There were five Gophers selected in the NFL draft this weekend, a school record in the modern draft era. Two more were picked up as undrafted free agents. Clearly, the NFL is taking notice of the program in the P.J. Fleck Era.
S Antoine Winfield, Jr. To The Buccaneers
Most of the discussion surrounding Winfield involved him being a late first rounder or early second. The fact that he was available at #45 for Tampa was a bit surprising to me. Winfield’s father, of course, had a long NFL career with the Bills and Vikings. In that career, he intercepted Tom Brady– now his son’s teammate- seven times.
Winfield, Jr. finished the 2019 season with 85 total tackles, three sacks for 22 yards, and the third-most interceptions in the country (seven). He’s small for a safety at 5’9″, but doesn’t shy away from contact. He also has the football intellect you’d expect from the son of a long-time NFLer. I expect the Bucs to be very happy with this pick.
WR Tyler Johnson To The Buccaneers
The Bucs took Johnson in the fifth round, 161st overall. The Minneapolis native set numerous records in his time on campus, despite being double-teamed most of the time in his junior and senior seasons. His ball skills are above-average, and he comes away with more than his share of 50/50 balls. Other than that, he ticks all the boxes without standing out. He’s not a blazer, but he’s fast enough; he’s not a huge guy, but he’s big enough (6’1″, 206 lbs.)
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are the clear #1 and #2 wideouts on the Tampa Bay roster, but Johnson should have a decent shot at working his way in. Anything he can do to contribute on special teams will help his cause.
Something amusing to note: the Tampa Bay Lightning have a Tyler Johnson on their roster as well. What are the odds that the Tyler Johnson from the University of Minnesota would be the one who isn’t a hockey player?
LB Kamal Martin To The Green Bay Packers
The horror- Minnesota fans having to cheer for a Packer! Martin was taken in the fifth round, 175th overall. His 66 tackles and two interceptions this season look lackluster, until you account for the fact that he only played in eight games. He’ll have an uphill battle to crack the Packers’ roster, but NFL.com draft analysis Lance Zierlein points out that he could contribute in punt and/or kick coverage, which would help him tremendously.
LB Carter Coughlin To The New York Giants
The Giants selected Coughlin in the seventh round, 218th overall. Mel Kiper’s first comment was that he expected Coughlin to go much earlier, possibly as early as the fifth round, so the Giants may have gotten a steal here.
As a Giants fan, I can assure you that the linebacker position has been an absolute dumpster fire for this team of late. 2019 draft pick Ryan Connelly looked good to start last season, so of course he tore his ACL in Week Three. Even with two free agent LBs in camp, the position should be wide open.
At 6’3″ and 236 lbs., Coughlin is on the small side for an outside ‘backer. He’s a smart player, and has what we call a good “first step” in hockey- he can go from standing to full speed quickly. Again, if he can prove some value as a special teamer, it will go a long way toward earning himself a spot on the final 53-man roster.
CB Chris Williamson To The New York Giants
The Giants nabbed Williamson at #247. One of several Georgians on the Gophers’ roster, Williamson transferred from Florida in 2017. He recorded 56 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a pick-six this year as a senior.
Defensive back is another position where the Giants have struggled of late, to put it mildly. 2019 first-round pick DeAndre Baker was starting to come around late in the season. This will be a position to watch in training camp. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Williamson will probably need to impress on special teams to have a chance at making the roster. A former high-school wide receiver, he could be a candidate for the practice squad.
So those are the five Gophers selected in the NFL draft. Now, the UDFAs:
DL Sam Renner To The L.A. Rams
Renner signed with the L.A. Rams. He finished his senior season with 43 total tackles and five sacks for 42 yards. Renner beat the odds to earn a scholarship after walking on at Minnesota- can he do the equivalent in the pros?
RB Rodney Smith To The Carolina Panthers
What Tyler Johnson did to the Minnesota receiving records, Rodney Smith did to the rushing records. The sixth-year senior rushed for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Christian McCaffrey will obviously be the #1 rusher in Carolina, but Smith will have a chance to crack the roster.
Also keep An Eye On…
To have five Gophers selected in the NFL draft is an honor for the school and a sign of where the program is headed. This year’s recruiting class (I’ll be covering the recent signees in the next few days) makes me think Minnesota will break this record in the next four or five years.