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Minnesota Football: Gophers in the NFL—Training Camp Edition

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We run down where the 17 former Gophers have ended up

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons
De’Vondre Campbell will look to lead the Falcons back to the Super Bowl this season
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

If you have followed us for a while, you know that during the NFL season we like to weekly publish an article updating how all the former Gophers in the NFL did that past week. With the prolific increase in Minnesota players getting drafted in recent seasons, the number of Gophers in the NFL has climbed significantly over time. As of August 3rd, there are seventeen former Gophers in NFL training camps. While not all 17 will make the teams final roster, a good number will and several more should end up on practice squads.

Note that beginning this season there is no initial and then final cuts at NFL training camps. Teams do not need to cut down to 75 at the mid-point of camp. The only deadline is to have a 53-man roster by 3:00 PM Central on September 3rd.

Here is a list of the former Gophers, their current team, and the % chance they end up on the final 53-man roster.

100% Chance to make 53-man roster barring injury:

Eric Decker: WR Tennessee Titans

Decker switched teams this off-season after the New York Jets cut him. Decker is coming off of an injury prone season where he missed tie initially with a groin injury before his season was ended by shoulder surgery. The jets decided hie salary was too much money and cut him setting off a minor free agent frenzy. While many Vikings fans hoped Decker would come home he ended up in his wife’s hometown of Nashville where he will be a major red zone threat for Marcus Mariotta and the Titans.

MarQueis Gray: TE Miami Dolphins

Gray has really accepted the role of becoming a serviceable NFL tight end. He has ball skills to be a threat in the passing game, but really shines in his ability to play special teams. His blocking skills have made him a valuable part of the Dolphin offense and one that should ensure he begins the season on the 53-man roster for Miami after receiving a two-year contract extension in the off-season.

Maxx Williams: TE Baltimore Ravens

Williams is also coming off of a major injury plagued season. He missed the majority of the year with a knee injury in 2016. His injury required a rare surgery that according to Maxx is “too complicated to explain but he’s sure that nobody has ever had it and returned to play football”.

Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun makes it sound even more of a mystery:

Williams was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 7 after suffering what was initially described as cartilage damage in his knee. Harbaugh said on May 25 that Williams underwent an operation that no other football player has ever had without offering any more details.

Asked to provide some clarity on the procedure, Williams replied, “The way I describe it and the only way I know is that I’m the first guy in the league to get it. It’s all scientific. They used big words and stuff, and I didn’t go to med school. I just know that it’s something I had to go through.

With Baltimore releasing Dennis Pitta and losing Crockett Gilmore once again to injury the playing time is there for Maxx to take and run with if he can earn it. Though it appears he still has work to do—again from the Baltimore Sun story:

The 6-foot-4, 257-pound Williams does not seem to be totally recovered yet as there have been times when he has not launched into a full stride. But he said he is eager to make good on the Ravens’ investment of the second-round pick in the 2015 draft in the University of Minnesota product.

“Hey, man, it’s a new year. That’s the way I’m looking at it,” he said. “Last year was not the way I wanted it to go. Had to get surgery. So it’s a whole new year. I’m excited to be back out here with everyone. I want to make some plays during camp and have some fun.”

De’Vondre Campbell: LB Atlanta Falcons

Campbell gained a starting spot on a Falcons team that went to the Super Bowl in his rookie season and has no plans on giving that spot up. He will move to the strong side LB spot from the weakside where he was a year ago as well. The Falcons plan on using his size and skill to better match up with tight ends this season, and to give him more opportunities in the pass rush.

Ra’Shede Hageman: DT Atlanta Falcons

Hageman was in Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s doghouse a bit last season but appeared to get himself out with some decent play down the stretch as a backup nose tackle. Hageman will be in a three man rotation for the two spots up front and should hopefully have the opportunity to make some plays for the Falcons this season.

Briean Boddy-Calhoun: CB Cleveland Browns

Boddy-Calhoun was the most surprising rookie a season ago of the former Gophers. After getting cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars in camp he latched on with the Browns and made an impact, even garnering a starting spot by midseason. He has been repping with both the first and second teams so far in camp and even lined up at safety a bit. One way or another BBC will make sure he sees the field for Cleveland.

Marcus Sherels: DB/PR Minnesota Vikings

Sherels has been the topic of some cut line discussion the last few seasons as the Vikings had to decide to keep him around as their punt returner despite his limited playing time at cornerback. He has made the cut every time and last season entered the discussion as one of the best punt returners in the league relatively guaranteeing he will continue to be on the right side of the cut line once again.

95% Chance to make 53-man roster barring injury:

Eric Murray: DB Kansas City Chiefs

Murray has the fortune/misfortune to be drafted by the Chiefs who have one of the deepest secondaries in the league. This means he has had to spend most of his time making his mark on special teams, which he did well for KC a year ago. That once again appears where Murray will be as he is blocked from a defensive assignment by the players ahead of him. His roster spot should be mainly secure, but not having a solid defensive role at least puts in the possibility of the Chiefs going a different way.

50% Chance to make 53-man roster barring injury:

Damien Wilson: LB Dallas Cowboys

Wilson had appeared to lock down a roster spot after his play for the Cowboys the last two seasons—but then he was arrested on weapons and assault charges in July. It appears that his charges are being slighly reduced, but the spectre of a NFL mandated suspension still looms. Wilson is in camp and practicing with Dallas, and the Cowboys have turned a blind eye to its players legal woes in the past. The most likely outcome here appears to be Wilson starts the team on the 53-man roster but once his legal woes are resolved could find himself in jeopardy of losing his roster spot.

Jalen Myrick: CB Jacksonville Jaguars

Myrick was a 7th round pick by the Jags this spring and is attempting to find a way to make the roster. Minnesota fans can follow along with Myrick’s quest as the Jacksonville paper is doing a rookie diary on his quest to make the roster. Myrick did not have the best opening week of camp as he had trouble with his coverage skills. He has been getting extra reps as the Jags top two corners are out with injuries yet this season, but Myrick must impress or find a role in special teams like Murray or it could be the practice squad for the most recent Gopher draftee.

5% Chance to make 53-man roster barring injury:

Issac Fruechte: WR Minnesota Vikings

Fruechte has a slight chance to sneak on the Vikings final roster while Micheal Floyd serves his 4-game suspension. The Vikings also drafted two wide receivers this past season who have return experience to possibly take Cordarelle Patterson’s roster spot—so things aren’t looking great for Issac. He also is out of practice squad eligibility meaning if he gets cut, its most likely the end for Fruechte in purple.

2% Chance to make 53-man roster barring injury:

Cedric Thompson: DB Cincinnati Bengals

Thompson was a late add to the Bengals camp roster after an injury to a couple of their safeties. Unfortunately for Thompson at least one is due back before the start of the season. Ced has bounced around practice squads all throughout the NFL the last few seasons, but hasn’t stuck anywhere. Unfortunately it appears that’s probably the end case here too.

Damarius Travis: DB New England Patriots

Travis was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent after he was not selected in the NFL Draft this spring. While Travis had his choice of options, the Patriots do not have a lot of open spots in their secondary. Travis is having a decent camp so far from all indications, but there is a much better chance he gets stashed on the Patriots practice squad rather than making the 53-man roster.

KJ Maye: WR New England Patriots

Maye signed with New England this summer after being cut by the New York Giants after the preseason a year ago. He then signed on the Tennessee Titans practice squad for the very end of the 2016 season and was then cut after the draft this spring when the Titans drafted two receivers in the first three rounds of the draft. Maye will have a long uphill battle to make the roster, but the Patriots have been attracted to unconventional wideouts before. Unfortunately for Maye, it appears Austin Carr the Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year and Northwestern Wildcats grad from last season may have already filled that niche as he is impressing at camp. Maye will need to fight for a practice squad spot most likely, and that’s nowhere near guaranteed.

Less than 1% Chance to make the 53-man roster barring injury:

Jack Lynn: LB Atlanta Falcons

Lynn appeared in the Falcons rookie tryout camp and was signed to the 90-man roster this summer. While he would love to join two other former Gophers on the Falcons squad, Atlanta is deep in linebacker talent and Lynn would need several things to happen for him to get a spot. In fact he will need a ton of things for him to happen to get even a practice squad spot.

Jonah Pirsig: OL Tennessee Titans

Pirsig signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent after he was not selected in the NFL Draft this spring. Tennessee has a good young core along their offensive line, and already has several quality veteran backups. Pirsig really has no chance to win an actual roster spot, and is just trying to get on film with the hopes of landing on someones practice squad down the line.

Hendrick Epke: LB Chicago Bears

Epke who was a defensive end for the Gophers signed as a linebacker for the Bears this summer. It was a shocker to most Gopher fans who didn’t realize Epke was even trying to find a professional football job. it will be an insanely tough task for Epke to make even the lowly Bears team. He is playing out of position in Chicago’s 3-4 defensive set, and will need to learn a ton of new skills to even make a practice squad. his only hope is to blow people away with raw athleticism and hope that some coach somewhere sees him on tape and thinks he can mold him into something.

Notable Names Not on Rosters:

David Cobb

Cobb was most recently on the Bears practice squad last season, but was not resigned after the year and has not found a new home this fall.

Tramaine Brock

Brock has been a fixture in the San Francisco 49ers defensive backfield the last few seasons, but like Damien Wilson also fell afoul of the law this offseason. Brock was charged with felony domestic violence in April and was cut by the 49ers.

Drew Wolitarsky

The former Gopher wideout tried out for a few NFL teams this spring but did not come away with an offer. He decided to try north of the border and at last check was on the practice squad of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League.

Mitch Leidner

Leidner also tried out for several teams after he was not selected in the NFL Draft but did not come away with an offer.

Peter Mortell

The former Gopher punter was in Green Bay Packers camp a year ago but lost the battle to be the punter for his hometown team. He went to the Jacksonville Jaguars mini camp earlier in the spring but did not come away with an offer.