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Minnesota Gopher Football 2021 Preview: Defensive End Upgrade / Downgrade

What can we expect from Boye Mafe and the Gopher defensive ends in 2021?

Outback Bowl - Minnesota v Auburn Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

quick intro

How did I do last year?


I predicted a downgrade, because both starting DEs and 1 starting DT were being replaced. That was an easy call.

“So this group as an upgrade or downgrade? I think the loss of 3 starters and questions on depth make this overall unit a downgrade.”

The question now is, will they be better in 2021?


Starter: Esezi Otomewo, Boye Mafe
Depth: Thomas Rush, MJ Anderson

To his credit, Mafe had a really nice season. Stretching it out over a 13 game season, he had the equivalent of a 10 sack season. It was only 6 games played for Mafe and he ended up with 4.5 sacks, but that is a nice stat and he did well getting pressure on the quarterback.

On the other side, Otomewo played all seven games but managed just 15 tackles and 1 sack. Rush and Anderson played, also not putting up stats that jump off the page.

Overall this group lacked production and impact.


Starter: Esezi Otomewo, Boye Mafe
Depth: Thomas Rush, Jalen Logan-Redding, MJ Anderson, Danny Striggow, Jah Joyner, Gage Keys

Returning are exactly the same names as a year ago, plus number of redshirt freshmen expected to contribute. How this group improves and learns to impact the game against the pass and the rush is one of the key questions facing the 2021 Gophers. I think DE coach Chad Wilt has a very good reputation recruiting & developing DEs, so seeing that come through in 2021 would be huge for this Gopher defense.

I think we can expect Mafe to have a really nice season on passing downs, but can he get better against the run. Will Otomewo become more productive with the number of snaps he is getting? Anderson and Rush have had time to get their feet wet, but is this the year they break out a little bit?

And then, who is going to earn more time from the young guys? Striggow and Joyner both had really nice spring games, with Joyner earning one of the Sid Hartman MVP awards for the game.

A lot of questions, this time with a number of guys capable of earning minutes in the rotation and contributing.


This unit was pretty weak last year and an upgrade really shouldn’t be hard to imagine. I called for an upgrade pretty much across the board on the offensive side of the ball, but most of those were really good units that I expect to be slightly better. This was a weak unit that I expect will be slightly better.

Should 2 or 3 of the names mentioned out-perform expectations, that will help the overall Gopher defense tremendously.

I believe that Mafe is capable of an All-Big Ten caliber season. The question is, who will step up opposite him to have a good season?


Are the 2021 Defensive Ends an upgrade or a downgrade from 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    UPGRADE - easy to envision an upgrade here
    (212 votes)
  • 31%
    NEUTRAL - I have my expectations properly tempered
    (98 votes)
  • 0%
    DOWNGRADE - Mafe backtracks and nobody steps up
    (2 votes)
312 votes total Vote Now