For much of the offseason, the question has been how the Minnesota Golden Gophers will replace the production of wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But now that Rashod Bateman has opted out of the 2020 college football season due to the health risks posed by COVID-19, the challenge for head coach P.J. Fleck is to replace 68% of the receptions, 77% of the receiving yards, and 77% of the receiving touchdowns from last season.
Gopher fans, meet your new No. 1 wide receiver: Chris Autman-Bell.
I’ve already previewed what to expect from Autman-Bell next season — although that was before he got the promotion to Tanner Morgan’s top target in the passing game — but there is a great deal of uncertainty behind him on the depth chart.
Let’s take a look at the candidates who will have an opportunity to step up.
Seth Green - (RS) SR
Green is technically a wide receiver, although you wouldn’t know it from how often he lines up at quarterback in the wildcat. And he has been successful in that role, racking up a combined 13 rushing touchdowns and three touchdown passes over the last two seasons. But as he enters his final year in the program, Green has only three career receptions to his name. The transition from quarterback to wide receiver hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing, and it’s now or never for the fifth-year senior if he wants to make an impact as a wideout.
Clay Geary - (RS) SR
Geary is a walk-on who has seen limited action (and mostly on special teams), but he has worked hard enough in practice to warrant being awarded a scholarship at a Minnesota Twins game a year ago. His name comes up every spring as a candidate to see more snaps, specifically at slot receiver, but so far he has only recorded one reception in four years.
Demetrius Douglas - (RS) JR
I’m not quite sure what to make of Douglas. His 14 receptions and 157 receiving yards last year were both single-season highs for his career, but those are ho-hum numbers for a receiver who has at least two game-changing moments under his belt — the 69-yard punt return for a touchdown against Wisconsin in 2018, and converting on 3rd & 30 and then on 4th & 8 against Georgia Southern in 2019. Then again, it’s not easy to steal receptions from Johnson, Bateman, and even Autman-Bell. I think it’s a safe bet that Douglas will be the starting slot receiver whenever the Gophers take the field next, as he has the quickness and athleticism to thrive in the short-to-intermediate passing game.
Demetrius Douglas = clutch pic.twitter.com/PIAwYRdOuR— Minnesota Gophers (@GopherSports) September 17, 2019
Mike Brown-Stephens - (RS) FR
Much like Douglas, Brown-Stephens is another smaller receiver, measuring at 5’10”. He caught the attention of Fleck and former offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca at a satellite camp in Ohio, he ran a 4.4 40 and made enough plays that both coaches had him pegged as the best wideout in the entire camp. With his size and speed, Brown-Stephens looks to be another ideal fit for the slot.
Peter Udoibok - (RS) FR
The St. Paul native was a grey shirt, meaning he postponed his enrollment in classes until the spring term and his scholarship was applied to the following recruiting class. He is a solid athlete with good size and the dynamic ability to win contested catches underneath and over the top. Route running will ultimately be what separates Udoibok, and fortunately he has wide receivers coach Matt Simon to help him evolve that aspect of his game.
Nnamdi Adim-Madumere - (RS) FR
Size is what separates Adim-Madumere, or “Nam” as he likes to be called. At 6’4”, 235 lbs., Nam is one of the biggest wideouts on the roster. He’ll line up on the outside and can be a difference maker in the vertical passing game as a physical receiver who can make catches in traffic. He also ran track in high school, so he has speed to go with the size. Reports out of practice are that Nam needs to continue improving his route running if he wants to see the field.
Douglas Emilien - FR
247 Sports’ Ryan Burns has made no secret that Emilien is his pick-to-click among the incoming freshmen wide receivers, and it’s not difficult to see why he’d be excited about his potential. The Sunshine State product comes from an area of South Florida with a lot of good high school competition, which pitted him against a lot of Division I defensive back recruits. And Emilien was up to the challenge. He excels at creating separation, and much of that can be credited to his loose hips and quickness as a route runner. Emilien also has the ability to fly down the field on go routes. Much like Bateman did, he may need a year in the weight room to reach his full potential.
Daniel Jackson - FR
Jackson was the highest-rated member of the Gophers’ 2020 recruiting class, having first made a name for himself as a high school sophomore with 54 receptions, 1,270 receiving yards, and 16 touchdowns. He is the big play threat of the three incoming freshmen. Jackson is quick off the line of scrimmage and can beat defensive backs deep or flash after-the-catch ability on a screen pass. He can play the slot or outside, so look for Minnesota to utilize him around the formation.
Jonathan Mann - FR
The Rosemount native is the less heralded of the three incoming freshmen wideouts, but he has all the physical tools to be a difference maker. He has a long stride, eating up ground quickly, and can get downfield in a hurry. Mann is not the most elusive wide receiver, but he knows how to create separation and get to open field. He only seemed to scratch the surface of his potential in high school, so he’ll be one to watch as he works with Simon.
The Gophers’ tight ends
Look for co-offensive coordinator Simon and Mike Sanford Jr. to start spreading the wealth in the passing game with Johnson and Bateman gone, and that could be good news for the tight ends on the roster. I touched on this in the Race to MAHturity article for Brevyn Spann-Ford, but Simon’s play-calling in the Outback Bowl could be a harbinger of things to come. In other words, Jake Paulson, Bryce Witham, Ko Kieft, and Spann-Ford may want to start warming up their hands.
I would caution against assuming there is another Tyler Johnson and another Rashod Bateman waiting in the wings, and instead urge you to prepare for the passing game to take a step back in their absence. But the good news is that there are a number of intriguing options at wide receiver, and it may only be a matter of time before one or more start to realize their potential.