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 defensive side of the ball starting with the defensive line.
What the Gophers have on roster
It always amazes me how Steven Richardson can continue to fly under the radar in the Big Ten like he has. Yes, he was named third-team All-Big Ten last season, but I can absolutely make the arguement he should have been first or second team with how disruptive he is on every drive. If you give Richardson a one on one battle, he's flat out going to win more times than not and end up in the back field, and force an errant throw or the running back to change directions into an awaiting linebacker for a tackle for loss. He's going to be playing on Sunday's and I hope Gopher fans enjoy his last season in Dinkytown.
A player that's going to have to step into a much larger role this fall on and off field is senior Gaelin Elmore. He's played in 25 games the last two seasons and has stat totals of 28 total tackles and five for loss. Minnesota fans are hoping for that production alone as a senior. Hank Ekpe took a step forward as a senior last year, and Minnesota needs Elmore to do that and more as a senior.
Maybe the biggest unknown at the defensive tackle spot is going to be what Minnesota gets out of two-time Defensive Work Team Player of the Year Gary Moore. He hasn't been able to crack the defensive tackle rotation yet, but Scott Ekpe and Yoshoub Timmes now no longer a factor, Moore will have every opportunity to show what he's been doing in practice for the last two seasons.
Maybe the player with the biggest motor on the team in Winston Delattiboudere is also going to be asked to do a lot more in his redshirt sophomore season. DeLattiboudere will be a fan favorite the next few years because of the effort and motor he brings to each play, and Minnesota's going to need to see what he can do in both the pass rush and run support side of things.
I don't know if I'm getting old, or what it is, but Andrew Stelter has already played in 38 games in his career and will be a senior. I just remember talking with him about his Minnesota commitment, and now here we are. There hasn't been a steady player to go through the Gophers defensive tackle rotation in a bit, and I expect steady play once again as a senior.
Another player that expectations are high for in 2017 is sophomore Taiyon Devers who came out in the non-conference and put on a show. Three sacks and three forced fumbles brought Gopher fans to their feet, but then an ankle injury caused him to lose a step and he was used spairingly afterwards. Now with an off-season to get healthy, Minnesota's pass rushing specialist has a chance to improve upon those totals from last year.
Projected 2017 Spring depth chart
DE: Gaelin Elmore - Jerry Gibson
DT: Steven Richardson - Merrick Jackson
DT: Andrew Stelter - Gary Moore
DE: Winston DeLattiboudere - Taiyon Devers
What the Gophers want in 2018
I'm expecting the Gophers to go defensive line heavy in this 2018 class, with the potential of signing as many six bodies here. Minnesota already got the ball rolling though with one of the best defensive tackles in the Midwest in Elijah Teague who held offers from Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Penn State and South Carolina among others. He's one of the strongest defensive tackles I've ever seen in person at the high school level, and could be an immediate impact player with Minnesota losing three defensive tackles after the season.
Minnesota have a chance to impress of the best defensive tackles in the Midwest in April when Oswego's Noah Shannon comes to town. Gophers DT commit Elijah Teague has been working on getting Shannon to join him at Minnesota, but the Illinois defensive tackle has other offers from Iowa, Indiana, Kansas State and Duke etc., so it's going to be an up-hill process for Minnesota. Very important visit for Minnesota next month.
Another defensive tackle that Minnesota's working diligently to get on campus before his senior year is Florida's Jordan Redmond. Recently at the Florida Nike camp, Redmond told Scout.com that Minnesota was the team recruiting him the hardest, so hopefully that'll go a long way with a recruit who has many more options closer to home.
Minnesota will also be getting an unofficial visit from one of the best defensive lineman in the central time-zone later this month in Missouri's Ronnie Perkins. It's going to be a tall task still for Minnesota to grab Perkins, but as Gopher fans are learning, anytime a recruit gets on campus with P.J. Fleck as head coach, Minnesota's going to have a chance.
Furthermore, another defensive end we have to talk about is Florida's Mayan Ahanotu who is planning on taking a trip up north at the end of the month to see both Minnesota and Iowa, who have offered. Again, it wouldn't be crazy to think that coach Fleck and company could get Ahanotu wrapped up if and when he visits, so stay tuned.
Teammate of new Gopher commit Terell Smith in defensive end Abi Okonji will be taking a trip north to Minneapolis later this month for the Gophers junior day. Smith has put on his best recruiting hat to try and get his teammate to join him in Dinkytown, but Okonji has the likes of Michigan State, Mississippi State, Maryland, Rutgers and Kansas State among others.
The list goes on for out-of-state defensive linemen visiting Minnesota this spring and next we'll touch on Georgia's Nick Fulwider. Sandy Creek high school is the same one that Minnesota had a commitment from in the 2017 class in Javan Hawes (who ended up at Purdue), so that bodes well for Minnesota as Hawes loved his time in Minnesota. Going to be a tough get for Minnesota still with Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Louisville among his other offers.
Another out-state defensive lineman with a Gopher offer that'll be visiting this spring is Pennsylvania's David Green, who has a visit set to Minnesota for March 31st. There's no Penn State offer yet, which would be a game-changer for Green, but until that happens, Minnesota's got as good of a shot as any competing against teams like Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Virginia Tech. Green has high interest in the Gophers and his visit later this month will be one to watch.
One of the local options to monitor closely for Gopher fans is Woodbury's David Alston. He already holds power five offers from Utah and Iowa State, with many more likely on the way. Minnesota may want to see Alston at camp before serious discussions of an offer come.