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College football is scheduled to return Saturday, August 29. Each day until then, will be evaluating the rosters of the best teams in college football, including all 64 within the Power Five conferences.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Head Coach: P.J. Fleck (fourth season)

2019 Record: 11-2

2020 NFL Draft Picks: Antoine Winfield, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2nd Round, No. 45 overall

Tyler Johnson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 5th Round, No. 161 overall

Kamal Martin, OLB, Green Bay Packers – 5 Round, No. 175 overall

Carter Coughlin, OLB, New York Giants – 7 Round, No. 218 overall

Chris Williamson, DB, New York Giants – 7 Round, No. 247 overall


One needs to go back over a hundred years to Minnesota’s back-to-back undefeated seasons of 1903-1904 to top the 11-2 mark that P.J. Fleck and his Golden Gophers accomplished last season.

Led by future early NFL draft picks on both sides of the ball, the 2019 season was a magical ride for the University of Minnesota, culminating with a 31-24 New Year’s Day Outback Bowl win over then No. 9 Auburn, the Gophers’ second win last year over an opponent ranked in the top 10 (Penn State). The Gophers finished 10 in the final AP Poll, their highest placement since a 1962 squad was ranked the same despite finishing its nine-game season 6-2-1.

Minnesota’s players, of course, deserve a great deal of credit for the Gophers’ success but it is hard to overstate Fleck’s impact since taking over for Tracy Claeys three years ago.

The Gophers have steadily improved during that time, going 5-7 in his first season in town before jumping to 7-6 (and winning the Quick Lane Bowl) in 2018 before last year’s Big Ten breakout. Fleck, of course, was lured to the power conference after turning Western Michigan from a doormat in the MAC in 2013 (1-11) to conference champions and undefeated heading into the Cotton Bowl, finishing 13-1 and ranked 15 in the country -- the only time the Broncos have ever finished a season among the AP’s Top 25.

The losses on both sides of the ball are significant, especially safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., whose big plays in big moments should have earned him the Thorpe Award (like his father). They do not appear to be insurmountable, especially given that the Big Ten’s most accomplished QB-WR duo returns in stars Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman.

Bateman and behemoth blocker Daniel Faalele (that 6-8, 400 is no misprint, folks) are the players the NFL is most intrigued by but Fleck, himself, could have other opportunities coming his way, as well – especially if Matt Rhule enjoys immediate success with the Carolina Panthers after creating similar (but frankly not as impressive) turnarounds as the head coach at Temple and Baylor.

Featured 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Rashod Bateman, WR, 6-1, 205, 4.50, JR

Named the Big Ten’s Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year as a true sophomore, Bateman enters his junior campaign as highly celebrated as any NFL prospect from the University of Minnesota since at least 2006, when running back Laurence Maroney was the last Golden Gopher to be selected in the first round of an NFL draft (21 overall by New England).

While playing caddy, at times, as a true freshman to the more established Tyler Johnson – a fifth round pick by Tampa Bay this past spring – Bateman still caught 51 passes for 704 yards and six scores in his first season against Big Ten competition.

He nearly doubled that production as a sophomore (1,219 yards and 11 scores) despite catching just nine more passes, demonstrating a different degree of explosiveness after the catch.

There are few cornerbacks in the Big Ten who can handle Bateman’s quickness and speed one on one, and he’s not just a great athlete, showing terrific hand-eye coordination and soft mitts to make circus catches appear routine. Barring should feast this season with the Biletnikoff Award and an early first round selection very much within his grasp.

Strengths: With the feet of a ballerina and the route-savvy of a 10-year NFL veteran already, Bateman can lose his own shadow. His initial quickness and almost instant-acceleration leave cornerbacks on their heels and Bateman plays it well, using subtle gait shifts and should dips to create throwing angles. He explodes out of his breaks, planting and GOING, gaining clearance often even when defenders anticipate the route. Bateman has good balance to sink his hips and set up defenders on double-moves, hesitating at the route-stem for a split-second to force corners to commit, before his rocket-boosters kick in for the quick separation. Bateman’s savvy isn’t just with his route-running, drawing pass interference and holding penalties by jumping back into contact with the ball in flight… Courageous in traffic, showing impressive focus with defenders lurking with knockout opportunities. Strong hands to pluck outside of his frame, quickly pulling it down and securing it with circus catches routine.

Highpoints the ball like he’s going for the alley-oop, timing his leap well and maximizing his length.

Dangerous after the catch, showing natural elusiveness due to his quickness and acceleration, as well as vision and a willingness to cut back into traffic. Tracks the ball well over both shoulders.

Weaknesses: Has no known injury concerns to this point in his career but possesses a relatively unimpressive frame with just average muscle development for an NFL receiver. The jet fuel which powers his instant acceleration does run out and Bateman lacks elite long speed, often maintaining a slight edge on defenders after the catch but failing to truly break away from them without help. Like a lot of receivers, Bateman could improve his commitment and finishing mentality as a run blocker downfield, though he runs his fakes dutifully.

NFL Player Comparison: Odell Beckham, Jr., Cleveland Browns – It is more than just the No. 13 jersey both pass-catchers prefer. Bateman possesses a Pro Bowl-caliber combination of initial quickness, agility and fearlessness with the ball in flight which should make him an NFL star.

Current NFL Draft Projection: First Round

The Top 10 NFL Prospects at Minnesota:

1. Rashod Bateman, WR, 6-1, 205, 4.50, JR

2. Daniel Faalele, OT, 6-8, 400, JR

3. Benjamin St-Juste, CB, 6-2, 200, 4.45, rSR

4. Tanner Morgan, QB, 6-2, 215, 4.90, rJR

5. Conner Olson, C, 6-4, 305, 5.20, rSR

6. Coney Durr, CB, 5-10, 200, 4.55, rSR

7. Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, 5-09, 210, 4.55, rJR

8. Esezi Otomewo, DL, 6-5, 275, 4.95, SR

9. Chris Autman-Bell, WR, 6-1, 215, 4.55, rJR

10. Boye Mafe, DE, 6-4, 260, 4.85, rJR

*All 40-yard dash times are estimates