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Missouri’s Barry Odom has to win with talent evaluation. He passed his first test, at least.

The recipe calls for a few LDWs and at least a couple of DGBs.

EMU-Mason Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

What do Damarea Crockett, Cale Garrett, and Dimetrios Mason have in common?

A. They were the three most successful true freshmen from Missouri’s 2016 signing class this fall.

B. They all committed within two weeks of National Signing Day 2016.

Gary Pinkel won 118 games as Missouri head coach; his process for success was relatively easy to describe, even if it was awfully difficult to execute. Mizzou spent significant effort landing local blue-chippers and supplemented them with under-the-radar athletes from states that were both within the conference’s umbrella and deep with talent.

DGBs and LDWs

Heavily recruited studs like Tony Temple, Blaine Gabbert, Sheldon Richardson, Dorial Green-Beckham, etc., lined up next to under-recruited athletes like Danario Alexander, Sean Weatherspoon, Michael Sam, and L’Damian Washington. When the depth matched the upside, Mizzou won a lot of games. It didn’t always work out, but in the eight years between 2007-14, the Tigers finished ranked five times and finished in the top five twice.

Georgia v Missouri
At Missouri’s best under Gary PInkel, the Tigers combined blue-chip talent like Sheldon Richardson with diamonds-in-the-rough like Michael Sam.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Mizzou had finished ranked just five times in the 31 years between Dan Devine’s departure and Pinkel’s arrival and had only once ever finished in the top five pre-Pinkel (1960).

So yeah, the recipe worked pretty well. And at the heart of Pinkel’s process was talent evaluation. Having the depth to compete with bigger recruiting powers required the ability to spot talent that others didn’t.

Barry Odom faces the same requirement.

We can hope that Odom and his assistants are a little more adept at landing four-stars from out of state — once they have a little more to sell, anyway — but at best, we’re probably looking at marginal improvement.

For the most part, the teams that land the top recruits are the same ones that did 20 years ago. So even if recruiting bumps up a bit — and even if, in an increasingly lower-ceilinged best-case scenario, Mizzou still manages to land five or six of the Tiger 10 — Missouri’s success will still be largely dependent on unearthing diamonds, on finding the two-stars that can eventually play like three-stars and the threes that will play like fours.

We don’t have much of a sample to react to, but so far, so good.

It’s always tricky to evaluate a new coach’s first recruiting class. It’s usually an abbreviated effort — a new head coach is often a newcomer who got about one to two months to patch together whatever he could before signing day. In Odom’s case, he had a bit of an advantage in that he was Pinkel’s defensive coordinator and had obviously played a role in compiling the 2016 class before he took on his new title. (He also had a relative disadvantage, I guess, in trying to recruit to Mizzou right after the November 2015 protests.)

Still, Odom and his staff sent out a lot of late offers to fill out the class, so there might still be some value in comparing the 2016 signees who committed before Pinkel’s retirement and those who committed afterward.

The roster was in relative disrepair heading into 2016, and Mizzou asked a lot of its February signing class; whereas Pinkel saw a lot of success from redshirting and using guys over five years, Odom redshirted only one-third of the 2016 class. (This was also a potential sign of a philosophical change regarding redshirts.)

Here are the players who didn’t redshirt.

Pinkel commits
  • Nate Strong rushed for 137 yards, battling through injury for part of the year before taking on a heavy load in the last two games.
  • Defenders Demarkus Acy, Trey Baldwin, Christian Holmes, & Greg Taylor combined for 7.5 tackles and three pass breakups. Baldwin and Taylor both transferred after the season.
  • Trystan Castillo was a second-string offensive lineman who evidently maintained his redshirt.
  • Tucker McCann was the starting kicker from day one and battled inconsistency and a lack of confidence in the place-kicking department. He was great at kickoffs, though, at least until the end of the year.
Odom commits
  • Running back Damarea Crockett rushed for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games, seizing control of the starting job midway through the season and thriving.
  • Dimetrios Mason was by far the No. 2 receiver in the receiving corps, catching 48 of 76 passes for 606 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Cale Garrett spent the second half of the season in the starting lineup, not only recording 37.0 tackles but making six stops behind the line and defensing three passes (one pick, two PBUs).
  • Tre’Vour Simms and Kyle Mitchell were second-string offensive linemen.
  • Defensive tackle Markell Utsey moved into the second string after Terry Beckner Jr.’s ACL injury and recorded 3.5 tackles before suffering an ACL injury of his own.
  • JUCO receiver Dominic Collins had one catch for 22 yards.

There isn’t a huge difference here, and again, you can only read so much from an abbreviated signing class. But the success of Crockett, Mason, and Garrett was incredibly encouraging.

Crockett and quarterback Micah Wilson were Boise State commits and mid-three-star recruits per the 247Sports Composite, but Crockett showed far more high-end potential than that recruiting ranking suggested.

Damarea Crockett was a revelation at running back.
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

Mason was a low-three-star recruit who was mulling offers from schools like South Alabama, Marshall, and Georgia State. Mizzou found him and reeled him in just before signing day. He could be a stalwart in the starting lineup of a very good offense moving forward.

Kearney’s Garrett, meanwhile, had an even lower recruiting grade and was set to attend Navy before his home-state school came calling and flipped him the week before signing day.

Crockett was a four-star per Rivals, at least. The other two were recruiting afterthoughts. And now they’re pieces of a foundation.

Per the 247Sports Composite, Missouri’s 2017 signing class currently features just one four-star freshman — Akial Byers, who committed in April after qualification concerns got him dropped from Alabama’s commit list. Receiver Daron Davis was a four-star per Rivals, which also had cornerback Terry Petry listed at four stars for a while before a late downgrade. Regardless, they were all close to that line, and offensive linemen Case Cook and Hyrin White and linebacker Aubrey Miller were within shouting distance of the four-star cutoff too.

Still, most of these signees were in the mid-three-star range; the Composite system lists anyone between about 0.795 and 0.895 as three-stars (basically think of them as B-grade commits, and the scale makes sense), and 17 of Missouri’s 26 guys landed between 0.835 and 0.865.

In the SEC, this doesn’t get you very good marks. Mizzou’s class ranked just 13th in the league, per 247.

These prospects will need to overachieve their ratings for Mizzou to thrive under Odom. But the success of players like Mason and Garrett suggest they could do just that.

A good roster is a mix of depth and star power. Odom’s first class provided a little bit of the latter (especially in the form of Crockett) and what appears to be a solid amount of the latter. 2016 signees like not only Crockett, Holmes, Garrett, and McCann, but also DeMarkus Acy, Tre Williams, Christian Holmes, Brendan Scales/Albert Okwuegbunam, and others will likely have roles to play this coming year. Acy and Holmes could both end up starting.

If the 2017 class provides a similar level of impact in 2017-18, Missouri should once again have the depth to hold its own and reach minor bowls again. And if more star power emerges, either from the DGBs (like a few 2018 in-state four-stars) or the LDWs, the Tigers’ prospects quickly become bright.

Cale Garrett was a calming force for the Mizzou defense late in the year. And he was almost a Midshipman.
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

Note: this post originally appeared in December 2016, but with the recent looks at position units — defensive ends, defensive tackles, linebackers — it’s already becoming increasingly clear that Mizzou’s ability to land the right three-star guys is going to be as important for Barry Odom as it was for Gary Pinkel. So instead of writing a piece similar to the one above, I thought I would just refresh that one.