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.
No wide receiver was worked harder over the course of the spring than Rashad Still. Coaches Simon and Fleck were on Still each and every day from the moment he stepped on the field. They made it a point to try and improve Still's leadership and body language knowing how important those two things are to coach Fleck's culture. Still made strides in all departments of his game throughout the spring and coach Fleck even said after the Gophers spring game that Still was someone that Minnesota was going to throw the ball to a lot come this fall. Still's got the talent to be the X receiver Minnesota's looking for this fall, but needs another strong summer and fall to be the playmaker the Gophers need.
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 that played well with coach Simon's strengths during spring ball and Johnson emerged as arguably the Gophers best receiver. Johnson's ability to create separation at the line and then again when breaking out of his route was huge throughout the spring as the Gopher quarterbacks peppered him with targets early and often, and Johnson having sure hands, made sure not to let his signal caller down. Johnson is my pick to lead the Gophers in targets and receptions this fall.
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 he's going to need to keep providing leadership for a very young position group. After Still and Johnson, the third wide receiver position is wide open for Minnesota, and Carter is among the names competing for that final spot.
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 received a new start this spring, and has to continue to work this summer and fall to crack the rotation.
Another guy that hasn't seen a lot of reps thus far in his career is Hunter Register, as the previous and new staffs are still trying to figure out if he's a defensive back or wide receiver. Register runs extremely well and ultimately received the most reps at wide receiver this fall, but needs to keep working on his route running and separation abilities with coach Simon.
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.
Both Howard and Hmielewski flashed their upside this spring and more specifically you saw Hmielewski have his best day in Minnesota's spring game. Both have absolute chances to earn reps this fall.
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. That burst from Gentry we saw early in his career looks like it still needs time to return with all the injuries that Gentry's had, but he's running out of eligibility to find it.
Both walk-ons traveled with the team in 2016, and will need to provide depth again for Minnesota this spring and fall. Lakeville South product Clay Geary also worked in with a strong spring.
With very little stability among receivers not named Still or Johnson, all three true freshman who come in this summer will have chances to earn reps this fall.
Projected 2017 WR Depth Chart heading into fall camp
- Rashad Still
- Hunter Register
- Eric Carter
- Phillip Howard / Clay Geary
- Tyler Johnson
- Melvin Holland/Drew Hmielewski
What the Gophers want in 2018
Minnesota only graduates Eric Carter this fall, but with the possibility of transfers at the position happening, I expect Minnesota to sign three wide receivers. The Gophers already have two commits in slot receiver Jornell Manns and X receiver Erik Gibson, so Minnesota's looking for another stud receiver to join the class.
The first 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.
One recent offer to watch is Ohio's Kory Taylor. Minnesota watch a workout last month and were impressed and moved on the Hilliard product afterwards, and now the two sides are trying to set a visit date to the Twin Cities.
The final name I'll add to the list here in Ohio's Meechi Harris as one the staff is working on getting to Minnesota here in the next month or two. Minnesota's already been by the high school and with no Buckeye offer yet, the Gophers believe they have a chance if they can get Harris on campus. We'll find out in the coming months if their efforts are successful.