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 argument 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.
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.
After appearing in 12 games a year ago, Minnesota's going to be looking for a lot more reps on the field for their big run-stuffing defensive tackle. At the very least, Jackson will have to spell Richardson and Stelter with Moore in the second unit, but hopes are high for a large impact from Jackson during his senior year.
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.
Coughlin is now officially in the defensive line preview as he and Devers are going to be the core guys for Minnesota's rush defensive end spot. Both guys are going to be asked to not going get after the passer, but also be an asset in the run game and they'll also have pass game responsibilities as well. Two very long, explosive and athletic for Minnesota to utilize this fall.
All five of Minnesota's 2017 signees are absolutely going to have a chance to play during their first year because of the lack of depth the Gophers have on the defensive line. Going to be a big summer and fall for each.
Projected 2017 Spring depth chart
RDE: Carter Coughlin - Taiyon Devers
DT: Steven Richardson - Merrick Jackson
DT: Andrew Stelter - Gary Moore
DE: Winston DeLattiboudere - Jerry Gibson
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 or seven bodies here. This position group above all others is one they've prioritized for the 2018 class.
Minnesota already got the ball rolling though with some of the best defensive tackles in the Midwest in Elijah Teague who held offers from Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Penn State and South Carolina among others, and Illinois' Noah Shannon who had offers from Arkansas, Duke, Missouri and Michigan State among others. Teague is 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. Shannon is another big body with great hands and motor as well. The Gophers also have a commitment from Perham (Minn.) defensive tackle Logan Richter who has a lot of potential to go with his 6'4" 290 lb frame. Minnesota also has a commitment from Georgia defensive lineman Abi Okonji, so the Gophers are finding success here early on with defensive linemen.
Furthermore, another defensive lineman we have to talk about is Florida's Mayan Ahanotu who has already visited the Gophers once this spring, and he holds other offers from Michigan State, California, Illinois and Wake Forest. Minnesota remains on the top of the board for Ahanotu who has great NFL bloodlines, and the Gophers could be on the verge of getting him back on campus again before his senior season.
Another out-state defensive lineman with a Gopher offer that visited this spring was Pennsylvania's David Green, who visited Minnesota back on 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 could be making a decision in the next few weeks.
Another defensive tackle name worth monitoring closely is going to be IMG Academy's Josh Walker, who recently narrowed his list even more, and the Gophers still made the cut. Both sides are working on lining up a visit sometime before Walker's senior year.
The home run type of defensive tackle to end out the defensive class for Minnesota has to be four-star defensive tackle Trevor Trout. Minnesota's got down and seen Trout twice already and the Gophers made his latest cut, but Minnesota's got to get him on campus.
Two names to watch at defensive end for Minnesota are long, explosive athletes in Indiana's Madison Norris and Illinois' Terrance Taylor. Norris and family visiting Minnesota back in April and Taylor has yet to visit or receive a Gopher offer, but Minnesota's high on the Mount Carmel product.