Thursday, January 17, 2019

First Look: Projecting Minnesota's 2019 Offensive Depth Chart

The Athletic is currently running projected 2019 depth charts for all the helmet schools. Sure, the Athletic will never do one for little ol' Minnesota but I'm sure we'll get one any minute now from our friendly Twin Cities media... you're right we should probably just do this ourselves.

Not sure if you've heard but there's quite a bit of excitement surrounding your Golden Gopher football Elite squad for 2019 and it starts here on offense. The U loses a grand total of 2 starters from 2018 and welcomes in some potential new faces that could compete for playing time right away. We're not used to thinking this or dreaming it and certainly never saying it out loud but now is as good of a time as any to start- the Gophs will be loaded on offense for 2019.

Quarterback

Starter: ???
Backup: Zach Annexstad, Soph; Tanner Morgan, R-Soph; Jacob Clark, Fr

Overview: Normally you'd be worried if you didn't have any real confidence who the QB1 was going to be, but not this year. Not with everything else that is coming back and added in. Whichever one of these three starts will be given the keys to an offense with a mammoth and talented O-line and an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions. Annexstad is your likely very early leader for the job based on the fact he won the job out of camp last year when he was healthy. Assuming he's finally 100% again to start 2019 he's a better passer than Morgan and has the potential to make some plays with his feet. Of course he got so beat up in his first few starts it was hard to get much of a gauge on his talent and potential, but he just seems to have that "it" factor.

That said, all Morgan did was go 4-2 as a starter and help lead the team to victories over Wisconsin, Purdue and Georgia Tech while completing almost 60% of his passes. He was solid and looks to have room to improve. I think he has the lowest upside of the three, but as he's already proven the offense will run just fine if he wins back the starting job.

Clark has the highest upside, but also the least experience. He's already enrolled and will be there for Spring ball, so he has a real chance to beat out Annexstad and Morgan. Still it's more likely than not he redshirts in 2019.

Running Back

Starter: Rodney Smith, R-Sr (6th yr)
Backup: Mo Ibrahim, R-Soph; Shannon Brooks, R-Sr; Bryce Williams, Soph; Nolan Edmonds, R-Fr, Jonathan Femi-Cole, R-Sr; Cam Wiley, Fr

Overview: With Ibrahim's emergence as a potential star, Minnesota no longer has to pin their hopes for a strong running game on better health for Smith and Brooks. We'll hope it happens, but Ibrahim showed he can carry the load as a true #1 back if need be. Still, by all means, let's hope for good health because if Smith is right again after his season ending injury in 2018, he's still probably your #1 back in the spring with Ibrahim a 1-A. It may be too soon to start evoking the "Barber-Maroney" pairing but then again maybe it isn't. If Smith is back to his all-conference potential self, he and Mo make an awesome RB tandem.

I have no idea what to expect from Brooks. 2018 was such a strange and injury-plagued year for him. Hopefully he's healthy because you can't have too many good running backs, but considering how late in the year he suffered his injury he's probably hoping to be ready for Fall camp instead of spring which will put him behind everyone else. Here's hoping for a return to form for him both on and off the field, but as stated earlier, the Gophers' hopes for a strong running game no longer depend on it.

With the injuries to Smith and Brooks, Femi-Cole had every opportunity to get big playing time in 2018 yet finished with just 6 carries for 25 yards. I would not expect him to be a factor in 2019. After that there's plenty of good, young players who will be fighting for carries. Considering how little Williams was used the second half of the season, I wonder if the coaches will try to red shirt him this season since they couldn't last year with all the injuries? Edmonds was well-regarded as a high school prospect and is someone to watch. Despite all the depth here already, keep an eye on the true freshman Wiley. He's enrolled already in January so he'll be able to jump right in here in the spring, and the recruitnik folks think the Gophers got a steal.

Wide Receiver

Starters: Tyler Johnson, Sr; Rashod Bateman, So; Chris Autman-Bell, R-So
Backups: Demetrius Douglas, R-So; Seth Green, R-Jr; Phillip Howard, R-Jr; Jornell Manns, R-Fr; Nnamdi Adim-Madumere, Fr

Overview: Let the other B1G fans scoff at this all they want, but I firmly believe it and you should too- Johnson and Bateman have a chance to be the best wide receiver duo in the B1G next year. You know about Johnson, but all Bateman did as a true frosh was set school freshman records for catches (51) and yards (704), and was second in TD's with 6. Those numbers were also second on the team by a healthy margin behind Johnson. We have the potential for two 1000 yard receivers next year, and as great as Johnson is, Bateman has a real chance to be just as good.

Autman-Bell was the clear 3rd target last season and will be an important part of the offense again in 2019. While he didn't really play WR that's where the multi-talented Green was listed last year. Could we actually see him at WR a little more running actual routes this fall? I'm all for it and his usage is something to keep an eye on this spring. Douglas only had 9 catches but was on the field a lot- there's room for his talents but he'll need to keep working to carve out more opportunities for himself.

Howard was decent as an injury fill-in in 2017 but had just 2 catches for 5 yards last year. Is a bounce-back year in store? Manns redshirted last year but has some real potential. And with all of these guys in front of him already I expect Adim-Madumere to probably redshirt but he's just a freaking monster at 6'4 230. A border-line 4 star recruit out of Texas with real offers from the likes of  Baylor, A&M, Houston, Mizzou and some school called Bama, don't be surprised if he forces his way into playing time this Fall.

Tight End

Starter: Jake Paulson, R-Soph
Backup: Ko Kieft, R-Jr; Bryce Witham, R-Sr; Colton Beebee, R-Sr; Brevyn Spann-Ford, R-Fr;

Overview: Paulson quietly had a really good year in 2018. While he didn't catch many passes (none of the TE's did), he was an excellent blocker and the more the season went on, the more you saw him on the field, starting in 6 games. Kieft, Beebee and Witham are all solid blocking TEs who won't start but will see plenty of reps here and on special teams. Spann-Ford is the guy to get excited about- the coaches love him, and if he proves he's ready, he could be special. The staff kept his redshirt as he appeared in 4 games last year, including a start vs Illinois, and he may overtake Paulson before long. He's giant for the position at 6'7 and 260, and with that size and a basketball player's athleticism, he's the kind of athlete we haven't had at this position since Maxx Williams.

Tackles

Starters: Daniel Faalele, So; Jason Dickson, R-Jr
Backup: Sam Schlueter, R-Jr; Jack York, R-Fr; Kyle Sassack, R-So; Quinn Oseland, R-Sr; JJ Guedet, Fr

Overview: This should be the best starting offensive line Minnesota has had since the Eslinger/Setterstrom years of Glen Mason's prime in the early 2000's. That's impressive but also tells you how long it's been since the Gophs have had some quality in the trenches. People much smarter than me claim Dickson is the real deal and should be considered Donnell Greene's replacement at tackle. I'm interested to see if they keep Faalele at RT or move him to LT. Either way, once Faalele was inserted into the starting lineup in the 2nd half of the Iowa game, he was everything we hoped he'd be and more. Considering how quickly he developed just in year one, he could be one of the best tackles in the B1G by the end of 2019, and has a chance to be a 1st round pick in the NFL draft in 2021 as an underclassman. Dickson's redshirt was apparently due to academics, as those that saw him in practice this year raved about him. If you've forgotten- and no one would blame you- he was a 2018 JUCO transfer with real P5 offers, so he and Faalele would make quite the pair.

Depth across the entire line is going to be a giant question mark as there's very little in the way of experience after the projected starters. With tackle Quinn Oseland transferring to SJSU for his final season and guard Bronson Dovich electing to graduate with a year of eligibility remaining there is only one returning upper classman as a potential backup, and hoo boy did he struggle last year. Let's hope Schlueter can fix his issues from 2018 because there's no one else with any experience at tackle (or guard for that matter. Or center).

The staff likes York, a former 3 star recruit from TX, so he's got a good shot at one of the backup jobs. Sassack is another former 3 star (from Michigan) who also should compete for a spot on the 2 deep. Both have potential but your guess is as good as mine as to how ready they are to play. Guedet should red shirt but is a name to keep an eye on down the road.

Guards

Starters: Blaise Andries, R-So; Curtis Dunlap, R-Fr
Backup: Austin Beier, R-Fr, Bronson Dovich, R-Sr, John Michael Schmitz, R-So; Nathan Boe, R-Fr, Tyler Cooper, Fr

Overview: If Dickson is as good as advertised that keeps Andries at guard, where he developed into an absolute mauler by the end of the season. If his development continues on this path he's got a chance to not only be all-conference but perhaps has a future playing on Sundays too. Dunlap is a legit high 4-star recruit who the coaches managed to keep the red shirt on last year while also still getting him the full 4 games experience. He looked good in his first start in the bowl game, and should be a lock to start at guard. He's 370 pounds of road-paving awesomeness and is somehow only the second biggest linemen on the team (I know!).

Like at tackle, depth is going to be something to watch as there's no real experienced, obvious answers for the backup jobs right now. Beier was listed on the depth chart all last year but never actually played- that's great since it kept his red shirt intact, but it also means he's yet to get any game experience. Despite that he's still a front-runner for one of the backup jobs to start camp.

And that's it for guys listed on the two-deep at guard last year as 2018's other starter Connor Olson likely moves to center. Speaking of center, whoever loses the backup battle there between John Michael Schmitz and Nathan Boe very likely gets shifted to guard. Both were solid 3 star recruits with good size, so either of them should be fine in the transition.

The Gophs signed 2 guard recruits in the 2019 class from the upper Midwest. Per the team's official website Logan Richter will be moving to DL. Cooper is an unheralded prospect from that state to the east of us, and he made the correct decision to come here instead of Madison. It's very unlikely he plays this year but the coaches and recruiting insiders believe he has a chance to be much better than his recruiting ranking. 

Center

Starters: Connor Olson, R-Jr
Backup: John Michael Schmitz, R-So; Nathan Boe, R-Fr,

Overview: So IF Dickson is as good as projected then Andries stays at guard instead of shifting back to tackle, which pushes Olson to center. He started all 13 at guard last year, and started all 12 games in 2017 while splitting time between guard and center. He'll be a very nice replacement for the criminally underrated departing senior Jared Weyler, and Olson should be up for all-conference honors in 2019.

Schmitz was listed as the backup center all year but played mostly special teams as Weyler barely ever left the field. Both he and Boe were solid 3 star recruits and should be ok backups at least for this season with a chance to develop into something much better down the road.

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