Two Former Gophers Tagged by BR as “Rookie Gems” Primed to Thrive in New NFL Roles

Photo: Kelly Hagenson -

The 2020 NFL Draft took place April 23-25, with everyone inside of their respective homes due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. While this year’s draft wasn’t the ideal format, it was amusing (and a bit cringe-worthy) to watch Commissioner Roger Goodell ask for virtual boos almost as often as he changed outfits and locations within one room.

This was also a different draft for the University of Minnesota, setting a program record with 5 players being drafted. S Antoine Winfield Jr. went 45th overall to the Buccaneers, WR Tyler Johnson went 161st overall to the Buccaneers, LB Kamal Martin went 175th overall to the Packers, LB Carter Coughlin went 218th overall to the Giants, and CB Chris Williamson went 247th overall to the Giants. 

There are two players who are ready to flourish in their new roles, immediately. Bleacher Report named (WR) Tyler Johnson and (LB) Kamal Martin “Rookie Gems” for their respective teams, meaning BR expects these Golden Gophers to produce and contribute at levels not expected from their draft slot.

What could be better than catching passes from Tom Brady as a rookie? The Buccaneers receiving corps is strong, with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, but Johnson still looks to have a prominent role on this team right away, being the slot receiver job is still his for the taking. Tyler posted 213 receptions, 3305 receiving yards, and 33 TD’s in 4 seasons at the U of M.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to get an up close look at Johnson when the Gophers played Auburn in the Outback Bowl, at their home stadium. Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians is already in love with Johnson and was nervously hoping Johnson would fall to them at pick #161. 

I could not think of a better situation for Johnson, with all the veteran leadership ahead of him. This will allow him to learn from some of the best and grow as an NFL player. The Buccaneers’ abundance of weapons means targets could be hard to come by, initially. But one thing we know about Tyler Johnson, is that he finds a way to get it done and will take advantage of every opportunity provided to him.

Kamal Martin is also walking into a great situation with the Green Bay Packers. Martin will compete for a starting role right away, and even if he doesn’t get the job, injury prone Chritsian Kirksey will likely afford him opportunities on the other side of center.

With the addition of Kamal Martin, the Packers have a scary linebacker group with Za’darius Smith, Preston Smith and Kirksey also lining up at that position. Martin excelled with 177 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 4 interceptions for the Gophers during his career.

Martin, the former QB, transitioned from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, after the 2018 season and made it look easy. He was immediately named honorable mention All-Big Ten and only played 8 games due to a knee injury. Green Bay had a historically bad draft class but I am very confident that they hit a homerun with Martin.

The 2020 NFL draft was very exciting for Gopher fans, who I’m sure will be watching the careers of the former Gophers very closely. I have a feeling we will be seeing more of this in the coming years from the University of Minnesota.

Cameron Thompson | Minnesota Sports Fan

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