With the 2021 NFL Draft in the books, eyes are already turning to the 2022 NFL Draft. Since P.J. Fleck took over as head coach, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have had at least one player selected in each of the last three drafts. In total, eight Gophers have been drafted in the last three years. Looking ahead to next year, that number is likely to increase, as a handful of players on the current roster could be ready to go in the very near future.
The last Minnesota quarterback to be selected in the NFL Draft was Craig Curry. That was nearly 50 years ago. Will Tanner Morgan be next? It’s not outside the realm of possibilities. He turned heads after breaking school records in 2019, but took a step back last year with a subpar 2020 season. If he can get back on track this fall and display the accuracy and efficiency that led him to success in 2019, Morgan could very well be a sleeper pick.
Barring disaster, Mohamed Ibrahim will be drafted next year. It’s only a matter of which round he’ll hear his name called. The NFL has continued to de-emphasize the running back position, though Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne were both drafted in the first round this year. Ibrahim could certainly play his way into being a potential first round pick with another monster season, but a Day 2 draft pick is more likely.
The Gophers have had wide receivers drafted in back-to-back years. Can they make it three in a row next year? Chris Autman-Bell certainly thinks so. He has flashed big play ability as a downfield threat with the ability to go up and make contested catches, and he is an excellent run blocker. But he’ll need WR1-level production this fall to get the attention of NFL scouts.
Ko Kieft and Bryce Witham will wrap up their college careers this fall, but I would surprised if either of them draws much interest from the NFL.
Head coach P.J. Fleck does not shy away from the fact that Minnesota has not had an offensive linemen drafted to the NFL since 2006. In fact, he has been emphatic that that drought will end next year. Your best bet is right tackle Daniel Faalele, who has all of the physical tools that NFL scouts covet, even if he needs to continue to develop as a blocker. Faalele sat out all of the 2020 season, so he’ll need to have a strong 2021 campaign to boost his draft stock.
Next in line behind Faalele would be Blaise Andries or even John Michael Schmitz. Conner Olson and Sam Schlueter will both have exhausted their eligibility after this fall, but I don’t recall hearing much NFL buzz when both were weighing whether to return after last season.
I would not be surprised if Boye Mafe declares for the NFL Draft after the fall season. He is a freakish athlete who only seemed to be scratching the surface of his potential last year when he led the team with 4.5 sacks. On the interior of the defensive line, I could maybe see Clemson transfer Nyles Pinckney drawing NFL interest if he can boost his production and be more consistent, though he is considered undersized for his position.
I could maybe see Jack Gibbens getting drafted if he usurps the starting mike linebacker position from Mariano Sori-Marin and leads the team in tackles. He has good size and instincts, but I would peg him squarely in the diamond-in-the-rough category as a draft prospect.
The knock against Coney Durr is his size (or lack thereof). Benjamin St.-Juste was a third round draft pick in spite of a mediocre season last year because of his size and length. Durr is considered undersized at 5’10” and lacks elite speed. But he is an exceptional open field tackler and sticky in pass coverage, so he could sneak in as a late round draft pick. Terell Smith, on the other hand, is a burner with good size. If he can finally put it all together this fall and seize a starting spot at cornerback, he could hear his name called next April.
Jordan Howden would be draft-eligible after this fall, but unless he steps up his play and has an All-Big Ten-caliber season, I don’t see him making the leap to the NFL.