Let’s go in the ‘way back’ machine, shall we? The year is 2021. The month is February. Missouri is in its first full year under head football coach Eli Drinkwitz. Recruiting is reaching borderline unprecedented levels of success. The Tigers have signed five 4-star recruits and the recruiting class is ranked by Rivals as the 19th best in the country. Everything is looking up. Optimism is abound.
The 23-man recruiting class which was once held in such high regard has just eight players remaining on the roster. JaDarrius Perkins and J’Marion Gooch never made it on campus. Mekhi Wingo bolted for LSU after an impressive freshman campaign at Mizzou. The Tigers lost 4-star recruits Tyler Macon, Travion Ford and Dominic Lovett to the transfer portal as well. Taj Butts, Zachary Lovett, Davion Sistrunk, BJ Harris, Daniel Robledo, Gavin McKay, Darius Jackson, Zxaequan Reeves and Jonathan Jones have all transferred.
Okay, that’s a lot. It’s perhaps easier to list the players still on campus.
The only remnants of Missouri’s top-20 ranked 2021 recruiting class are Daylan Carnell, Ky Montgomery, Tyler Hibbler, Arden Walker, Ryan Hoerstkamp, Connor Tollison, Dameon Wilson and Realus George, Jr. From that group of eight, only Carnell is currently expected to serve in a starting capacity in 2023.
How... how is that possible? A number of factors, but most notable is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021 class was almost exclusively recruited through Zoom with little to no in-person evaluations. A number of states moved the high school football season to the spring, which took place after the 2021 college football signing period came to an end. Think about how players develop (or fail to develop) in their senior year. That kind of thing impacts recruiting in a significant way. More film is valuable for schools. There simply wasn’t that luxury for seniors in the 2021 class.
The pandemic impacted every aspect of our lives, and sports were no different. The business of college football didn’t stop, and the realities of recruiting certainly didn’t either. The misses in the 2021 class are not exclusive to Missouri, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when you watch it happen to your team.
The real test for Drinkwitz and Missouri will be the development of the Tigers’ 2022 recruiting class, the group highlighted by Luther Burden III and Sam Horn. That class was ranked as the 12th best in the country by Rivals. If the likes of Burden, Horn, Marquis Gracial, Tavorus Jones, Mekhi Miller and Armand Membou go on to become core pieces of a winning team this year, the 2021 class will be viewed as a blip on the radar. If instead, the 2022 class sees a similar mass exodus following the 2023 season, it will officially be time to question the way Missouri is going about its recruiting process.
One class does not yet deserve that kind of scrutiny. Not yet.