GopherIllustrated publisher Ryan Burns is breaking down each Gopher football position group, what they're looking to add at each position in the Class of 2018 and their top targets.
Now, let's look at the wide receivers.
What the Gophers have on roster
Minnesota's big task this spring is going to be trying to replace over 46% of their total reception production from 2016, and there's no clear guy in line to step into a large target share like there was with Drew Wolitarsky last year. Minnesota's leading reception leader behind Wolitarsky last season was RB Rodney Smith, and then after that it was Rashad Still with 18 receptions. Still was Minnesota's deep threat receiver in 2016 averaging north of 19 yards a catch, but Still's still got a lot of work to do with his route tree and the nuances of the receiver position. That's where WR coach Matt Simon and even head coach P.J. Fleck come in with their expertise. Still will have every opportunity to earn more targets this spring.
Another role that Minnesota's going to have to fill is the leadership position and for redshirt senior Eric Carter, he's going to have to step into those shoes now as the eldest of the group. Carter has 32 receptions through his last two season, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him get that total in 2017 alone.
Coming off his true freshman season and his first at the wide receiver position, expectations are remain high for local product Tyler Johnson. The former Minneapolis North star played in every game for Minnesota last season and ended with 14 receptions and a receiving touchdown. Johnson may be the most athletic receiver that Minnesota has, and the question will be how does coach Simon and Fleck continue to harness that ability.
Redshirt junior Melvin Holland may be the player with the most to gain from Minnesota going through a coaching change. Holland seemed to be buried on the depth chart under the old coaching staff for the Gophers, when it seemed clear at times last season that new blood could be a good thing for this group, but Holland will get every chance to crack the rotation this spring.
Another player that's yet to see serious game action and now as upperclassman is Isaiah Gentry. We've seen flashes at times from the to-be redshirt junior, but injuries have kept him off the game field. If Gentry's able to stay healthy for a majority of the spring, he's going to have every chance to burst into the wide receiver rotation as well.
Both Phillip Howard and Drew Hmielewski took redshirts this past season, and both have a lot of athletic ability. Howard could immediately slide in the slot where Minnesota needs play-makers and Hmielewski is likely the wildcard here coming off surgery last fall. The Marshall product was a home-run threat each time he touched the ball in high school, and expectations are high for him.
Both walk-ons traveled with the team in 2016, and will need to provide depth again for Minnesota this spring and fall.
Projected 2017 spring Depth Chart
- Rashad Still
- Isaiah Gentry
- Eric Carter
- Phillip Howard
- Tyler Johnson
- Melvin Holland/Drew Hmielewski
What the Gophers want in 2018
Minnesota only graduates Eric Carter this fall, but with Mark Williams' status up in the air and the possibility of transfers at the position happening, I expect Minnesota to sign three wide receivers.
Minnesota will have Ohio wide out Jornell Manns on campus on April 12th for an unofficial visit with his coaches, and that's big news considering Manns' has early offers from Wisconsin, Penn State, Kentucky and Cincinnati among others. Minnesota needs some slot receivers who have play making abilities, and Manns definitely can provide that for them. Gophers quarterback commit Brennan Armstrong has been in Manns' ear as well, so Minnesota's going to put on the full court press to land the Ohio playmaker.
Dallas (Texas) James Madison wide out Antonio Gage is another receiver that's receiving heavy attention from the Gophers staff since he received a Minnesota offer. Gage has other offers from Texas Tech, Illinois and Utah among others, but Minnesota's pushing hard to get Gage up to campus before his senior season.
Maybe the sleeper of this group we'll be talking about today is Florida's Anthony Queeley, who does hold a Gopher offer and others from Duke, Akron and Southern Miss. Queeley tells GopherIllustrated that Minnesota WR coach Matt Simon "really wants to work on getting me up there to see the campus and staff ASAP", so while Queeley remains under the radar for the time being, he's a priority for Minnesota.
Michigan wide receiver Brandon Gray held an offer from P.J. Fleck while at Western Michigan, and once coach Fleck came over to Minnesota, the Gophers staff made sure to let Gray know that the offer still stood at Minnesota. Gray has other offers from Arkansas, Washington State, Syracuse, Iowa State and most of the MAC, and while he tells GI he doesn't have any visits set as of right now, he'll be a name to follow for April's spring game.
The final name we'll touch on is one that Minnesota's working their tail off to get on campus soon and that's Texas Scout300 four-star wide receiver Bryson Jackson. The Gophers have been putting in the work to try and grab Jackson's attention as he's got other offers from Notre Dame, Penn State, Nebraska, TCU and Miami (Fla.) among others. If Minnesota can make that unofficial visit materialize before his senior year, that'll definitely put the Gophers in serious contention.