The Minnesota Golden Gophers hit a rough patch at the end of the Tim Brewster era, and it was evident both on the field and in the NFL Draft. His predecessor, Glen Mason, say what you will about the modernization of his heavy zone-run scheme (or lack thereof), but it was darn effective, and the result was a steady stream of winning seasons and pro prospects. Now in year three of master rebuilder Jerry Kill, the talent level has been steadily rising, due in large part to an eye for diamonds in the rough, but sound player development by one of the more underrated coaching staffs in the conference. So who are the top 2015 NFL Draft prospects for the Gophers this fall?
On offense, the guy everyone talks about first is senior RB David Cobb, and with good reason. The senior finished the 2013 season with 1,240 yards rushing with 7 TDs (averaging more than 5 yards per carry), including 828 in the final 7 games.
What I like most about Cobb is his size (5-foot 11, 225-pounds) and reliability. He does a good job staying on the field, and when he gets in a rhythm with consistent carries, he’s an NFL-caliber tailback. He doesn’t have elite speed, but he’s a good inside-out runner with nice vision and an ability to make one cut and burst through the line. He’s also a complete back, with good blocking skills and enough hands out of the backfield to force defenses to respect his ability as a receiver. Another big year in Kill’s run-heavy scheme should continue to boost his stock.
An intriguing tight end prospect to keep an eye on is redshirt sophomore Maxx Williams, who actually led the Gophers in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in ’13. Williams has good size (6-foot 4, 255-pounds) and excellent versatility having lined up everywhere from TE to H-Back to fullback for Minnesota. Williams is one of the more naturally gifted athletes on the offensive side of the ball with his dad, uncle and grandfather all having played football at Minnesota before playing professional ball, and his mother was an all star volleyball player for the Gophers. Simply put, the guy has genes, size, athleticism and versatility scouts crave.
Up front, keep an eye on senior guard Zac Epping. Epping was on the honorable mention all conference team last fall, and has a plethora of experience at both guard and center. His versatility and strength in the run game is impressive.
But the guy to really keep an eye on up front is junior LT Josh Campion, a mauling 6-foot 5, 317-pounder from Fergus Falls MN. Campion has started each and every of the 27 games of his career, all of which came at RT before sliding over to the blindside for ’14. Campion is a good athlete (won Minnesota AA State Championship in wrestling) and plays with good strength and a nasty streak. He’s a better run blocker at this point than he is in pass pro, but he’s got the feet, arms and athleticism to play the blindside at a high level.