Coming off an 11-win season that included a win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl, PJ Fleck and staff are working to use that momentum to bring in a truly elite 2021 recruiting class.
The recruiting world is dramatically different than in years past. You may recall that the 2020 class was mostly filled for PJ Fleck by the middle of the summer. This recruiting cycle has meant no campus visits and it is less likely that there will be the traditional camp circuit in June. And getting kids from around the country to commit to place like Minnesota is going to take different tactics than before.
But recruiting moves on and the Gophers absolutely need to use the momentum gained in the 2019 season to build up the talent on the roster.
Here’s a basic recap of who has committed to date, what positions are of the greatest need and few names we are targeting.
- Avante Dickerson - CB - 4-stars - The top rated prospect from the state of Nebraska and really the highest rated Nebraska kid since 2008! The Gophers not only had a shot at Dickerson bu they snagged him. A 6’ corner with elite speed and 4-stars is a fantastic add to the 2021 class. This is one of the most exciting commitments in a very long time.
- Athan Kaliakmanis - QB - 4-stars - Kaliakmanis has been committed for a long time and he is a very highly ranked quarterback out of Illinois. The #10 dual threat QB in the nation, according to 247 and ranks in their top 250 overall. He and his twin brother committed to Minnesota way back in March of 2019 and he chose the Gophers over offers from Tennessee, Iowa, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse and others.
- Steven Ortiz Jr - CB - 4-stars - Committed just last week and is the highest rated corner to commit to Minnesota since Michael Carter. The Gopher staff doesn’t dip into the southwest area very often but they snagged Ortiz out of Arizona. This kid appears to be one of those recruits who desperately wants to recruit every other target to join him on the boat. I don’t think he has Row the Boat tattooed anywhere, but don’t be surprised if he does.
- Devon WIlliams - OLB - 3-stars - Williams flipped last week to the Gophers from Kentucky. The kid also had offers from Michigan, MSU, Nebraska, Pitt, Arkansas and others. Not ideal size but Williams has been incredibly productive on the field.
- Lemeke Brockington - WR - 3-stars - I think we are all OK with a rising wide receiver from Georgia. Brockington is the latest Gopher commitment and chose the Gophers over the likes of Tennessee, Miami, South Carolina, Duke, Indiana, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Cincy, etc. He had 53 catches, nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior and the kid has great hands. With a good senior seasoin, Brockington stands an excellent chance of being bumped up to a 4-star recriut.
- Jameson Geers - TE - 3-stars - Not typically a position that generates a ton of recruiting excitement, but expect the tight end to be utilized more in the Gopher offense in the coming years. Also out of the state of Illinois where Geers ranks as the top TE and 17th overall player in the state. Offers from Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Duke, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and several others. Geers was able to get up to Minnesota for a Junior Day in January, he committed shortly after.
- Logan Purcell - OT - 3-stars - The big offensive tackle from Annandale is only offensive lineman on the commitment list for the Gophers. Purcell, like Geers, was at the January camp and also committed that weekend. Kid that has all the physical tools to be a solid tackle but will need to add strength.
- Dino Kaliakmanis - WR/ATH - 3-stars - The twin brother of Athan and currently the 20th best player in the state of Illinois. Dino has good size and will likely come to the program as a wide receiver.
- Deven Eastern - DE - 3-stars - Minnesota defensive end from Shakopee with some elite athleticism. Eastern had offers from Nebraska and Missouri. If he adds enough size, Eastern could end up playing in the interior of the line. But for now he projects as an end.
- Brady Boyd - WR - 3-stars - Another receiver for the class of 2021 and Boyd will be coming to the U from one of the premier high school programs in Texas. Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas, Boise and Utah were some of the bigger schools to offer Boyd. What stands out about Boyd is his speed. He has good size to go along with elite speed who has been playing against top notch competition.
Looking at raw numbers, we have 11 seniors which technically means there are 11 scholarships available. 12 if you assume that Rashod Bateman will leave early for the NFL. With that said, the roster is always fluid and the last three classes have all had 24 or more signings. So how many are signed? Totally a mystery and I’m sure it will be much closer to 20 (or more) than the 12 that are obviously available.
But let’s talk about needs. Position by position here is a look at where we stand and which positions are the areas of biggest need.
- QB - 4 on the roster, 1 commitment and nobody is a senior. I’d be shocked if they sign another quarterback. If only they were all this easy.
- RB - 8 scholarships and 0 seniors. 1 true freshmen and 3 who were redshirted. I suspect that they’ll bring in at least 1 RB and likely they are shooting for a big-time prospect.
- TE - 5 scholarships, 2 seniors. One verbal. I suspect they won’t be going hard after any other tight ends. One of these seasons they will have to have smaller class, I suspect that they won’t fill this one up with multiple tight ends.
- WR - 10 on scholarship, 1 senior. So there are 9 returning (likely just 8), 6 of them are redshirt or true freshmen and they already have 3 verbal commitments. This staff LOVES their wide receivers and I expect they’ll still be pursuing receivers throughout the process.
- OL - 13 on scholarship, 2 seniors. This class needs help along the OL. This is a huge area of need. 6 of the 13 scholarships are sophomores or juniors, when you factor in the fact that OL prospects need a couple years to be ready to be productive at this level, we need a few who can step in in 2 years.
- DE - 9 scholarships, 0 seniors. We’ve hit this group hard the last couple years and I don’t expect we will bring in very many ends this year. I think this is a position that this staff values, but it should be a quality over quantity.
- DT - 9 scholarships, 2 seniors. Probably going to need one or two here. Much like the OL, these big men need time to become Big Ten ready.
- LB - 11 scholarships, 0 seniors. We brought in 4 in the last class. It should be very light in the 2021 class. I would imagine that an interior linebacker is more of a priority.
- CB - 8 scholarships, 4 seniors. Two verbal commitments already, both from 4-star kids. This is a position of need and we have solidified two elite commitments. I won’t be surprised to see one or two more before signing day.
- S - 6 scholarships, 0 seniors. Three true freshmen on the roster (one or two who could possibly end up as corners) but safety does not appear to be a significant recruiting need.
- Specials - don’t be surprised if a kicker is brought in.
Offensive line, defensive tackle and corner are the top three areas of need in my opinion. And after that, this staff is just trying to bring in the highest caliber athlete they can find.
The short answer?
NEED: OL, OL, OL, OL, DT, CB
DON’T NEED: QB, WR, OLB
But you always take talent.
NAMES WE ARE PURSUING
The list of scholarships offered is very long and the names below are just some of the higher profile names that the Gophers have been linked to in a meaningful way. These names are listed in my personal preference of who I’d want to land.
- Mar’Keise Irving - RB - This kid is kind of a big deal. The Gopher staff has hit the Illinois kids hard this year. We currently have 3 verbals among the top 20 Illinois kids. Irving is a 4-star running back, big and fast.
- Jake Ratzlaff - LB - Another local, Ratzlaff is also a hockey player. But for football he’d be a very athletic and tough linebacker. Wisconsin is also pushing hard for the Rosemount product.
- Cameron James - OT - an athletic tackle from Illinois. We need some additions at tackle and James is very athletic with an ideal frame.
- Joe Alt - OL - local offensive lineman. His dad played for Iowa but the Gopher are in this one. We need linemen.
- Sam Jackson - WR - Another Illinois kid. Jackson was previously committed to the Gophers and then backed off his verbal. But Minnesota isn’t out of this one yet. Landing Jackson would be a huge get.
- D’Marion Alexander - OLB/DE - It sounds like Alexander is going to commit next Wednesday and Minnesota is in it for this athletic player. A recent 247 crystal ball was set for Minnesota, so don’t be surprised if he’s the next addition to the 2021 class.
- Junior Alexander - WR - A 6’3”, 4-star wide receiver? I like that. Alexander is a Washington native and the Gophers are in the mix for his signature with a few other Pac-12 schools, including the Huskies.
- Isaiah Nwokobia - S - A safety from Dallas Skyline high school. Remember the trio from Skyline under Brewster?
Landing Irving and a couple more on this short list, would solidify this class as a top-20 caliber recruiting class. The next steps are to land more big fish and then keep them all until signing day.
Here is where I give a ton of praise to the staff for what they have done thus far on the recruiting trail. The obvious caveats that nobody has actually signed, it is a time till December and the class is only about half done. BUT look at the current recruiting rankings.
This staff is absolutely capitalizing in the success of 2019. Especially looking at the commitments of the last week, this class is coming together very nicely.