Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
ESPN.com never wastes any time looking ahead to the following season, and sure enough, the site's 'way too early' Top 25 is out, along with the conference power rankings.
Why they might finish higher: The Gophers continue to make strides under coach Jerry Kill, who guided them to an 8-5 record and their first New Year's Day bowl game in 52 years in 2014. There are some key pieces to replace on offense and defense this season, but the bulk of the two-deep depth chart is coming back.
Why they might finish lower: The Gophers are losing Cobb and Williams, their top two weapons on offense. Williams, who caught 36 passes for 569 yards with eight touchdowns, is entering the NFL draft after his sophomore season. Cobb ran for 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns, and the Gophers will have a difficult time replacing his production. Quarterback Mitch Leidner played better in a 33-17 loss to Missouri in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, but he has to continue to improve as a passer. The Gophers were too one-dimensional on offense this past season.
David Cobb is one of four graduating Gophers seniors who'll be in action this month in collegiate all-star games. Cobb has accepted an invite to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala.
He'll be joined there by Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Auburn's Cameron Artis-Payne, among other top running backs.
The Gophers also will have three recent grads in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl -- Cameron Botticelli, Cedric Thompson and Damien Wilson. That game is Jan. 17 in Carson, Calif., and the head coaches are Mike Holmgren and Mike Martz.
The Senior Bowl will be on NFL Network. The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl will be on ESPN2.
David Cobb and Damien Wilson shared a two-bedroom apartment at Roy Wilkins Hall on University Avenue the past two years while starring for the Gophers. Now, the two cousins have both graduated and have moved on to another two-bedroom apartment -- in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
They went right from the Citrus Bowl to the next chapter, extensive workouts for the NFL Draft. I chatted with their new agent, Jake Presser, today, and he's excited for both of them. Presser works for the Sportstars agency, which is based in New York.
Anyway, it was fun for me for hearing about their latest doings after photographer Renee Jones Schneider and I visited their on-campus apartment back in October for this story.
Maxx Williams projects as a second-round draft pick, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. McShay also had good things to say about former Gopher David Cobb, while noting that this year's running back class is loaded.
"I think [Williams is] the best tight end in the class if he comes out," McShay said, and Williams made it official last week that he's leaving college early for the draft. "I think he’ll probably be second round pick, somewhere in that range.
"I was talking to a GM earlier in the year and he compared him to Greg Olsen, who was drafted by the Bears (No. 31 overall in 2007) and is now with Carolina -- just that kind of player.
"He’s got the size -- 6-4, 250-ish -- averaged 16 yards a catch, good hands, adequate blocker, can improve in that area. But I see speed on the field. He’s the only guy to me that can really stretch the field and consistently makes plays."
Others have noted how thin this tight end class is, aside from Williams. But McShay rattled off a stable of running back options, including Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, T.J. Yeldon, Jay Ajayi and Mike Davis.
"I would say David Cobb is in that range with Jeremy Langford from Michigan State as well, Matt Jones, who’s coming out early from Florida, Cameron Artis-Payne from Auburn," McShay said. "That list right there is 12 deep with running backs that you could argue belong in the first 3-4 rounds, and we haven’t seen any running backs go in the first two rounds the last two years. So I just wonder how many of those guys are going to wind up going, really legitimately going in the second third round range or if maybe one of them will fall."
McShay said Cobb was "overlooked this year. ... He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he has really good instincts as a runner. He’s tough, he runs low to the ground, good center of gravity, and I thought he did a really nice job this year.
"I think he’s got a chance to be one of the – I don’t want to say steals -- but I think he’s got a chance to outplay where he gets drafted."
Gophers tight end Maxx Williams made it official Friday, announcing his widely expected decision to leave early and enter the NFL Draft.
Williams, a third-year sophomore, is the first Gophers football player to leave school early for the NFL Draft since Laurence Maroney, who was a first-round pick (No. 21 overall) by the Patriots in 2006.
The news on Williams comes one day after he put together another signature performance in the Citrus Bowl. Missouri defeated the Gophers 33-17, but Williams had seven catches for 98 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown that came after he hurdled over two defenders.
After the game, Williams said he planned to discuss his decision with his family before making the announcement. His father, Brian, was a center for the Gophers and a first-round pick by the Giants who went on to play 11 years in the NFL.
Maxx Williams was named the Big Ten’s Tight End of the Year, and was a second-team All-American selection by the Associated Press. He led the Gophers with 36 receptions for 569 yards and eight touchdowns. The eight touchdowns were a school record for a Gophers tight end.
Williams could be the first tight end picked in this year’s draft, possibly in the first round.
What now for the Gophers?
Replacing Williams won’t be easy for the Gophers, but they should be fairly deep next year at the H-slot, which is designed for speedy, pass-catching tight ends.
Duke Anyanwu, who tore an ACL on the second day of preseason camp, will be back, and he was expected to be the No. 2 at that position behind Williams this year. Brandon Lingen gained experience as a true freshman, and the Gophers really like Jerry Gibson, a tight end/wide receiver who redshirted this year.
“We appreciate all that Maxx and his family have done for the program,” coach Jerry Kill said in a statement. “They are great people and we wish nothing but the best for Maxx as he begins his professional career. Maxx has been an integral part in laying the foundation for our program and has helped move our team forward.”
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