The Gophers did not have a player selected in the NFL draft over the weekend, but two players signed free-agent contracts on Saturday night and six others will participate in NFL minicamps.
Defensive tackle Steven Richardson signed with the Los Angeles Chargers, and kicker/punter Ryan Santoso signed with the Detroit Lions. In addition, six players received invitations to rookie minicamps: running back Kobe McCrary, defensive back Adekunle Ayinde and defensive lineman Merrick Jackson from the Vikings, linebacker Jonathan Celestin from the Houston Texans, offensive lineman Garrison Wright from the Cleveland Browns, and tight end Nate Wozniak from the Atlanta Falcons and Oakland Raiders.
Each of those players participated in the Gophers Pro Day in March, and the common theme was just getting an opportunity with an NFL team.
“Whoever takes a chance on me it’s going to get something really great,’’ Richardson said in March. “Not to talk myself up, but I’ve been saying the whole time, through high school and college, I’ve always been told ‘No, you’re not tall enough, you can’t do it.’ I always have a chip on my shoulder.’’
The Gophers had at least one player drafted from 2014 through ’17, but that streak ended Saturday. Interestingly, second-year Gophers coach P.J. Fleck’s former team, Western Michigan, has had seven players drafted over the past three years, including three in the first three rounds. Fleck coached the Broncos from 2013 through ’16, so he and his staff had a big impact in developing those draftees. If that pattern repeats itself at Minnesota, you could see Gophers names being called in future drafts. That’s Fleck’s goal.
“We haven’t had an offensive lineman drafted since 2006,’’ he said during spring practice. “Twelve players drafted in the last 11 years. We’re a Big Ten football program. With just one on average coming out, we’ve got to change that.’’