Few new coaches have had a recruiting stretch like Missouri head coach Eliah Drinkwitz.
Missouri has gotten seven commitments in nine days, and it has vaulted Missouri’s 2021 recruiting class to No. 19 in the country and No. 5 in the Southeastern Conference.
The run has energized a fanbase that’s familiar with a flagship program’s inability to recruit both its own state and its metropolitan hubs like St. Louis. Drinkwitz and his “NewZOU” mantra have given Missouri a new life. He has seven comitts in the 2021 class from Missouri or the Saint Louis metro area after Missouri had zero in 2017 and 18 over the last five years.
But how much has really changed on the recruiting trail?
Although the rankings look impressive, it’s too early to read much into them.
For example, Rutgers has the No. 14 class in the country, according to Rivals. Greg Schiano’s Scarlet Knights have already signed 21 recruits. However, based on Rivals rankings, they have yet to sign any four-star or higher recruits.
MU’s ranking appears to be a product of the quantity rather than quality. According to 247Sports composite rankings, Missouri only has one four-star, Lutheran North defensive end Travion Ford, out of its 16 recruits. Only 15 Power Five schools have matched Missouri’s total of 16 pledges, but seven of those schools have more four-stars, according to 247Sports.
That suggests Missouri’s ranking won’t last if and when other schools add recruits later in the cycle. The Tigers 2021 class ranks higher than Alabama, but of the Crimson Tide’s eight commits, seven of them are four-stars.
A more accurate way to view Missouri’s class at this point would be to look at the average rankings of recruits.
Missouri’s average star value in the Rivals database for 2021 recruits is 3.13, which is currently 10th in the SEC and 27th nationally. Those rankings aren’t nearly as impressive, and they show only a slight improvement over MU’s previous classes.
Also, SEC schools tend to outperform other conferences on the recruiting front. All 14 SEC recruiting classes finished top-50 in the country in 2019, so Missouri’s conference ranking certainly gives a more significant semblance of success than its national ranking since the Tigers mostly play SEC schools.
Drinkwitz is pulling his weight with his first-year counterparts in the SEC in the 2021 class. He is on par with Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach, who have class averages of 3.17 and 3.11 at Mississippi and Mississippi State. Drinkwitz is also slightly outperforming Arkansas and Sam Pittman, who has a class with 12 three-star commits. Drinkwitz has the most recruits of those four and so he currently has the best class of the conference’s newcomers.
Drinkwitz said at his introductory press conference that his goal for Missouri is to win the SEC East, but if the Tigers keep bringing in classes that are in the bottom third of the conference that could prove to be difficult.
Taking a big-picture look, the 2021 class at this point looks similar to Missouri’s 2019 class that was 34th nationally and 13th in the SEC.
In 2019, Missouri’s recruits had an average star rating of 3. The Tigers also landed three of Missouri’s top-10 recruits. This season, Drinkwitz and company have done a little better in the Show-Me State, reeling in four of the state’s top-10 recruits, but the 2019 class also had more top-end talent overall, based on 247sports rankings. That year, Missouri had three four-stars in quarterback Connor Bazelak, offensive lineman Jack Buford, and safety Jalani Williams. To this point, Drinkwitz’s first full cycle has only produced Ford.
Most of Drinkwitz’s class hinges on Ford’s commitment, as he’s Missouri’s only recruit in the top-200 nationally according to 247sports.
Players are committing faster and sometimes without stepping on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This class has had over twice as many commits to this point than last year, according to 247sports. That could have ramifications later in the cycle if players decide to decommit once the NCAA’s extended recruiting dead period is lifted. The dead period has been in effect since March 13 and was extended until August 31 Thursday.
If Ford or a couple of Missouri’s higher-end commits flip to another school, then this class would be a mirror image of recent classes filled with three-star talent.
However, Missouri is making its committed players a priority. In Missouri’s coaches meeting Wednesday, Drinkwitz emphasized staying in contact with committed recruits. Running backs coach Curtis Looper said the team is having Zoom calls with the class on a nearly weekly basis.
“A lot of people, they get athletes that are committed to them and they forget about them,” Looper said Wednesday. “Well, the ones that are committed to us are the most important to us because they are ours. I think there will be some de-commitments if things change and I think we’ll handle those that are committed to us in a way that, that they’ll stay committed to us.”
Landing three-star players early could be a double-edged sword for Missouri’s 2021 class. Those players are usually average recruits for a Power Five program so it builds a good base and allows MU to focus on getting quality players later in the cycle, but it also fills up scholarships, taking up 16 spots that could go to higher-ranked recruits later down the line. Unless recruits decommit or MU rescinds offers, the ceiling for MU’s 2021 class is limited with three-stars taking up a majority of the class so early in the cycle.
One recruit that could elevate this class is four-star East Saint Louis wideout Dominic Lovett. Lovett’s quarterback, Tyler Macon, has already committed to Missouri and his head coach told Frank Cusamono that Missouri has a good chance of landing Lovett. Missouri has also offered Flyers three-star wideout Keontez Lewis.
Drinkwitz’s hot start this cycle has shown progress. He’s recruiting within Missouri’s borders well. And although he has more top-end Missouri talent than previous classes, he still has a ways to go.
If he can bring in four or five-star talent to top off the class, then it will shape up to be one of the best in recent memory. But if Missouri misses on some of its later targets, then its class will end up failing to stand out when national signing day rolls around.