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.
Ryan has tackled the offensive positions in quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers and offensive line, plus has started now on the defensive side of the ball with defensive line and linebackers.
Now, let's look at the defensive backs.
What the Gophers have on roster
Travis is the undisputed leader of the Gophers secondary heading into 2016. The redshirt season is coming off a medical redshirt season that saw him accumulate 10 tackles against TCU, then tear his hamstring on one of the final plays of the game. Travis looked to be close to 100% in the spring and is absolutely on multiple NFL teams radars and should see his stock sky rocket if he can stay healthy for the duration of the season. Travis could contend for the team lead in tackles.
Myrick was among the best corners in football before getting injured as Pro Football Focus has very high praise for the Georgia native. Myrick looked to be fully recovered this past spring and now has to assume the Alpha Male mentality as the Gophers top corner. Myrick also has to continue stepping up into leadership role with so many young corners on roster. Minnesota needs a great senior season out of Myrick and both he and Travis should be competing for an NFL draft spot come April.
Hardin played in every game as a true freshman last season racking up 13 total tackles, plus served as team's primary returner during final half of the season, recording 328 all-purpose yards. Hardin was also named the team's Outstanding Defensive Freshman of the Year. The Missouri native saw the injury bug bite him a bit this spring as he missed time, but Hardin could be considered the front runner to start alongside Myrick at this stage. He'll need to take another step forward come fall camp.
The guy with maybe the highest ceiling on the entire roster is freshman Ray Buford. He has all the physical tools to be a potential first round draft pick one day, but has to bring that fire each and every day at practice. Buford is going to take some lumps this fall with it being his first collegiate season, but Buford could absolutely be a starter for Minnesota this year if things continue to progress for him.
With Damarius Travis going down early, it was then walk-on safety Kunle Ayinde stepping up for Minnesota as the Northstar product started 11 games for the Gophers last fall. Ayinde looked to be a little worn down toward the latter half of the season, and now he looks to grab the starting safety position for the second consecutive season.
Shenault is another 2015 signee that played right away as a true freshman last fall for Minnesota. Shenault took a step forward here in the spring, capitalizing on extra reps with KiAnte Hardin out with injury and now has firmly put himself in the conversation for a bigger role this fall.
After debuting against TCU last fall, Rogers missed 10 games with a knee injury and looks to be on schedule to participate in fall camp for Minnesota this fall. Rogers looked to have a key role last year if he would have remained healthy and I don't expect that to change heading into this fall. Rogers has to come back 100% healthy this fall as it'll be a hotly contested race to see who starts along side Travis this fall.
Minnesota brought in graduate transfer safety Eric Amoako for a reason and that's to compete for a role on the defense this fall. Gophers need a guy who has the versatility to play corner, safety and nickle for Minnesota this fall. Amoako's playing time is going to largely depend on how quickly he can immerse himself in Jay Sawvel's defense.
Duke McGhee really came on for Minnesota during the final two games of the Big Ten season notching 12 tackles (two PBU's and a TFL) against Illinois and 12 tackles against Wisconsin. McGhee loves to be the hammer to the offense's nail and is very physically impressive to watch. He battled an injury in the spring as well, so Minnesota needs him healthy this fall.
The defensive back with maybe the highest of expectations of any corner to arrive in the Tracy Claeys era is Louisiana's Coney Durr. Minnesota received great news on signing day that Durr was going to stick with his Minnesota commitment over North Carolina and Virginia Tech, and now it's on for debut this fall. I wouldn't be shocked at all to see Durr have a major spot as a true freshman.
Other guys that could see time are Jacob Huff, Zo Craighton and Dior Johnson. Three more guys from Minnesota's 2015 defensive back class. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see Kiondre Thomas or Antoine Winfield Jr. see the field this fall as well.
Projected 2016 depth chart
CB: Jalen Myrick - Antonio Shenault
Safety: Damarius Travis - Jacob Huff
Safety: Ace Rogers / Kunle Ayinde / Eric Amoako
CB: Kiante Hardin - Ray Buford / Coney Durr
Nickle: Eric Amoako - Coney Durr
What the Gophers want in 2017
Minnesota graduates four defensive backs this fall in Myrick, Rogers, Travis and Amoako, so I'd look for Minnesota to bring in four defensive backs this cycle. Two high school corners, a safety and a junior college safety as well.
If Handy-Holly can hold off on a Gators commitment, I think Minnesota has a great chance of getting the Scout300 safety on an official visit to Dinkytown this fall. If that happens, then it's fair game for the Gophers. Handy-Holly is also the teammate of 2016 Minnesota signee and good friend Mark Williams.
Legacy recruit Demetrius Douglas has offers from Minnesota, Oregon, Oregon State and Colorado State among others, with upcoming camps at Cal, Stanford and Washington. Douglas camped with the Gophers as a to be Junior last year and picked up an offer from the Gophers. Douglas will be back to camp with the Gophers in July and will visit for the BBQ that weekend as well. A decision could come this summer.
Mississippi's Kam White has a host of SEC offers, but recently put the Gophers in his top seven. White could be a close to a commitment with Iowa State though as a visit there approaches.
Minnesota was among the first to offer the Miami speedster and the Gophers are firmly planted in his top group heading into the summer. The staff will work to get him on an official visit this fall.
While Landrews doesn't have a Gopher offer just yet, sources have told GopherDigest that he's among the top, if not the top JUCO safety option for Minnesota at this point. The Gophers will likely take a JUCO safety, and Landrews is absolutely the name to watch at this stage.
Georgia's LaDamion Hunt recently just picked up an offer from Minnesota after the Gophers coaching staff saw him at a satellite camp at the beginning of the month.
If Hafiz can hold off on a commitment to either Virginia Tech or Duke, I believe the Gophers staff have a good chance of getting Hafiz on an official visit. He has the Gophers in his top group.
Minnesota was the first college football offer for Naples (Fla.) safety Claudin Cherelus as coach Mike Sherels was extremely impressed with him after seeing him in person. Minnesota could be a major player here.
Gophers just recently offered Louisiana safety Ja'len Johnson becoming his first BCS offer. Gophers have had success with Louisiana in recent years and I don't think that'll change in 2017.
Alabama's Tre Young also has the Gophers as his best offer to date, and with the offer coming directly from defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel, there's no reason to think Young isn't going to be on campus for a visit before his recruitment is over.
Norwood is the teammate of Gophers 2016 corner signee Kiondre Thomas, and after the Minnesota staff saw Norwood live at a satellite camp earlier this month, they're hoping to strike twice in Arkansas.