Who is Leaving, Staying and Coming Aboard the Gopher Football Boat for 2022?

AP Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn

The (8-4) Minnesota Golden Gophers football team is headed to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix, AZ on December 28 to play Big 12 opponent (6-6) West Virginia. PJ Fleck told media on Monday that he’s not expecting any opt-outs from his roster before then, even though there are a number of guys who hope to hear their name called April’s NFL Draft.

(OT) Daniel Faalele, (DE) Boye Mafe and (DE) Esezi Otomewo all have college eligibility left after this season but are instead opting for the NFL draft. All three were chosen and have accepted their invite to compete in the Reese’s Senior Bowl on February 2, the premiere All-Star game for college football players and a week that gives pro scouts a great look at some of the best talent in the upcoming draft.

Out of Eligibility or Off to NFL

The Senior Bowl attendees were probably the biggest early flight risks. The offensive and defensive lines should benefit greatly vs the Mountaineers with Faalele, Mafe and Otomewo in uniform. For those NFL hopefuls and many other Gophers, that Guaranteed Rate Bowl game on December 28 will be the last time they put the shoulder pads on under a Minnesota uniform. Here is the full list of 2021 regulars who are NOT returning (with their 2021 snap count via PFF).

  • Conner Olson (OL) | 817 Snaps
  • Sam Schlueter (OL) | 817 Snaps
  • Daniel Faalele (OT) – Senior Bowl | 771 Snaps
  • Coney Durr (CB) | 662 Snaps
  • Jack Gibbens (LB) | 643 Snaps
  • Ko Kieft (TE) | 539 Snaps
  • Esezi Otomewo (DE) – Senior Bowl | 478 Snaps
  • Boye Mafe (DE) – Senior Bowl | 435 Snaps
  • Nyles Pinckney (DT) | 433 Snaps
  • Micah Dew-Treadway (DT) | 335 Snaps
  • Justus Harris (CB) | 390 Snaps
  • Phillip Howard (CB) | 154 Snaps
  • Val Martin (DT) | 152 Snaps

Ciarrocca Band Back Together

While the list of departures may seem long, there are still plenty of returnees fans can get excited about.

First, it was (RB) Mohamed Ibrahim who announced his return for 2022. His decision made sense because, beyond an urge to take the field with a Gopher uniform again, Mo needs to prove he can still be an effective running back for scouts at the next level after spending 2021 on the sideline with a leg injury.

Then, it was (QB) Tanner Morgan who announced he would run it back for one last season too. in hopes of regaining a shadow of his former 2019 form. A return to his old self became a lot more possible when it was announced that Morgan’s 2019 offensive coordinator, Kirk Ciarrocca, was coming back to Dinkytown as the Gophers 2022 OC.

(WR) Chris Autman-Bell was next. After a disappointing season in 2021 that could be mostly blamed on injuries and offensive game plans that too often hated throwing the football, CRAB too announced his return. The hope has to be that Morgan and the passing game will have more life and feature him in a way Ciarrocca once did Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson.

Others Returning

Before the 2021 season kicked off, it was unlikely that any of the three major offensive figures above would still be on the Minnesota Gophers football roster come 2022. But because of injuries and a disappointing pass game, all three will be back in maroon and gold next year. And they aren’t the only important players who have chosen to return.

Today, All Big Ten Center (2nd and 3rd teams) John Michael-Schmitz announced he was joining the coming-back party, a huge deal for the Gophers OL and fans hoping the offense can be more explosive next season. Here’s the full list of regularly contributing seniors and super seniors who have announced their return for 2022.

  • John Michael-Schmitz (C) | 816 Snaps
  • Tanner Morgan (QB) | 754 Snaps
  • Chris Autman-Bell (WR) | 475 Snaps
  • Brevyn Spann-Ford (TE) | 419 Snaps
  • Thomas Rush (LB) | 385 Snaps
  • Terell Smith (CB) | 280 Snaps
  • Axel Ruschmeyer (G) | 213 Snaps
  • Mohamed Ibrahim (RB) | 49 Snaps

Undecided

There are some major contributors from 2021 that are yet to announce what their plans are for the upcoming 2022 football season. Blaise Andries is one of those who are undecided. He has been a fixture on the Minnesota Gophers offensive line for a handful of years.

Mariano Sori-Marin and Jordan Howden were two defenders thrust into spotlight roles after Thomas Barber and Antoine Winfield Jr went to the NFL following the 2019 season. But 2020 was shortened by COVID-19 and both Howden and Sori-Marin struggled, along with the entire Gopher defense. But after a bounce back 2021, neither player has decided if they will return for their final season of eligibility.

  • Blaise Andries (OL) | 758 Snaps
  • Jordan Howden (DB) | 601 Snaps
  • Mariano Sori-Marin (LB) | 569 Snaps
  • Matthew Trickett (K)

Transfer Portal Losses

Losing players to the transfer portal is part of doing business in college football these days. It’s become easy for unhappy players to jump in the portal and find a new location. The NCAA has needed a free agency for awhile and now they have one.

PJ Fleck and the Gophers are suffering losses to the transfer portal just like every other school across the country. So far, they’ve lost ten. Many of them hadn’t contributed yet in any meaningful way but were expected to eventually.

The biggest name, so far, has to be Zack Annexstad, who started as Minnesota’s QB before Tanner Morgan did. He wasn’t the only backup QB to announce his departure after #2 decided to return.

  • Curtis Dunlap (G) | 218 Snaps
  • MJ Anderson (DE) | 176 Snaps
  • Brady Boyd (WR) – 170 Snaps
  • Rashod Cheney (DT) | 40 Snaps
  • James Gordon (LB) | 21 Snaps
  • Cam Wiley (RB) | 17 Snaps
  • Zack Annexstad (QB) | 7 Snaps
  • Jacob Clark (QB)

Transfer Portal Gains

The Gophers have pulled one player out of the transfer portal so far for the 2022 season and he’s someone that’s expected to contribute right away. His name is Ryan Stapp and he’s a standout cornerback from FCS level Abilene Christian University. Read more about Stapp in the blog I wrote about him yesterday.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan