Although Missouri's 2009 recruiting class wasn't exactly heralded by the experts, college football recruiting continues to become more and more of a needle-in-the-haystack type of process. Former two-star guys like Sean Weatherspoon and Danario Alexander are leading the charge this year in Columbia, and four-star athletes like Michael Keck and Gilbert Moye have not contributed to Missouri at all since committing. Keck isn't even with the team anymore.
However, it doesn't hurt to reel in a star player or two. Jeremy Maclin worked out okay, didn't he? The bottom line is Missouri coaches have recruited fairly well in recent years, regardless of star ratings.
That's why a recent rash of maladies has been so painful to this most recent class, robbing the Tigers of three of their most highly thought of players, all with different pedigrees coming out of high school.
Perhaps Sheldon Richardson is the biggest loss, but it wasn't unexpected. Richardson, the No. 4 overall recruit in the country last season, had fears that he wouldn't qualify all year as a senior, and those worries ended up being true. The defensive tackle/tight end hybrid is now attending JUCO in California, and currently hopes to be a Tiger by 2011.
So there goes the biggest gem of the class. Richardson had been dominating everywhere he played. The PSL in St. Louis. The Army All-American game. There is almost no doubt that he would have been an immediate presence for the Tigers.
Also gone off the defensive line is Ty Phillips out of East St. Louis. Phillips flew under the radar a bit as his season went on, but performed well in the Offense-Defense All-American game, and his stock shot up as signing day neared. Phillips was expected to have a chance to contribute immediately, but even more so, the depth for the future was going to be big with Jaron Baston graduating this year.
Phillips' situation is a bit more fluid, and not all answers have been exposed, but allegedly, documents regarding his eligibility have come into question, and he will not play Division-I ball for a couple of years at the earliest. Regardless of who's at fault, Big Ty was almost certainly going to contribute, if not now then in the future. It's another blow to a defensive front that lost three starters last year.
Last but not least is Chris Freeman. Rumors are abound that the big 6'8'', agile lineman will not play football this year, and maybe not ever again. He allegedly has a heart condition, and obviously no young athlete is going to risk his life over a football career. This has not been confirmed yet by anybody, but if true, it puts a big hole (no pun intended) in the future of Mizzou's offensive line.
Freeman has been compared to Orlando Pace for his size and speed, and was known as the most impressive lineman prospect in the 2009 class. With a talented and deep o-line this year, Freeman was likely going to get the chance to redshirt, develop, and hopefully mature into a beast. At the end of the week, we will know if he is healthy to do that or not.
The bottom line here is that Gary Pinkel and his staff are getting robbed of the top talent that they're bringing in. Throw in Richardson, Phillips, and Freeman, and this group looks like they can contribute immediately and for a while. However, with three of his top recruits gone, who knows what to expect now?
This shouldn't effect Mizzou now. True, freshmen rarely make an impact, and certainly shouldn't be counted on. But next year, or the year after, the Tigers might feel some pain because of this. Next year, with Baston gone and unknowns at the other interior spots, Richardson was nearly already penciled in as a starter. Phillips would have received playing time as well.
And Freeman, whose health is (like I said) immeasurably more important than his playing career, the Tigers might have missed out on a special talent.
All of this might be for naught. Maybe Freeman is healthy enough to play. Maybe Richardson will develop for a couple years at JUCO, come back as an elite level player, and Mizzou can hold off on their defensive line needs until then. And although Ty Phillips seems to be lost for a couple of years, if not permanently, perhaps another unknown recruit will fill his void.
After all, Mizzou has proven to be good at filling the gaps with those diamonds in the rough.