Minnesota, like Indiana, suffered through another season that could generously be described as painful. Unlike Indiana, however, there isn't the eternal claim of youth to mitigate the humiliation, or provide a stipend of hope for the future. Although true freshman Max Shortell was able to crack the lineup in place of Marqueis Gray at quarterback, the depth chart was otherwise dominated by upperclassmen. As a result, there are lots of holes for the 2012 class to fill. Despite their poor on-field performance, Jerry Kill and his staff did an excellent job of grabbing sleepers and underrated talents through every position.
Just like Indiana, Minnesota is dangerously thin at the quarterback position. Gray and Shortell are the only two capable of leading a Big Ten offense, so the emphasis was more on numbers for signing day. Phillip Nelson is another underrated quarterback with a live arm and the potential to grow into a solid starting quarterback. MN QB Mitch Leidner is a big kid with good athleticism, but his arm does not look like it's of a BCS caliber. He may end up as more of a role player than a full time starter. AL KJ Maye is an electric athlete, but also lacks the arm and size (5'10) of a Big Ten caliber player. However, I really like his athleticism. He isn't quite as speedy, but he reminds me a bit of Pittsburgh's Ray Graham with the ball in his hands. If he can find his position fit with the Gophers, he could be a productive player in college.
Although he likes to run the ball, Jerry Kill did a pretty inadequate job of addressing the RB position in this class. MS RB James Gillum comes from a highly scouted CC in Mississippi Gulf Coast, yet only nabbed offers from the Gophers and Louisiana Tech. His counterpart, Rodrick Williams, is a power back from Texas that also held offers from Utah and Iowa. He doesn't have exceptional speed and has trouble bursting out of cuts, but he's a tank when he gets going.
Kill made a concerted effort to land an array of options to build around Shortell, for the future. He ended up signing five of the position, including two with impressive offer lists. NC WR Jamel Harrison claimed offers from Clemson, NC State, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia, among others. Playing across from 2013 WR (and Michigan offer recipient) Marquez North, I'm not too high on Harrison, but obviously coaches saw something I didn't. Even more remarkable than Harrison is the landing of Andre McDonald, a hometown kid sporting offers from Ohio State, UCLA, Michigan State, and Iowa, among others. McDonald is a big kid with athleticism to boot. The standard 'he plays in Minnesota so his competition is weak' label applies, but he'll be a challenge in the years to come. A BONUS warning from renowned scout shipit1000 on McDonald's youtube video.
I put him over Michael Floyd coming out of high school. I just compared the highlights of the two. He will be an all American at MN and will be a 1st rounder in the 2015 NFL draft. He's physical, powerful, instinctual and just as talented as anyone. Look out, big ten.
You heard it here first, Big Ten. Look out. Minnesota grabbed a trio of additional options in MN WR Duke Anyanwu, MN WR Isaac Fruechte, and WI WR Eric Murray. Murray may end up a CB in college. Anwanyu is a good athlete, but he played QB in high school, and will need some time to adjust to the college game. Fruechte is a JUCO kid that looks like an average, at best, wide receiver.
The thing that really stuck out to me during last season's thumping in the Big House was the abhorrent state of the Minnesota offensive line. Goldy, meet Big Will Campbell. Although they missed out on yet another talented in-stater in Nick Davidson to Stanford, Kill was able to lessen the sting with the addition of behemoth OT Jonah Pirsig. Pirsig also held offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Auburn, Miami (YTM), and Iowa, among others. Minnesota added two other decent linemen in OG Isaac Hayes, who also held offers from the likes of Virginia Tech and Boise State, as well as OT Ben Lauer, who only had the one offer from Minnesota. The Gophers also signed an athletic TE in Semper Fi All American Maxx Williams, who will have to transition from the quarterback position in college.
The defense suffered at points last year, and needed a lot of young bodies to help replace some departures from the team, notably in the middle of the defensive line. In that regard, I was really impressed by the film of one JUCO transfer, KS DT Roland Johnson. Johnson, who also played LB in high school, has great athleticism and explosion for the position. He should be able to contribute immediately. The Gophers added two solid developmental tackles in FL DT Yoshoub Timms and FL DT Jordan Hinojosa (who claims an MSU offer, FWIW). TX DE Scott Ekpe is another kid who may end up moving to the inside in college, as well, although he'll need to bulk up. To add to the depth, Minnesota brought in MO DE Alex Keith, an electric pass rusher who will need to bulk up before he sees the field. TX DE Lincoln Plsek signed with Minnesota, although he'll probably end up on the offensive side of the ball, as an H-Back.
Moving back, Minnesota brought in a trio of linebackers to help replace several experienced veterans. IL LB Jack Lynn looks the only true linebacker of the bunch, while MN LB Nick Rallis and OH LB Antonio Johnson both lack exceptional size, and could end up as hybrid linebackers (momentary pause for pain masked by laughter). Augmenting the linebacking core is a group of underrated defensive backs. FL S Damarius Travis is a size/speed guy that could be a quality box safety for the gophers. The three JUCO corners (Jeremy Baltazar, Briean Boddy, and Martez Shabazz) look to be three of the most underrated guys in the class. Baltazar and Boddy are both hard hitting, physical corners, while Shabazz is probably the fastest kid in the class. Two star rating aside, I think Kill and staff might have landed three steals here.
All in all, I think Minnesota has a sneakily talented class. As most of these kids don't get any sort of 'three star' bump that a lot kids get for committing to schools like Ohio State or Michigan, people can tend to overlook the talent in the group, especially from the JUCO kids. While the haul might not help the running game on offense, Kill has certainly created a talented nucleus around which he can build up his passing attack. The 2012 class may include future stars at WR and OT, as well as quality players at QB and TE. Kill will certainly need to up the ante, with regards to running back recruiting, if he wants to establish a potent rushing threat.
The Minnesota staff also pulled in a couple of diamonds in the rough on the defense side of the ball, as well. Although the linebacking group is vastly undersized, both CB and DL were upgraded in the offseason. That doesn't mean they'll transition well into the fall, but they certainly have the potential.
I'll leave you with a few stats...
COMMITMENTS WITH A MICHIGAN OFFER--> 1 (MN OT Jonah Pirsig)
SCOUT.COM BIG TEN CLASS RANKING--> 11th
RIVALS.COM BIG TEN CLASS RANKING--> 12th
NUMBER OF COMMITMENTS ACHIEVING FOURTH STAR ON AT LEAST ONE SITE--> 3 (all from ESPN)
NUMBER OF COMMITMENTS ACHIEVING FIFTH STAR ON AT LEAST ONE SITE--> 0
MOST UNDERRATED RECRUIT--> A close battle between WR Andre McDonald and OT Jonah Pirsig, but ultimately I'll go with McDonald. Although gopher fans may have expectations for McDonald that are a touch unrealistic, I do think he has the potential to be one of the best WRs in the Big Ten by the time he leaves school. Only ESPN gives him a fourth star, which I believe is completely inaccurate.
BEST OFFENSIVE RECRUIT--> Obviously, that means I think McDonald is the best offensive recruit, as well.
BEST DEFENSIVE RECRUIT--> JUCO CB Martez Shabazz. A kid with blazing speed, Shabazz could make a strong impact on the Golden Gophers in the fall. I think, if coached up, he could be a borderline All Big-Ten type of player.
BEST NAME--> Yoshoub Timms
THE FINAL VERDICT--UNDER OR OVERRATED CLASS? As my previous remarks have implied, I think Minnesota definitely has an underrated class. Kids like Pirsig, Nelson, (TE) Williams, McDonald, and Hayes have all been vastly low-balled by the recruiting services, in my opinion. It isn't the type of class that will have the Gophers competing for Big Ten championships any time soon, but shouldn't be considered the worst in the conference, by any means.