Fleck Changing His Thought Process on Transfers in 2021

Photo: Ellen Schmidt

In the past, Minnesota Gophers head football coach, PJ Fleck, has been very clear on his feelings as they pertain to the transfer portal. He’s rarely interested.

According to 247Sports, Fleck has taken just four transfers in his first four recruiting classes at Minnesota (not including JUCO). For those who struggle with mathematics, that’s one transfer for every class from 2017-2020. In the 2021 class so far, he’s taken three transfers, including two on Wednesday alone.

Times, they are a-changing…

There’s more than one reason why PJ Fleck is taking more transfers than usual in 2021. The biggest has to do with NCAA rule changes that are currently in the process of becoming official.

Sometime in the next few months, major NCAA student athletes will be allowed one transfer during their college career, without it making them ineligible for the following season. No waiver necessary.

That completely changes the landscape of major college athletics. It’s also the biggest reason why Fleck is warming to the transfer portal.

Immediate eligibility has been his biggest issue with recruiting transfers. Those that he has taken prior to the 2021, both standard and JUCO, have been of the immediately eligible variety.

New WR in town

In the bigger transfer portal splash Wednesday evening, Texas A&M transfer WR, Dylan Wright, committed to the Gophers. He’s hoping to be PJ Fleck’s next big thing at WR. Dylan has all four years of eligibility remaining and enough upside to be Fleck’s next 1st round WR draft pick.

How much upside you ask? Wright was a phenom prospect coming out of high school. Had he committed to the Gophers back then, Wright would have stood as the school’s 2nd-ranked commit in football internet history at .9678 (4-star).

That’s a huge influx of talent for a position group that hasn’t really had a star commit since Rashod Bateman in 2018. Hopefully, Dylan can learn the Gopher offense quickly because it needs a jolt of big play ability to pair next to Chris Autman-Bell, who had a huge 2020 coming out party.

Experience needed on defense ASAP…

The other major reason for these transfer portal takes, and Fleck would be less willing to admit this part publicly, is an immediate need for reinforcements at multiple positions.

If you keep close tabs on Minnesota Gophers football then you know they need immediate help at receiver, linebacker and defensive line. So it’s no surprise that those are the positions these transfers fill.

On defense, Minnesota BADLY needed an infusion of experience. Defensive coordinator, Joe Rossi, has plenty of young talent in guys like Tyler Nubin, Cody Lindenberg and DeAngelo Carter… but the lack of experience was glaring in 2020.

It led to A LOT of big plays from opposing offenses. Out of 130 teams ranked in 2020, the Gophers were #124 in opponent yards per play at 6.8. Only four of the teams ranked worse are power-5.

Meet the new guys on defense

If this team is to take a step forward in 2021, a huge improvement is a must in the big play department. More importantly, the jolt of experience is up the middle, where Minnesota often got beat up this season. Jack Gibbens is an inside linebacker and Val Martin is a defensive tackle.

We don’t know how much either of these guys will play. One (Gibbens) is coming from an FCS school where he posted really good numbers on the football field and even better numbers in the classroom.

The latest, NC State graduate transfer Val Martin, was a backup DT for most of his career with the Wolfpack. At <300 pounds, he seems like an odd fit for their 3-4 defense.

Hopefully he’ll be able to make more of an impact in his one year of the Minnesota 4-3. I can’t imagine he commits here if he isn’t promised a good chance to play significant snaps.

Strategy obvious

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what PJ Fleck and the Minnesota Gophers were trying to do with these transfer portal additions. They pinpointed their biggest areas of need and they addressed them with clear fits.

With PJ, person fit comes before player fit. He won’t throw a culture bomb into the middle of his locker room. We’ll see if these additions can help the Gophers row back to the front of the Big Ten West in 2021.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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