GI publisher Ryan Burns gives his thoughts on Minnesota's first depth chart release of the 2016 season

GopherIllustrated publisher Ryan Burns gives his thoughts on Minnesota's first depth chart release of the 2016 season.

Here's my disclaimer for all of this analysis. Look at the last sentence of the tweet saying SUBJECT TO CHANGE prior to the September 1st game vs. Oregon State. Please take this whole depth chart with a large grain of salt. 


QB: Mitch Leidner / Connor Rhoda

No surprise to see Mitch Leidner at the top as he's far and away Minnesota's best quarterback at the moment. It's also not significantly surprising for me to see junior Connor Rhoda listed as the number two quarterback behind him. If I had to speculate, my guess would be that if something serious happens to Mitch (knocking on mahogany, walnut and oak that it doesn't), I believe you'll see Rhoda be the one being put into action. He's been the most consistent quarterback after Leidner since new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson has been with the program. This also allows the Gophers staff to redshirt Demry Croft and set things up for a very interesting 2017 spring football season. I don't buy the hype that Seth Green is in the conversation for this battle, but we'll see he and Mark Williams resurface after a redshirt season this fall. 

Running back

RB: Rodney Smith / Kobe McCrary

With Shannon Brooks not in the conversation for the opener, I expect to see a lot of Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary against Oregon State. I see Smith as the one getting a bigger than 50/50 share of the carries there as he should not be considered a backup running back by any means. Again, expect a lot of Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary. 

Wide receiver

WR: Rashad Still / Hunter Register

WR: Drew Wolitarsky / Phillip Howard

WR: Brian Smith / Tyler Johnson

I'm a little surprised to see to see Brian Smith listed as a starter, and true freshman Phillip Howard listed as the backup to Drew Wolitarsky, but again, subject to change is the key word here. No doubt about it that Brian Smith has earned his chance as he had a strong fall camp in 2015, and has carried that over to this fall in 2016, and with guys like Eric Carter and Melvin Holland battling some injuries, Smith has stepped up into a key role in three wide receiver sets. Claeys mentioned that Minneapolis North athlete Tyler Johnson was going to see time this fall at wide receiver, and that shows on the two deep here. My guess would be once Eric Carter is back from injury, you see him compete for starting snaps with Brian Smith, allowing Phillip Howard to redshirt, but I think a wide receiver rotation of Wolitarsky, Still, Carter, Smith, Register and Johnson is still realistic. 

Tight end

TE: Nate Wozniak / Colton Beebe

I'm a little surprised that Brandon Lingen isn't listed here on the depth chart, considering that Big Ten Network reported that he was a participant in Minnesota's scrimmage on Saturday. The only reason I can think of that he's not listed is that BTN was wrong and Lingen is still recovering and not a full-participant at practice, but I do believe we'll see a lot of Wozniak as the Y tight end / blocking tight end, and redshirt freshman Colton Beebe as your utility tight end who has the flexibility athletically to play either H or Y. 

Offensive line

LT: Garrison Wright / Donnell Greene

LG: Connor Mayes / Jared Weyler

Center: Tyler Moore / Jared Weyler

RG: Vincent Calhoun / Bronson Dovich

RT: Jonah Pirsig / Chad Fahning

No surprise among the starters with the offensive line. A starting group of Garrison Wright / Connor Mayes / Tyler Moore / Vincent Calhoun / Jonah Pirsig is an upgrade for Minnesota from previous seasons. Wright and Calhoun, plus the addition of Bart Miller give this group some more nasty at the point of attack, which was missing from last year's team. 

The issue with this two deep is that there's little proven depth behind the starters. I expect Chad Fahning to be the swing tackle to start, and Jared Weyler as the swing interior guy. As the season goes on, I believe junior college tackle Donnell Greene and redshirt freshman Nick Connelly will be closer to being game ready, so then you'll be able to throw them into the mix as well. 

Defensive Line

DE: Hank Ekpe / Winston DeLattiboudete

DT: Scott Ekpe / Merrick Jackson

DT: Andrew Stelter / Steven Richardson

DE: Gaelin Elmore / Jerry Gibson

While Gary Moore and Shoobe Timms aren't listed among the two deeps, I do believe they'll get reps. Steven Richardson and Merrick Jackson are going to be the two defensive tackles getting the most reps this fall, with Andrew Stelter and Scott Ekpe also seeing time there, and while Stelter and Ekpe are listed as the starters with Richardson and Jackson behind them, truth is it doesn't really matter because of how much Jeff Phelps rotates his defensive linemen. Defensive end is interesting with Gaelin Elmore and Hank Ekpe listed as the starters, but the name to note here that's not listed is true frosh Tai'yon Devers. The Georgia Prep Sports Academy defensive end has put on 20 pounds since arriving on campus and has a great burst off the edge, to go with outstanding length, and Claeys has been mentioning his name more and more of late. 


OLB: Jonathan Celestin / Kamal Martin

MLB: Cody Poock / Nick Rallis

OLB: Jack Lynn / Julian Huff

The most depth on the team top to bottom is within this position group. Cody Poock, Jack Lynn and Jonathan Celestin are within the top five in the Big Ten. Put behind those three with senior Nick Rallis, sophomore Julian Huff and an onslaught of freshmen with Jaylen Waters, Kamal Martin, Carter Coughlin.

I still believe Nick Rallis is the Swiss Army knife for this linebacking core as if someone goes down, I'd expect him to be the first one put in at any of the linebacker spots.

Defensive back

CB: Ray Buford / Antonio Shenault

Safety: Damarius Travis / Duke McGhee

Safety: Kunle Ayinde / Jacob Huff OR Antoine Winfield Jr. 

CB: Jalen Myrick / Kiondre Thomas OR Coney Durr

No surprise with Jalen Myrick and Damarius Travis listed as starters, and senior Kunle Ayinde and redshirt freshman Ray Buford appear to be your other starters versus Oregon State. Ayinde started 11 games last year as a walk-on junior, and now that he's on scholarship and with multiple Big Ten starts under his belt, he's earned the trust of defensive back whisperer Jay Sawvel. While I do expect Buford to see a lot of time, I also believe that KiAnte Hardin will see a lot of snaps, if not start. The media hasn't heard anything indicating that Hardin is hurt, in fact Claeys said he was the starter last week, so again, take this depth with a (or many) grain of salt. Gophers played a ton of nickle last fall, and when that happens this fall, I think you'll see Duke McGhee slide as a nickle back. With Damarius out there as the leader getting the front seven aligned, McGhee can provide support in the run game. I also believe that all three true freshmen defensive backs in Antoine Winfield Jr., Coney Durr and Kiondre Thomas will play this fall.


Kicker: Emmit Carpenter / John Mack

Punter: Ryan Santoso / Jacob Herbers OR Logan McElfresh

Long Snapper: Payton Jordahl / Trey Hansen

KR: Jalen Myrick and Rodney Smith

PR: Jalen Myrick / Drew Wolitarsky

Gopher Illustrated Top Stories