Outlook: This will be a transition year for the offensive line and the most difficult position to project two years out. The Gophers will be looking to replace several key contributors off the 2016 and 2017 teams, most likely starters in Connor Mayes, Vincent Calhoun and Garrison Wright. However, Tyler Moore will be back for his senior year to anchor the line and as a projected captain. I expect the four remaining starters to see plenty of action the previous season providing depth and getting spot starts when an injury pops up. I like Donnell Greene and Nick Connelly to win the two tackle spots over Quinn Oseland and some highly regarded redshirt freshman from the recruiting class of 2017. It will also be a year too early for the interior recruits from 2017 to start, so I am giving the nod to the experience that Bronson Dovich and Jared Weyler will bring to the table.
Outlook: Tight end will be another position where the Gophers will be looking to replace significant and talented players in 2018 Leaving the program following the 2017 season will be Brandon Lingen and Nate Wozniak. I haven't seen a lot of Ko Kieft to be highly confident in him being by projected 2018 starter at tight end, but I do feel confident in my selection of Colton Beebe. After watching Beebe practice last week I am sold and feel that Beebe will be a "do everything" type of player at the U. I see Beebe as a major offensive weapon, both with and without the ball in his hands. Beebe can a a key blocker and also has skills to catch passes and possibly be used in short yardage situations as a runner. I look forward how offensive coordinator Jay Johnson utilizes Beebe in the upcoming years.
Outlook: Not a lot of new talent to break in at wide receiver in 2018. The receivers the Gophers will count on in 2018 will most likely be the fact of the air attack in 2017 as well. Sure, Eric Carter will need to be replaced but I expect Rashad Still, Hunter Register and Tyler Johnson to catch many passes and make many big plays for your Golden Gophers well before the 2018 season begins. I believe those three will be the "Big 3" in the Minnesota passing game but don't forget about the need of a slot receiver and the impact Phillip Howard can provide. Yes, Howard is currently in the process of transitioning from high school quarterback to true freshman slot wide receiver at the U, but in two years I fully expect Howard will have Gopher fans excited and he will be ready to join the others in making big plays.
Outlook: I hope you aren't bored with the same starting backfield for the third straight season. Minnesota will have the luxury of getting senior seasons out of two productive running backs. Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith will accumulate a lot of total yardage for the Gophers in 2016 and 2017, yet they will be back for their senior seasons in 2018. Both are solid running backs, but I don't see either as an "Early Entry" candidate into the NFL. Will one or both of them play and contribute in the NFL? I believe that to be a possibility. Sure one or both of them may leave early as they figure they have nothing left to prove at the college level and why bang up your body for another trip through the Big Ten, when you can be on an NFL roster collecting paychecks. But as of now I am projecting them to both return for their senior seasons and earn their U of M degrees.
Outlook: This is the most difficult of all the projections and a lot of what happens in 2017 will be in play here. Mitch Leidner will finally stroll off into the sunset following the 2016 season and the race to be his replacement will be up for grabs. Will his replacement be a one year quick fix in Conor Rhoda? Will Minnesota feel the need to go JUCO and bring in a big time prospect to possibly take over the position for 2017 and 2018? Will one of the young quarterbacks on the roster (Demry Croft, Seth Green and Mark Williams) lay claim to the job in 2017 and years to come. I am sure my decision to go with Williams will change 75 times over the next two years, but as long as Jay Johnson is still your offensive coordinator at the U I will think Williams is your guy. He was the quarterback Johnson hand picked as his quarterback in last year's recruiting class, which tells me Johnson believes Williams has the skill set he wants to do the things he wants to do offensively in the Big Ten. My only fear with Williams in durability. When I watched him practice last week I wasn't concerned that his size will prevent him from being a Big Ten quarterback. I don't believe his size will limit his ability to be a Big Ten quarterback and make plays against top tier defenses. I do believe his size could be an issue in whether or not Williams is listed on the depth chart every week. This concern is real and one the coaching staff will have to assess before handing the job to Williams next year or any year for that matter. Due to this concern another option I was tempted to go with was dual starting quarterbacks and listing Green as the co-starter. Would that be ideal? No way. I want one guy and that is ultimately why I selected just Williams.