Recruiting rankings matter. You know it, I know it, every college fan knows it. How much they matter? That’s a much more interesting debate.
Recruiting at a top 10-15 ranking doesn’t guarantee winning seasons. Just ask Tennessee. Recruiting in the 20-40 range isn’t a doomsday scenario. Just ask Gary Pinkel.
But, generally speaking, recruiting rankings tell us a pretty clear story - the more talent you acquire, the better your chances are of winning at a high level.
It’s not just about college success, either. There are always players that fall through the cracks, but the chances of finding an NFL caliber player is just significantly higher in 4 or 5-star prospects than it is with 2 or 3-star prospects. According to 247 Sports, more than half of the 5-stars in the 2014 class were selected in the NFL Draft. That drops to 24 percent of the 4-star players, seven percent of the 3-star players and just over 1 percent of the 2-star players.
In other words, your chances of finding a future NFL player are twice as likely with a 5-star talent than a 4-star talent, and more than three times as likely with a 4-star talent than a 3-star talent.
This gets us back to Mizzou. We all know the stories of players like Sean Weatherspoon and Charles Harris. They defied the odds and not only became tremendous players at Missouri, but went on to be selected high in the NFL Draft. These things happen. They’re just less likely than when you bring in the blue chip talent.
All of this is why what we’re witnessing from Eli Drinkwitz right now on the recruiting trail is so encouraging.
Missouri currently has the 15th ranked recruiting class nationally, according to Rivals. The Tigers are 13th in average star ranking; above the likes of Oregon, Texas, Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Michigan. Mizzou’s seven blue chip talents matches the total the Tigers were able to land from 2016-2020... combined.
Missouri’s 2020 class ranked 20th nationally, which was the highest such ranking for the Tigers in the Rivals era (since 2002). It’s possible if not likely the Tigers post their best recruiting classes in back-to-back years, which coincides with the first two full recruiting cycles under Eli Drinkwitz.
So, yeah, there’s a lot to be excited about. Obviously the headliner is 5-star wide receiver Luther Burden. You can read more about Burden here, but he’s not the only player worth learning about. Let’s take a look at where the Tigers stand with their current class, and where there’s still room for improvement.
The Headliners: 5-Star WR Luther Burden, 4-Star QB Sam Horn & 4-Star DT Marquis Gracial
The closest comparison for Burden’s playing style is probably Jeremy Maclin. I know that places lofty expectations upon the young man. He can handle it. He’s that special of a prospect.
Horn is currently rated as the seventh best pro-style quarterback in the country. The only Missouri quarterback commitments in the Rivals era rated higher than Horn are Blaine Gabbert (2008) and Chase Patton (2004). It’s hard to know exactly where he’ll fit into the mix for the Tigers next year, but he should be a factor in any quarterback competition moving forward.
If you’re reading Rock M Nation, you probably know plenty about Burden and Horn by now. You might not know enough about Gracial. He’s somehow gone a bit under-the-radar, but he shouldn’t be. I’ve heard recruiting expert Danny Heitert compare Gracial’s skillset to that of Sheldon Richardson. I think it fits. Gracial is big, strong, athletic and can slip blocks with the best of them. He might take some time to adjust to the competition level at the college level, but he has the potential to be a special player before his time at Missouri comes to an end.
Keep a close eye on: 3-Star WR Jamarion Wayne & 4-Star RB Tavorus Jones
Burden stole the headlines, but don’t overlook the other St. Louis wide receiver in this class. Jamarion Wayne is a highly skilled receiver out of Parkway West. He knows how to go up and get it, and he runs with a physicality that doesn’t match his frame. He’s slight, and he might take some time in the strength and conditioning program before we see him on the field, but watch out when we do. J.J. Hester is a pretty similar comparison to what Wayne could bring to the Tigers in the future.
If you’re looking for a player who could come in and contribute right away, it’s probably Tavorus Jones. The 11th ranked running back in the country already has SEC size at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, and his running style should fit this scheme with ease.
If there’s any position in which a player can translate immediately to the college level, it’s running back. And his case should be helped by Tyler Badie’s departure for the NFL after this season.
These projects could pay off: 3-Star LB Xavier Simmons & 3-Star DT Jalen Marshall
I know, I know. You’ve been reading this whole piece waiting to hear about the defensive help on the way. I, umm, have some bad news on that front. There isn’t a whole lot of that in this class. The Tigers currently only have one blue chip talent expected to play in the front seven (Gracial). The immediate contributors in that regard will likely come via the transfer portal in the offseason.
Simmons is a superb athlete with speed for days. He’s still learning how to hone those skills in to become the linebacker he’ll eventually be at the collegiate level. It could take some time. But if it clicks, he has all the talent to be a big-time playmaker at the position.
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
Marshall’s ceiling might not be as high as Simmons’, but I feel pretty confident that he’ll be a player who contributes on the field before his time at Missouri comes to an end. He’s a big body in the middle of the defense who should excel in shedding blocks and playing against the run. As we’ve seen this season, you can always use players like that.
It was nice to see Jalen Marshall run some stunts & games up front at St. Thomas Aquinas. That's something #Mizzou's defensive linemen will be asked to do under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. pic.twitter.com/IJnew921C3— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) July 14, 2021
What’s left: More help on the defensive side of the ball
The Tigers currently have 15 commitments, 10 of which are on the offensive side of the ball. There is plenty of room for improvement on defense. That’s not breaking news. I suspect Drinkwitz and his staff will look to make some additions from the junior college ranks, as well as via the transfer portal. But there’s still some in-state talent available, especially along the defensive line.
Drinkwitz could also look to bolster the offensive line with another addition. Next year’s class is where the real game-changers will come on that front. More on that at a later date.
For now, enjoy the class that’s already been put together. There will be more to come in the days and weeks ahead. Recruiting rankings matter, and Missouri is hoping to prove that in the next few years.