How much talent do the Minnesota Golden Gophers have stocked for the 2023 NFL Draft cycle? An abundance of returning veterans form the core of the class, but there are many other players who could end up solidifying the depth of the Gophers’ group.
Minnesota prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
After producing NFL draft selections like Boye Mafe, Daniel Faalele, and Esezi Otomewo in the 2022 NFL Draft cycle, the bar has raised another notch for Minnesota on the NFL Draft stage. They might not have another prospect picked as high as Rashod Bateman for some time, but they should again produce plenty of talent in 2022.
Tanner Morgan, QB
Tanner Morgan, along with Penn State’s Sean Clifford, is one of the longest-tenured signal-callers in the Big Ten. Also like Clifford, unfortunately, Morgan’s NFL Draft projection seems fairly limited. Morgan is a solid college QB, but the 2021 season put a spotlight on his limitations — both from a physical traits standpoint and a consistency standpoint. Morgan will have a chance to redeem himself as a sixth-year senior, but he’s likely a late-round pick at best.
Mohamed Ibrahim, RB
Mohamed Ibrahim is now a sixth-year senior coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, so his 2023 NFL Draft outlook may be unclear. He might not crack the early rounds anymore, but Ibrahim is still well worth a draft selection at some point. The 5’10”, 210-pound back has a lot of nice qualities, particularly if he can get back to 100%. His frame density and contact balance stand out as visible positives, but Ibrahim also has stellar vision, initial burst, and lateral agility. And he always keeps his legs churning through congested areas. No matter what happens in 2022, Ibrahim has already proven he deserves a spot in the league.
Trey Potts, RB
In Ibrahim’s absence in 2021, a few Minnesota running backs received increased reps. One of those backs was Trey Potts, who accounted for 112 carries, 552 yards, and six touchdowns last year. Potts has a slightly leaner frame and doesn’t run quite as efficiently as Ibrahim. Nevertheless, he shows good burst and urgency when reading his lanes, and could get his chance to break into the professional ranks.
Chris Autman-Bell, WR
It remains to be seen who the next Minnesota WR to go pro is, after Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson. The best bet is still Chris Autman-Bell, even after he bypassed the 2022 NFL Draft to return to Minnesota in 2023. Amidst the downturn of Minnesota’s passing attack, Autman-Bell still put up decent numbers with 36 catches, 506 yards, and six touchdowns in 2021. At 6’1″, 215 pounds, Autman-Bell has great size and density, which he can apply after the catch. But he’s also a smooth athlete who can separate and use body control at the catch point.
Dylan Wright, WR
It might not be Dylan Wright’s time just yet, but the redshirt junior is assuredly on the way up in Minnesota’s offense. A former Texas A&M signing, Wright transferred to Minnesota in 2021 and flashed great promise. He only caught 18 passes but managed to get 365 yards and two scores out of that sample size. At 6’3″, 215 pounds, Wright has impressive size, but also great foot speed and body control. He can also extend beyond his frame for some incredible catches in close quarters. He’s a name on the rise.
Brevyn Spann-Ford, TE
Minnesota has an abundance of wide receiver talent. And yet, one of the team’s top weapons in 2022 could be at tight end. Brevyn Spann-Ford caught 23 passes for 296 yards and a score in 2021, showing a glimpse of what he could do. Now, the 6’7″, 270-pound pass catcher is back and primed for a breakout as a redshirt senior. Spann-Ford does his part as a blocker; Minnesota tight ends are well-coached there. But Spann-Ford is also a natural hands catcher and a great athlete in open space for his size. He has the tools to be a standout, should he be utilized effectively in the passing game.
John Michael Schmitz, C
There was a sense that maybe John Michael Schmitz would declare for the 2022 NFL Draft. In the previous cycle, he would’ve had a decent chance of being selected. But instead, Schmitz chose to return for a sixth season. Just as he did in 2022, Schmitz should garner interest in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. He has great size at 6’4″, 320 pounds, but he’s also shown he can climb to the second level and levy blocks on the move. He’s a high-motor, assignment-sound interior lineman who’ll be crucial for the Gophers’ success in 2022.
DeAngelo Carter, DT
DeAngelo “Trill” Carter returns as a leader on the defensive line for Minnesota. He’s been a steady contributor for two seasons — logged 6½ tackles for loss and 2½ sacks in that span — but 2022 will mark the most responsibility he’s had in his Minnesota career. Standing at 6’2″, 300 pounds, Carter’s frame is short-armed and stout. He’s sometimes easier to handle for that reason, but he does have enough burst to generate force and disrupt blocks. With a good year, Carter could enter the 2023 NFL Draft conversation. However, he’s not the versatile mold that’s come in years past.
Darnell Jefferies, DT
Clemson’s defensive line is incredibly deep, year in and year out. Is it deep enough to hide away a gem like Darnell Jefferies? That remains to be seen. 2022 will be the barometer for that proposition. Some players just don’t work out, but Jefferies has a chance to hit the reset button after transferring from Clemson to Minnesota. A former four-star recruit, Jefferies enters a room that could use his help. He has barely any proven production to this point, but a change of scenery could do good for the fifth-year senior.
Thomas Rush, EDGE
Thomas Rush enjoyed a mini-breakout in 2021, accruing 5½ sacks and 7½ tackles for loss as a stand-up rusher. Now, however, with Boye Mafe off to the NFL, Rush will be at the top of the depth chart on the edge. Rush isn’t an overwhelming size threat at around 6’3″, 245 pounds. But he’s got good burst and lateral twitch, and that athleticism also translates in coverage. Rush can feign as a pass rusher, then drop back and take away options in the short range. 2022 could see him take another step up.
Jah Joyner, EDGE
Rush will be the leader in the EDGE rotation, but Jah Joyner could go on to be an impact player this year. Although he’s a redshirt sophomore and likely won’t factor into the 2023 NFL Draft, Joyner is an explosive athlete with great size at 6’5″, 250 pounds. And when he earned playing time late in the season, in the team’s bowl game against West Virginia, he achieved a sack, providing a glimpse of the upside he possesses. With Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo both off to the NFL, Joyner might be called on to assume a greater role.
Mariano Sori-Marin, LB
Minnesota’s linebacker group will presumably be led by veteran Mariano Sori-Marin in 2022. Sori-Marin was one of the team’s top producers in 2021, notching 85 tackles, five tackles for loss, an interception, three pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. His film brings questions about his overall athleticism, as he’s not the most explosive or fluid in space. But at 6’3″, 245 pounds, Sori-Marin brings excellent size, which brings value in close quarters.
Braelen Oliver, LB
Braelen Oliver hasn’t played a great amount just yet, but he’s expected to potentially take on a greater role alongside Sori-Marin in 2022. Looking at how Oliver flashed down the stretch in 2021, this uptick in reps looks well-deserved. The 6’0″, 230-pound linebacker looks like a good athlete in space, and he can easily match tight ends with his quick-twitch mobility and speed. But Oliver has also flashed impressive pre-snap recognition, especially on play fakes. A breakout season could help introduce him as a legitimate 2023 NFL Draft prospect.
Beanie Bishop, CB
Coming over from Western Kentucky as a super senior, Beanie Bishop figures to factor into the Golden Gophers’ secondary rotation. Potentially, he could log frequent snaps in the slot, where he translates well with his 5’10”, 175-pound frame. 2021 was Bishop’s best season with the Hilltoppers. He amassed 42 tackles, 6½ tackles for loss, three interceptions, four pass deflections, and a forced fumble. An experienced starter with an active style, Bishop’s presence could be of value in Minnesota’s DB room.
Tyler Nubin, S
The Golden Gophers have one of the better safety tandems in college football this season, and Tyler Nubin is a big part of that. Like many safeties, Nubin’s impact sometimes goes overlooked. Often, he’s able to dissuade QBs from testing the deep ranges with his long 6’2″, 205-pound frame and his feel for positioning. But he’s also explosive when closing in on the ball, and always aims to disrupt at the catch point. He’s not always the most fluid changing directions in space, but Nubin could have a future at safety.
Jordan Howden, S
The second half of Minnesota’s impressive safety duo, Jordan Howden may also have NFL potential, just like Nubin. Howden’s style is a bit different; he more often roams the box, and can even rotate into the slot and attack on the blitz. Howden sizes up well against most receivers with his 6’0″, 210-pound frame. With that frame, there comes a steely competitive edge in Howden’s game. He not only has good burst, but plays fast and physical, and he’s fluid enough to carry receivers upfield. He can take faulty angles at times, but his sheer urgency is a valued quality in safeties.
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