The Minnesota Golden Gophers are coming off one of their best seasons in school history. 2019 saw them win 11 games for just the third time ever, as well as posting double-digit wins for only the second time since 1905. Their season included a 9-0 start, ending with a win in the Outback Bowl over Auburn to finish with 11 wins.
Some of the talent from that 2019 team is off to the NFL, including the school’s second all-time leading rusher in Rodney Smith, now with the Carolina Panthers. However, plenty of talent is returning, including a quarterback who might be the most intriguing Big Ten quarterback prospect not named Justin Fields.
Tanner Morgan will be entering his third season under center for the Golden Gophers and will be looking to take another step. He split time with Zack Annexstad in 2018 before becoming the full-time starter last season. He is now fully ready to take charge of what should be another strong team in Minnesota. Additionally, he has his sights set on working his way up draft boards should he decide to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Let’s take a look at the redshirt junior from Union, Kentucky.
Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan
Size: Morgan has good size and perhaps room to grow at 6’2″, 215 pounds. He has put on about 20 pounds after coming in as a 205-pound freshman in 2017.
Athletic Ability: Morgan has the ability to move around well in the pocket and has quickness carrying the ball when he needs to take off if the play has broken down on him. He has good feet and overall above-average mobility.
Arm Strength: The Gophers QB has some zip to his throws. He possesses plenty of trust in his receivers and shows good anticipation on receivers’ routes. He gets the ball where it needs to be and demonstrates a good ability to get inside windows before defenders can close in on the receivers.
Arm Accuracy: Morgan’s completion percentage shot up from 59 percent to 66 percent from 2018 to 2019. This was also with Morgan taking over as a full-time starter after sharing the job in 2018. He is more often than not on target with his throws, most of which come in the intermediate part of the field. He does flash potential as a strong deep-ball passer and he does a nice job finding his targets after he is flushed out of the pocket.
Decision Making: There are times when Morgan can be a bit reckless with the football and has thrown some bad interceptions. Overall, he moves the football down the field well, identifies open receivers, and takes what the defense gives him while also allowing his receivers to make plays.
Competition: There is no question Morgan has had the ability to face some of the top teams in the country in the Big Ten. Six Big Ten teams finished in the final AP Top 25 in 2019, with Minnesota finishing at No. 10 after posting an 11-2 record. Losses for Minnesota against Iowa and Wisconsin dented their record but defeats of Penn State and Auburn en route to their 11 wins were impressive. 2020 will see Minnesota face another strong level of competition, with a non-conference schedule that includes Florida Atlantic, Tennessee Tech, and BYU. In conference they will travel to Maryland, Wisconsin, and Michigan State while welcoming both Michigan and Purdue into their stadium for conference games.
Eligibility: While Morgan does have an extra year of eligibility due to redshirting in 2017, it is more likely than not that Morgan declares for the 2021 NFL Draft, especially if he has another strong season, striking while the iron is hot.
Former Minnesota quarterbacks in the draft
There have only been five quarterbacks from Minnesota drafted in the history of the league. Perhaps the most famous one was Sandy Stevens, who was drafted into both the NFL and AFL in 1962. He was a second-round pick of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and the fifth-overall pick of the AFL’s New York Titans, which was the last year the team would be known as the Titans before they adopted the Jets team name in 1963.
Unfortunately for Stevens, neither team wanted him as a quarterback, and he ultimately left both leagues that year for a quarterback opportunity in the Canadian Football League. He did eventually return to the NFL as a running back but never made it and was out of football by 1968.
Minnesota has not had a quarterback drafted at all since way back in 1972, when Craig Curry was an eighth-round selection (No. 207 overall) by the Miami Dolphins. The other former Golden Gophers quarterbacks drafted were John Hankinson in 1965 (eighth round, No. 100 overall) to the Minnesota Vikings, Bobby Cox in 1957 (fourth round, No. 38 overall) to the Los Angeles Rams and Bill Garnaas in 1944 (sixth round, No. 44 overall) to the Chicago-Pittsburgh Cardinals-Steelers (or Card-Pitt).
Morgan is going to be a fascinating study throughout the next draft cycle. He flashes tools that he can develop at the next level and already seems to have control of the Minnesota offense. Morgan will get a chance to develop more into a leader of the offense with the team losing some of their talent from 2019, including fifth-round pick WR Tyler Johnson and undrafted free agent Rodney Smith.
Despite losing those two play-making options, Morgan will still be fortunate enough to have another one of his faithful targets back in 2020 in Rashod Bateman, who may hear his name called in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Morgan and Bateman have already built a fantastic relationship on the field together and Bateman is going to make a ton of plays for Morgan. Morgan’s trust and anticipation skills with Bateman are of high quality and will be a reason why Minnesota should be a contender again in the Big Ten in 2020.
Morgan will also have the luxury of another good running back behind him. Despite losing Smith, the Gophers return Mohamed Ibrahim, who rushed for 604 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019. He posted 1,160 rushing yards in just ten games in 2018, which is the second-highest single-season total in Gophers history.
All this should equate to another strong season for Morgan. He may have a ways to go to be a first-round pick, but he should very well at least be considered a day two pick with potential.