Likely 2017 picks
Senior safety Damarius Travis after missing most of the 2015 season with a hamstring injury, looked 100% recovered from his injury this spring and that was the play of an NFL safety on the fields of the Gibson-Nagurski complex. Travis is all of 6'2" and 210 lbs, and what makes him so appealing is how well rounded his overall game is. Travis can be a thumper in the box and he can also be a playmaker in coverage. Travis has the same mindset as Minnesota's two NFL corners from last season in Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun where he has a professional mindset. If Travis can stay healthy for all 13 games this upcoming season, he has a chance to be a day two pick for Minnesota next spring.
Replacing Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun won't be easy as both are signed to NFL rosters, but it'll be nice to have a potential NFL caliber corner waiting in the wings in Jalen Myrick. Myrick was rated as Pro Football Focus's number two rated corner in the country heading into the Ohio State game earlier last season before puncturing his lung. Myrick has more flashy play ability than what BBC and Murray provided last year, and he's got elite top end speed as well. Between his speed and high weight (200 lbs), if Myrick can prove that he can play consistently throughout the season, I think his NFL stock will rise significantly in the pre-draft process because of his high athletic measurables.
Probably the most polarizing player for the Gophers over the last few season will have his career come to end this fall, but if he's able to stay healthy, it appears that Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner will be strongly considered for the 2017 NFL Draft. He's rated as quarterback number five by CBSSports and the number eight quarterback by WalterFootball, and that just two of many that have Leidner rated as a draftable quarterback. What makes Leidner so attractive to teams in the NFL is the fact that he's played in a pro-style system going on his fourth year, plus he's got the ideal measureables at 6'4" and 230 lbs, plus a huge hand size at over 10". If Leidner is able to stay consistent and play like he did to end the season, I think you'll see a lot more NFL Scouts heading to Gopher games this fall. Leidner's play is going to also depend on if he's offensive line can keep him healthy for an entire season, which also hasn't happened in his career thus far.
Outside linebacker Jack Lynn has played in every game for Minnesota the last two seasons and another step forward this fall could help his draft stock. Lynn is currently rated the 37th OLB by CBSSports heading into this upcoming season. Lynn's game is solid in many facets and his size make him a strong candidate for the NFL. If he can take his game to another level this fall, Minnesota would potentially have another draft pick in 2017.
Possible 2017 picks
Pirsig has played in 25 of the last 26 games for Minnesota and if he improves as much as he did under Bart Miller this spring, in the fall, Pirsig could have a chance to make an NFL Roster. He's got a lot of size and could be a right tackle in the NFL, but he has to continue to work on his ability to bend and handle speed rushes around the corner.
Prospects to watch
Shannon Brooks rushed for over 700 yards with seven rushing touchdowns as a true freshman last season and that'll catch any NFL scout's eye. Brooks' vision and lateral ability are very impressive for a freshman and he'll only continue to get better as he matures. Brooks' ability to burst through arm tackles and rarely go down at first contact is also something you don't often see. As long as he stays healthy, Brooks is looking like he'll be the next Gopher running back drafted.
Minnesota's second leading tackler last season as a sophomore, Cody Poock is probably be another guy in a couple of years earning a paycheck to play football. Poock's instincts remind me a lot of former Gophers Mike linebacker and now Cowboys linebacer Damien Wilson. Poock has the ability to shoot the gap and deliver a blow to the ball carrier and may be the most physical player on Minnesota's defense. As Poock continues to get quicker and stronger into his upcoming junior season, there will be a lot of eyes on him this fall.
Junior Brandon Lingen is heading into his junior season after playing every game but three during his first two years at Minnesota. Lingen took over the Gophers primary receiving role at tight end with the departure of Maxx Williams to the NFL. Lingen showcased what he could do last season reeling in 33 passes for three touchdowns as a sophomore, and he's in line to see a lot more targets this fall with KJ Maye graduating. If Lingen can keep putting on weight to increase his durability, he's got all the tools to be a potential player at the next level.
I've used this comparison for Gophers junior defensive tackle Steven Richardson the past two seasons and I think it fits very well, but he's Minnesota's Aaron Donald. Richardson is an extremely productive player when he's on the field as in 10 games this last season, he led the teams in tackles for loss (eight) and finished second in sacks with three and a half. There's no doubt in my mind that if Richardson can also stay healthy, he'll be collecting paychecks in a year or two. The ability that Richardson has to play with leverage at his size makes him a force.
Most, if not every person I've spoken with in the last few months tells me when I ask about whom the highest ceiling player for Minnesota is, says redshirt freshman Ray Buford. The Michigan native has yet to play a down of college football yet, but his physical attributes when you watch him practice leave you shaking your head thinking of what he could accomplish by the time his career is done as a Gopher. Buford is all of 6'2" with a ton of length, plus he's got a lot of speed. When you look at the defensive backs that went in the first round this past weekend, that's the ceiling that Buford has. He's going to take some lumps this fall as a freshman still, but that's not going to deter me from saying that if Buford can put it all together in the next few years, the sky will be the limit.