GopherDigest publisher Ryan Burns is breaking down each Gopher football position group, what they're looking to add at each position in the Class of 2017 and their top targets.
Now, let's look at the defensive line.
What the Gophers have on roster
When junior Steven Richardson is healthy, he's a one man wrecking crew along the Gophers defensive line. Richardson had eight tackles for loss last season (second on the team) and 3.5 sacks in only 10 games of work because of injury, and the games where Richardson was close to 100%, he averaged almost a tackle for loss a game. If Steve is able to stay healthy for 2016, there's no reason to think he wouldn't have close to double digit tackles for loss along the interior of the defensive line.
Ekpe will be going on his fifth year of eligibility this fall and the Minnesota staff hopes he's ready to go out with a bang. The senior defensive tackle played in every game his first two season in Dinkytown, but injuries have detailed his past two seasons as a knee injury lost him 2014 and a concussion caused him to miss the last half of the 2015 season. Now presumably 100% healthy, Scott is expected to have a major role at defensive tackle this fall.
Junior college defensive tackle Merrick Jackson made a big impression this spring during his first semester on campus. Jackson really turned it on during the latter half of the spring and was one of the most disruptive players on the Gophers defense as he was more times than not in the backfield causing havoc. If Jackson can continue that play from the fall, he's absolutely going to challenging to start along side Richardson for Minnesota and Jay Sawvel this fall.
Stelter has played in 25 games during his first two years at both defensive tackle and defensive end, and looks to be switching to full-time defensive tackle this spring as he's near the 285 mark now. I wish that Stelter would have been able to redshirt his freshman year as he's just now starting to really grow into his body and put on the necessary weight and strength to compete as a Big Ten defensive lineman. Stelter is going to a key role as a defensive tackle this fall and it'll be exciting to see what he can do now as an upperclassmen.
Gary Moore redshirted this past season after playing sparingly as a true freshman. The Alabama native looked good in spring ball and should have a role rotating in at the defensive tackle spot this fall. Moore has the Big Ten body, but just has to keep his pad level low and maintain leverage consistently. He's more than strong enough, but just has to keep working day in and out.
Elmore is really the only known of who is will be starting at defensive end after taking a step forward this spring. Elmore has the body of a Big Ten defensive lineman, and just need to keep working there and developing an arsenal of moves with defensive line coach Jeff Phelps. Elmore like Stelter and Richardson, has played extensively during his first two seasons at Minnesota, and there's no reason not to expect Gaelin to emerge this fall.
Other guys that look to have a role at defensive end are Hank Ekpe, Winston DeLattiboudere and Julien Kafo as well. Ekpe has played a lot of snaps for Minnesota, but doesn't have a lot to show for it in terms of stats. DeLattiboudere redshirted last season and had a kind of spring where it wouldn't be surprising to see him emerge along side Elmore at DE. He's got a motor that keeps running and is relentless in his pursuit. Kafo is still getting up to speed with the American game from Canada, but he's got the body to do damage.
Projected 2016 depth chart
DE: Gaelin Elmore - Julien Kafo
DT: Steven Richardson - Andrew Stelter
DT: Merrick Jackson - Scott Ekpe
DE: Hank Ekpe / Winston DeLattiboudere
What the Gophers want in 2017
Minnesota has three defensive linemen graduating this fall and has four next year, so that's seven bodies to replace between the 2017 and 2018 class. Defensive end has been a position that Minnesota has struggled to recruit of late, and they need to hit at both DE and defensive tackle in 2017.
Illinois' Kendrick Green picked up his first Big Ten offer from Minnesota last week after showing up at a satellite camp down in Illinois in front of the Gopher coaches. Green has said that he's got significant interest in Minnesota and hopes to visit next month. Gophers want Green at defensive tackle.
Maryland's Marcus Bowman is another guy that the Gophers staff is really hoping to land and has high on the priority list. Bowman has multiple other Big Ten offers, but has told GopherDigest that he could potentially visit Minneapolis this summer. Gophers want Bowman has a nasty defensive end.
Indiana's Leshaun Minor has a few different Big Ten offers closer to home, but had hinted that a Minnesota visit could be in the works this summer.