Will the Vikings Select Any Gophers in the 2020 NFL Draft?

Will Ragatz

The Minnesota Golden Gophers had a historic season in 2019. Under third-year head coach P.J. Fleck, the Gophers won 11 games for the first time since 1904, reached No. 7 in the AP Poll, and beat a good Auburn team in the Outback Bowl.

Several key pieces of that 2019 Minnesota team are now off to the NFL Draft. The Gophers, who have had four players drafted in the last four years combined, could have as many as four or five taken in the 2020 draft alone. And all of them could, in theory, be potential options for the Vikings.

There's a long history of the Vikings selecting Gophers in the draft. Dating back to 1963, the Vikings have taken 20 players from Minnesota; the list includes Hall of Famers Bobby Bell (who signed with the Chiefs of the AFL instead of the Vikings) and Carl Eller, as well as baseball HOFer Dave Winfield.

However, the Vikings have drafted only one Gopher since 2001: linebacker Nate Triplett in the fifth round in 2010 (they also signed Marcus Sherels as an undrafted free agent that year). Will that streak end in 2020? Let's take a look at the possibilities.

Antoine Winfield Jr., Safety

The son of former Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield, Winfield Jr. was the Gophers' best defensive player in 2019. He stayed healthy after consecutive season-ending injuries and led the team in interceptions (seven) and tackles (83). Winfield actually had two more years of eligibility because of the injuries, but decided to forego them and enter the draft. He ran a 4.45-second 40 at the combine, likely cementing himself as a second-round pick who could maybe even sneak into the back of the first round.

Projected round: Second

Does he make sense for the Vikings? Maybe. If the Vikings were to trade Anthony Harris before the draft, the ball-hawking Winfield would make a ton of sense as his replacement. But unless that happens, it's difficult to see the Vikings spending one of their first three picks on a safety. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Tyler Johnson, Wide Receiver

Johnson had a huge senior year, leading the Gophers with 1,318 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, his second straight season eclipsing 1,000 yards and double-digit scores. The production is clearly there, but he's still a bit of a polarizing prospect. Johnson decided not to do the testing drills at the combine, so there are questions about his athleticism. There are also concerns about his ability to separate from press coverage. Still, the Minneapolis North product is a big-time playmaker with great hands who could carve out a long career as a slot receiver.

Projected round: Third/fourth

Does he make sense for the Vikings? Sure. The Vikings have undoubtedly watched plenty of Johnson's games over the past few years, and they desperately need more receivers after trading Stefon Diggs. Both Adam Thielen and Johnson are probably best from the slot, but that doesn't mean Johnson wouldn't be a good fit.

Carter Coughlin, Linebacker/EDGE

Coughlin was a consistent playmaker for the Gophers over the past three years, recording 20.5 sacks, 15.5 non-sack tackles for loss, and eight forced fumbles during that time. The former Eden Prairie star and four-star recruit is an excellent athlete, but is undersized at just 236 pounds.

Projected round: Sixth/seventh

Does he make sense for the Vikings? Why not? The Vikings could use more depth at outside linebacker behind Anthony Barr and Eric Wilson. Coughlin could be a strong special teams contributor right away with the athletic upside to out-perform his draft slot.

Kamal Martin, Linebacker

Martin was a do-it-all linebacker for the Gophers, with 66 tackles, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles last season. He's a tough, physical tackler at inside linebacker, who probably doesn't have the mobility to hold up in coverage in the NFL.

Projected round: Sixth/seventh

Does he make sense for the Vikings? Not particularly. The Vikings just used a fifth-round pick on an inside linebacker last year with USC's Cameron Smith. But if they feel Martin is the best player available late in the draft, they could bet on his run-stuffing ability.

Chris Williamson, Cornerback

Williamson, who began his college career at Florida, was a reliable player for the Gophers over the past two seasons. At 5-foot-11, he projects as a nickel corner at the next level, and could potentially even switch to safety. Williamson plays with great physicality and gained some buzz at the East-West Shrine Bowl, but there are still questions about his ability to cover NFL receivers.

Projected round: Seventh/UDFA

Does he make sense for the Vikings? Definitely. The Vikings can use all the defensive back depth they can get, and Williamson would be a solid late-round flier or preferred free agent pickup. They recently met with him over FaceTime.

Other potential UDFA options from the University of Minnesota

  • Rodney Smith, RB
  • Sam Renner, DL
  • Shannon Brooks, RB
  • Thomas Barber, LB

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