Geography almost prevents Missouri Tigers from landing classes that rank alongside some of the Tigers’ SEC rivals at the top of the leaderboard. First-year head coach Barry Odom signed a class that ESPN ranked 51st nationally, indicating that, like predecessor Gary Pinkel, player development will remain an especially important aspect of the Missouri head coach’s job where the 2016 signees are concerned.
Missouri’s position of strength: Missouri’s defense is outstanding, and it should remain that way in 2016 with players like Michael Scherer, Charles Harris, Terry Beckner Jr., Walter Brady and -- possibly -- Harold Brantley returning.
Nonetheless, the Tigers supplemented that gifted collection of defenders with signees who have the potential to develop into future stars. Hometown edge rusher Tre Williams could be one such player and early enrollee Trey Baldwin might be another at linebacker.
Missouri needed to add depth in the back end, however, since only three scholarship safeties are available for spring practice. Adding juco safety Greg Taylor could be useful early, and three-star safety DeMarkus Acy could develop into a valuable player eventually.
Missouri’s biggest need heading in to NSD: As good as the defense was, the offense was a complete disaster. From quarterback instability to inconsistent receivers to an impotent running game, Missouri’s offense lacked it all -- and the Tigers desperately needed to add some explosiveness to the mix.
There are not many sure things in this class, but running back Natereace Strong should be one of them. The No. 28 overall prospect on ESPN’s JC 50, Strong is the downhill runner that Missouri wants in its backfield and is the highest-rated signee in the class. He and three-star running back Damarea Crockett will immediately jump into the mix in a position group that lost Russell Hansbrough and returns leading rusher Ish Witter.
The Tigers also addressed needs in the passing game, both at quarterback and with additional pass-catchers. They flipped quarterback Micah Wilson and tight end Brendan Scales late in the process and added several intriguing wide receivers.
How Missouri did on NSD to address the need: There is a distinct Alabama flavor within the crop of new Tigers. Not only did they grab Scales away from Alabama’s recruiting class, but they added Crimson Tide alum Chris Black as a graduate transfer. He might not officially count as a member of the recruiting class, but Black is already on campus and will bring a veteran presence to a receiving corps that could use some stability.
Strong isn’t the only juco playmaker the Tigers signed in the class, either. Three-star receiver Dominic Collins has the potential to add a big-play threat to a young group -- namely Nate Brown and J’Mon Moore -- that flashed potential but was inconsistent last fall.
Strong, Scales and Collins are three of the five highest-rated prospects in the Tigers’ class.
Biggest remaining question mark: Quarterback in particular remains a bit of a scary position for the Tigers. Just before signing day, backup Eddie Printz announced he was transferring and Odom dismissed embattled former starter Maty Mauk the next day. That left only rising sophomore starter Drew Lock and Marvin Zanders on the roster.
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel looked to a state he knows well (Oklahoma) to add another player to the depth chart. He convinced three-star prospect Wilson, formerly a Boise State commit, to flip to the Tigers in late January. Without question, it helped that both of Wilson’s parents went to Missouri and that his father, Curtis, played for the Tigers in the 1980s.
Wilson posted huge numbers in high school, but being able to contribute as an SEC freshman is another story altogether. Missouri might not have any choice but to prepare him for that possibility, however, as the depth chart provides no wiggle room.