - Antar Thompson (Defensive Tackle), Lindsey Scott (Quarterback), Harry Ballard III (Wide Receiver)

Starters: 0

Multi-year Starters: 0

All-Americans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 0

Harry Ballard committed twice to Missouri - once out of high school, once out of JUCO - and never made it on the team due to grades (first time) and an undisclosed disciplinary issue (second time), eventually transferring to Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Lindsey Scott couldn’t beat out Drew Lock nor Kelly Bryant and transferred to Nicholls in September of 2019. Antar Thompson saw a few snaps at tackle but never experienced any meaningful action, eventually getting his degree and quitting football in 2020.

2019

JUCO Signees: 3 - Chris Daniels (Defensive Tackle), Sci Martin (Linebacker), Angel Matute (Offensive Tackle)

Starters: 0

Multi-year Starters: 0

All-Americans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 0

All three saw a few snaps each over the years but none became a starter nor a rotational player. Matute medically retired, Daniels transferred to North Texas, and Martin transferred to Southeastern Louisiana.

2020

JUCO Signees: 2 - 2020 - Zeke Powell (Offensive Tackle), Ben Key (Defensive End)

Starters: 1

Multi-year Starters: 0

All-Americans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 0

Zeke Powell was a late addition that wound up starting game one of the 2020 season against Alabama. He had starts through the rest of that year as well but has become a lightly used rotational piece as the years have gone on. Ben Key saw six snaps in two years and chose to transfer to UNLV.

2021

JUCO Signees: 3 - JaDarrius Perkins (Cornerback), Daniel Robledo (Defensive End), Realus George Jr (Defensive Tackle)

Starters: 0

Multi-year Starters: 0

All-Americans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 0

JaDarrius Perkins transferred right after spring practice and wound up at Florida. Daniel Robledo saw 18 snaps over 2 games in 2021, producing one tackle. Realus George played 130 snaps over 8 games last year, finishing with 8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 run stuffs.

So...how do the percentages compare?

From 2012-2021 Missouri signed 29 JUCO recruits. Of those 29 signees a total of nine players - or 31% - started at least one game, Five starters were multi-year starters for the Tigers; that’s 55% of all the JUCOs who ended up being starters but only 17% of the entire group. And, of course, Markus Golden is the lone All-American and NFL Draft pick, although two others managed to make an NFL roster. Regardless, that’s 3% of JUCO signees that became an All-American or an NFL Draft pick.

How does that stack up to the high school and transfer ranks over that same period? Glad you asked!

From 2012-2021, Missouri signed 224 high school and transfer recruits. Here’s how those numbers shake out:

  • High School/Transfer Starters: 113 - 50%
  • High School/Transfer Multi-year starters: 67 - 30%
  • High School/Transfer All-Americans: 20 - 9%
  • High School/Transfer NFL Draft Picks: 14 - 6%

Pretty clear winner here, yeah? In case you’re a visual person here’s how the comparisons shake out:

  • Starters: HS/T 50% - JUCO 31%
  • Multi-year starters: HS/T 30% - JUCO 17%
  • All-Americans: HS/T 9% - JUCO 3%
  • NFL Draft Picks: HS/T 6% - JUCO 3%

Even with a larger sample size, signing a high school or transfer recruit (over the past 10 years at Missouri) gives you a better chance at a starter, almost double the chance at a multi-year starter, 3-times the chance at an All-American, and double the chances of an NFL Draft Pick.

So...what does it all mean?

Look, you’re not signing a JUCO kid because you expect an All-American type of performance; no, you sign them, more often than not, to “build depth”. And if a coach believes that there is a lack of playable depth and they desperately need a body to fill that spot...well, yeah, you have a one-in-three chance at finding a starter from the JUCO ranks as compared to the 50/50 shot with a high school recruit. But high school kids rarely start as freshmen and if you inherit a roster devoid of the talent you need to compete or skills you desire, than recruiting JUCO kids is a decent proposal as a stop-gap until your freshmen recruits can play.

But think of the JUCOs signed in the past three years: Perkins never played, Daniels/Martin/Matute/Key saw fewer than 20 snaps over two years, and Robledo in on a similar trajectory. You’re telling me a high schooler can’t contribute like that? Zeke Powell did start but has only done exactly what was expected of him, nothing more. If the majority of your JUCOs are only getting a handful of snaps in blowout situations, couldn’t a high school recruit provide that same sort of depth while also being, ya know, a three/four-year player that can grow in your system? Seems like that’s a better option to me!

But the portal eliminates a lot of that need for JUCO recruits, yes? It used to be players would go to JUCO because their grades didn’t cut it or to ball-out on worse competition than you’d find at the FBS level, elevate your recruiting status, and then get a scholarship at a G5 or P5 school. But now? If your grades are good you might as well sign with a G5 or FCS or D-II team, ball-out on worse competition, then hit the portal and have immediate eligibility with a proven ability to make grades and handle a college-athlete schedule. Coaches should value that more and, as recent trends indicate, do value that more than JUCO experience.

It just seems to me that a flurry of JUCO signings only makes sense if you’re turning over a roster and, even then, transfers are probably a better investment. JUCOs are 2-3 years max and they need to acclimate to the FBS level; transfers are 2-3 years and are already at the FBS level. So when a coaching staff has three full recruiting classes under their belt and are still chasing JUCO recruits...what are we to make of that? “Your guys” still aren’t ready? Or did you evaluation process not do a good enough job of fully understanding the player you were bringing in and now you’re desperate to find a replacement as you push them out?

The ‘20 and ‘21 recruiting classes had almost zero in-person evaluations or campus visits so, I’ll admit, maybe this is a unique problem for Eli Drinkwitz and every coach in the country as they face unprecedented turnover dud to poorer scouting reports during the pandemic. But chasing JUCO recruits seems like an antiquated answer to the modern game that provides better opportunities from better avenues.