In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 3
2012 NFL Draft picks: 0
The Gophers had four players drafted in the 2006 NFL Draft, including first round pick RB Laurence Maroney. But over the last six years (2007-12), Minnesota has had just four players drafted combined, including being shut out of the past two drafts altogether. The Gophers have never been known as a strong football factory with only one Minnesota alumnus set to be a starter in the NFL this season, wide receiver Eric Decker with the Denver Broncos.
Entering his second season as the head coach, Jerry Kill and the Gophers had just three wins last season and haven't been bowl-eligible since 2009. However, 6+ wins isn't out of the question for Minnesota in 2012, led by dual-threat quarterback MarQueis Gray who is probably the only hope the Gophers have for a draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. QB/WR MarQueis Gray (6-4, 250)
One of the most decorated high school recruits to enroll in Minneapolis, Gray (pictured above) has had a rocky career thus far for the Gophers with only nine career passing touchdowns to his name. After seeing time at receiver as an underclassman, he became the starting quarterback last season as a junior and also led the team in rushing with 966 yards on the ground. Gray was a four-star quarterback recruit out of Indianapolis and surprised many when he chose Minnesota over Oregon. After sitting out the 2008 season due to academic issues, he bounced between quarterback and wide receiver as a freshman and sophomore, starting a combined eight games at wideout and tallying 48 catches for 645 yards and six scores. Gray became the starter at quarterback last season as a junior (10 starts), finishing 108-for-213 (50.7%) for 1,495 yards and an 8-8 TD-INT ratio, adding a team-best 966 rushing yards and six scores on the ground. At 6-4 and 250-pounds, Gray looks the part and has very good athleticism for his size, flashing the arm strength to push the ball downfield. However he is very erratic and immature as a passer with poor decision making, mechanics and is in need of extensive development before he is ready to lead an offense at the next level. And because of his weaknesses at quarterback, several teams view Gray as more of a wide receiver prospect, a position he played his first two seasons at Minnesota. Regardless, Gray is an intriguing prospect because of his combination of size, athleticism and raw talent, but he is extremely unpolished and will need a much improve senior season to be drafted next April.
2. CB Troy Stoudermire (5-10, 195)
After a season-ending arm injury last fall, it appeared Stoudermire's Minnesota career was going to end on a sour note. However, the NCAA approved his application for a medical hardship and wide receiver/cornerback Stoudermire will be back for one final season of eligibility in 2012. A high school quarterback, Stoudermire was a two-star receiver recruit out of Dallas, choosing the Gophers over Kansas State. He switched between cornerback and wideout over his first three seasons, combining for 15 starts, 35 catches and 43 total tackles, adding a conference-record 3,102 career kickoff return yards. Stoudermire moved primarily to defense last season as a senior and recorded 24 tackles and a pair of interceptions before the injury sidelined him for the season. He is expected to stay on defense and return kickoffs in 2012 as the unquestioned leader of the Gopher's secondary. He has good straight-line speed with the physical nature to hold up in bump-and-run coverage, but he needs to do a better job turning his head and locating the ball downfield. Listed at only 5-10, Stoudermire lacks ideal size for the position and looks maxed-out physically, but he doesn't shy from contact in run support. He is more of an athlete than technically-refined cornerback, but his raw speed and return ability will give him a chance at the next level, probably as an undrafted free agent.
3. OT Ed Olson (6-7, 320)
The lone Minnesota-native on this list, Olson anchors the left tackle position for the Gophers, playing alongside his brother, sophomore left guard Tommy Olson, who might end up being the better lineman of the two. Olson's father played offensive line and was a team captain for the Gophers in the ‘80s so there really wasn't any question as to what school the younger Olson would attend. After redshirting in 2009, he earned the starting job at left tackle as a redshirt freshman and has started a combined 18 games the past two seasons, missing a handful of contests due to injury. Olson has good size and growth potential, already adding 50 pounds since enrolling at Minnesota. Besides being able to stay healthy week-in and week-out, NFL scouts need to see more consistency from the left tackle as he will look like an All-American on one play, but follow it up with a mental error or whiff in space. Olson has good, not great, footwork and does a nice job extending at the point of attack and jolting rushers off the snap, rarely hiding his aggressive mean streak. He is only a junior, but has more career starts (18) than the rest of the starting offensive line combined (16) and will need to be the leader of the group. Once known for their physical hogs in the trenches, the Gophers haven't had an offensive lineman drafted since 2006, but Olson will look to change that, probably in the 2014 NFL Draft.
4. OLB Keanon Cooper (6-0, 220)
Sometimes it takes tragedy to reveal the true character of people and the unfortunate death of former Minnesota linebacker Gary Tinsley allowed Cooper, his fellow linebacker and friend, to grow into one of the emotional leaders of the Gophers team. Cooper was Tinsley's roommate and the person who found his body the morning after Tinsley died in his sleep from an enlarged heart this past April. A Dallas native and high school teammate of cornerback Stoudermire, Cooper was considered a top-50 defensive back recruit, choosing to head north to Minnesota over Kansas, Kansas State and Wisconsin. After redshirting in 2008 and serving as a back-up in 2009, Cooper started 10 games as a sophomore linebacker, recording 68 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. He had his best season in 2011 as a junior (9 starts) with 77 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and two forced fumbles. Cooper lacks ideal size for the linebacker position as he will be out-muscled near the line of scrimmage and moved where blockers want to take him. He accelerates quickly and shows a fast first step to chase down the action, but he will need to show more consistent production as a senior.
5. DE D.L. Wilhite (6-3, 245)
The returning sack leader for the Gophers, Wilhite has excelled off the field and in the classroom, but Minnesota fans are hoping that success translates to the field in 2012. Entering his third year as a starter, he has only 8.5 career sacks, but the Gophers coaching staff will be relying on him to be more productive as a senior. Wilhite was a two-star RB/DE recruit out of Kentucky and redshirted at Minnesota in 2008. After spending his freshman season as a reserve end, he tallied 3.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and 30 tackles the past two years as a starter. Wilhite lacks ideal size and length to play with his hand on the ground and has only added 10-15 pounds since his senior year in high school. He is a high-energy rusher and plays fast, but really struggles to shed blocks at the point and doesn't use his limbs effectively to disengage. Wilhite, who has been recognized for his academic and philanthropic achievements, is an ambitious individual with a goal of double-digit sacks in 2012. And if he reaches that goal, the NFL will certainly know about it.
WR Brandon Green (6-0, 190)
OLB Spencer Reeves (6-2, 225)
MLB Mike Rallis (6-2, 245)
CB Kyle Henderson (5-11, 185)
FS Brock Vereen (6-0, 195)*
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