Eliah Drinkwitz arrived at Missouri with a reputation as a great offensive mind, a quarterback guru, and a dynamic play caller. Those skills have not manifested in Columbia, but he did immediately flash a new talent as an excellent recruiter, and he quickly compiled some of the best high school recruiting classes in the program’s modern history.
But in recent years the sport has shifted into the NIL and transfer portal era, and Mizzou’s 2023 high school recruiting class dipped in quantity and quality, while Drinkwitz and his staff continued to hit the portal for experienced talent.
With the spring portal window opening this weekend, I wanted to take a look at how Drinkwitz’s talent acquisition has evolved, and if there are any lessons to be learned. The method has changed in this new era of how to build a quality football program at Missouri; gone are the days of Pinkel’s staff finding 3-star gems and coaching them up over four-year careers.
One thing to note is how Drink’s early years perfectly align with a radical change in college football. He was hired in December of 2019, giving him two short months to build his “Year Zero” signing class, and then another before the world shut down. His second class was signed with limited summer camps and high school seasons, no on-campus visits, and all the other restrictions of pre-vaccination life, and also before the NCAA eliminated the one-year sit-out rule for transfers. The 2022 class was the first fully constructed with both NIL and free transfers. His 2023 class is truly the first without any major speedbumps that you could say he and his staff had an entire year to build. So let’s take a look at the stats over these years.
This chart shows how Missouri has become aggressive in dipping into the portal to add talent to the roster. Not as aggressive as Lane Kiffin or Lincoln Riley, but Drinkwitz has embraced the new school methods. (I presume the 2023 class of eight portal signings will grow over the coming weeks). But let’s take a look at where Drinkwitz takes his transfers from.
A clear favorite emerges: in the past two years, Drinkwitz and staff have prioritized taking Power Five transfers. While they are not averse to poaching the diamond in the rough from a small school like Cody Schrader or Marcellus Johnson, they are looking to find guys who have already played or were recruited to play at this level.
The benefits of Power Five transfers are myriad. They can not leave again without sitting unless they graduate, unlike a high school recruit. They have hopefully had a chance to physically, emotionally, and academically mature in another high-caliber program. They are easier to evaluate with game and practice film against peer players. While some Power Five transfers are brought in as projects to continue their development – think DL Ian Mathews, CB Marcus Clarke, DE Austin Firestone, etc – many arrive fully-fledged and ready to contribute.
An interesting thing to note is how Drinkwitz has been able to keep his rosters steady with portal influx by targeting players with essentially their whole careers ahead of them. He has signed as many players with four years to go as he has players with just one, and has loaded up on three-year contributors. A three-year, Power Five transfer is a great asset because of their pedigree, maturation, and stability as they are unlikely to transfer again.
As a program, Missouri will never compete with the high school blue-chip hoarders – especially the ones in their own conference. But with savvy portal usage, Eli Drinkwitz has been able to acquire talent and roster stability in an era where that is becoming harder to manage. While his first few recruiting cycles at Missouri were structurally rocky, his strategy has become transparent in the last two years. With the transfer portal opening again for the spring window, expect that strategy to yield a few more Tigers of tomorrow.