Minnesota Golden Gophers top NFL Prospects for 2012 and Beyond


After one of the most embarrassing seasons in school history, it’s hard to believe that the Minnesota Gophers could have much NFL talent, if any at all. According to many sites, they really don’t have a whole lot, but I think there are a few guys who could surprise with big seasons in 2011.

New head coach Jerry Kill is implementing a new style of play in Minneapolis, and as a whole, the Gophers could really stand to endure a bit of change. They are not expected to do much this year in the Big Ten, but if they can start keeping some in-state recruits, well, IN state, they could put together a pretty solid team and contend for something other than mediocrity in the Big Ten.

6 Da’Jon McKnight (Senior), WR, 6’3″ 214

McKnight might not be on the radar right now, but he certainly will be, especially if MarQueis Gray can perform at the quarterback position like he is capable of. Last season, McKnight really broke out as a big play threat for the Gophers, catching 48 passes for 750 yards and a whopping 10 touchdowns. He averaged 15.6 yards per reception last year, and really showed how valuable he can be. McKnight is a big receiver who knows how to use his body, and he knows how to  get open. He didn’t start playing football until his last year of high school, and he is still somewhat raw, but there is no denying his playmaking ability. He should creep on the national radar as the season progresses if he can harness that momentum he had in 2010.

5 MarQueis Gray (Junior), QB/WR, 6’4″ 230

Gray has never proven that he is a competent collegiate quarterback with only 23 career attempts, but he is the type of guy who you always want the ball in his hands, because he knows how to make plays, and he knows how to move the chains. Gray has been the backup quarterback for Adam Weber for the last two years, and while he waits in the wings, the Gophers wisely got him on the field any way they could, whether it was in wildcat packages or as a receiver. In his first two seasons, he had 70 rushing attempts for 375 yards and one touchdown. He also had 42 receptions last year for 587 yards and five scores. Gray will have two years to prove that he can be the Gophers’ quarterback, or less depending on how new head coach Jerry Kill likes the transition for him. If the Gophers’ coaching staff likes what they see, he could develop into an NFL caliber QB, however I see him more as a natural playmaker with excellent size and hands. I hate to give up on guys at QB just because they are scramblers, but we will see how it goes for him this year. If he doesn’t emerge as the QB they think he can this year, look for them to convert him back to receiver and backup quarterback, similar to what he was under the former regime.

51 Gary Tinsley (Senior), LB, 6’1″ 237

Leader of an experienced front seven that returns five of seven starters from a year ago, Tinsley was the Gophers’ leading tackler in 2010 with 90 stops, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Tinsley was cited for reckless driving, an underage drinking violation, and fleeing from the police in April of 2010. Had his first career interception in 2010, which he returned for 52 yards. I don’t see him right now as a starting linebacker in the NFL, but the door is open for that type of development. He has the tackling ability to make it in the NFL as a core special teams player.

11 Troy Stoudemire Jr. (Senior), CB/WR/RS, 5’11” 195

Stoudemire has a chance to be one of the most illustrious return men in NCAA history. If he has 190 yards of kick returns this year, he will break the NCAA record. Over the last three seasons, he has returned 115 kicks for 2,929 yards, and despite his great success, he has surprisingly not returned any for touchdowns. Very versatile player who switched to cornerback last year, though not by his own choice. Stoudemire was so put off by the fact that the Minnesota coaching staff wanted to use him at cornerback instead of receiver that he vowed to quit the team. I’m sure he’s happy that he didn’t, because he is probably the Gophers’ best cover corner, and with his experience at receiver, he has excellent ball skills. In his first season as a cornerback, Stoudemire had 37 tackles, two fumble recoveries, an interception, and five broken up passes. He needs to continue to hone his craft as a cornerback, but the size and ball skills are there, the only thing that’s missing is experience. As a receiver, Stoudemire had 26 receptions for 306 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore, and then as a junior, saw some spot duty and caught six passes for 114 yards and a score. He will probably get drafted or at least make an NFL camp as a return specialist with upside as a corner or receiver.

23 DeLeon Eskridge (Senior), RB, 5’11” 203

I’m reaching a bit here, but Eskridge showed great improvements from his sophomore season last year as a junior, leading the Gophers with 698 yards rushing on 193 carries with seven touchdowns. Eskridge’s decline as a  sophomore is somewhat a mystery to me, because his numbers as a junior where he led the team in rushing are similar to those he posted as a freshman, when he had 678 yards and seven touchdowns on 184 carries. Eskridge is going to have to have somewhat of a breakout senior season, because in order to get himself in the NFL Draft discussion, he is going to have to do better than 3.6 yards per carry, regardless of how poor Minnesota’s offensive line play is. He’s not really a speed back, and he’s not really a power back. He’s a hard worker on and off the field, and definitely has some potential, but I want to see more from him as a senior.

22 Duane Bennett (RS Senior), RB, 5’9″ 211

Smaller, thicker running back who is probably one of the most experienced runners in the country. Bennett has played in 37 games and has started 24 of them. He has proven over his career to be one of the best dual-threat running backs in the Big Ten, running the ball 123 times last year for 529 yards and three touchdowns. He was also a great receiver out of the backfield, catching 33 passes for 319 yards and another touchdown. Last year, he saw a significant decrease in carries as the season went on, but had a huge game in Minnesota’s biggest win of the season against Iowa with 11 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown, as well as two receptions for 23 yards. He will combine with Eskridge this year in what figures to be a very run-oriented offensive attack.