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.
Ryan has tackled the offensive side of the ball with quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive line, plus he's started on the defensive side with the defensive line and linebackers.
Now, let's look at the defensive backs.
What the Gophers have on roster
I don't think there's many people that'll dispute that Antoine Winfield had a heck of true freshman season for Minnesota after coming in fifth in the team in tackles. Starting with the Penn State game where Winfield started, he really never looked back when he had a chance to be on the field. Winfield's had some off the field issues that are resolved now, and he'll now have to provide stability at the safety position with Damarius Travis now chasing an NFL dream.
Junior Antonio Shenault had an up and down season for Minnesota as he struggled from game to game with consistent play. Minnesota's going to need that consistency each and every game with a lack of depth at the cornerback position. Shenault is a projected starter at corner this spring.
Minnesota's leading returner in tackles in the secondary is Daletavius McGhee, who also lead the NCAA's in targeting penalities a season ago, needs to clean up his pad level this spring. McGhee is the biggest hitter in the secondary, but Minnesota needs his leadership for a very young group this fall. If McGhee can lower his pad level and keep his play consistent, Minnesota's got stability at safety this fall.
Coming off his redshirt season a year ago, Kiondre Thomas can't ask for a better looking depth chart with the chance for immediate playing time. The previous coaching staff, and particularly Jay Sawvel were very high on Thomas a year ago, and with Minnesota's success rate with defensive backs of late, that should make fans excited. Thomas has a tremendous amount of length to go with good speed.
Alonzo Craighton saw reserve action for most of the season before really being pressed into play against Washington State because of the suspensions. He's another young guy with a chance to make big waves this spring with a ton of reps available at corner.
Junior Jacob Huff saw extensive action on special teams during his first two seasons as a Golden Gopher, but there's not another Gopher that raised his stock more this spring. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck couldn't rave or talk up Huff anymore this spring as he was the Gophers biggest playmaker in the secondary.
Durr was out from spring practice recovering from knee surgery, and the hope is he could return at some point this fall.
Don't forget about Kent State transfer Troy Dipre this spring as he had to sit out last season as a transfer, but now is eligible and ready to complete. I believe he'll be a main-stay on special teams at the very least this fall.
Projected 2017 fall depth chart
CB: Antonio Shenault - Alonzo Craighton
Safety: Duke McGhee - Jacob Huff / Troy Dipre
Safety: Antoine Winfield - Kunle Ayinde
CB: Kiondre Thomas - Justus Harris / Adam Beck / Coney Durr
What the Gophers want in 2018
Minnesota will graduate two safeties this fall in Ayinde and McGhee, but they also need to replace the damage that was done from the sexual assault investigation, so I'm looking for Minnesota to sign four defensive backs in the 2018 class.
The Gophers already have three rowing in the boat with Benjamin Sapp III as Minnesota's first commitment and Terell Smith joining the fold also recently at corner. and then Illinois' top rated corner in Tyrik Henderson.
Sapp III is coming off his second ACL tear, but is figured to be 100% healthy this spring, and if he can return to his early form, Minnesota's got a heck of a get in Sapp who could play safety or corner. Smith is one of the fastest players in the nation, and as he's also 6" + with great length, you can do a lot of things with that in your secondary, and Henderson is elite as they come in the man coverage.
Florida's Marquis Williams is the nephew of former Golden Gopher great Tyrone Carter, and things are trending in the right direction for Minnesota with the legacy cornerback. Wisconsin is in the thick of things with Minnesota to land Williams' services, but he'll visit both this ssummer, and you know that his uncle in his ear for the Gophers. With only one spot though, Minnesota can't wait around forever.
Another defensive back with a Minnesota offer that's actually already been on campus is Georgia's Bryson Richardson, who will be visited Minnesota on April 4th. Richardson was committed to Tennessee at one point, but has opened things back up and Minnesota's made him a top priority since. Gophers would love to lock down the Georgia safety for good this time soon, but a recent North Carolina and Mississippi State offer has made things interesting.
Texas safety Dayven Coleman is another defensive back with a Minnesota offer that's planning to visit the Twin Cities this summer. Coleman holds early offers from Colorado, Syracuse and Kansas along with Minnesota, and coach Fleck and Linguist are doing what they can to get Coleman up to Minneapolis here soon.