Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner had been listed as a possible 2017 draft sleeper. On Thursday, the hype went to a new level.
In his "Way-too-early 2017 NFL mock draft," ESPN's Todd McShay projected Leidner as a first-round pick (No. 25 overall, to the Dallas Cowboys). McShay writes: "Listed at 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds, Leidner has ideal size and has shown the ability to make plays with his legs off designed runs and scrambles. He's a late riser to keep an eye on, similar to Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz."
Leidner is entering his third full season as the Gophers starting quarterback and has 35 college games under his belt. He struggled early last season playing behind an injury ravaged offensive line. But Leidner finished the year with a 59.5 completion percentage, up from 51.5 as a sophomore.
He was also playing with severe ligament damage in his left foot last season, which required surgery two days after he was named MVP of the Quick Lane Bowl. Leidner was able to do everything except 11-on-11 drills during spring practice and is a full-go now for captains' practices.
CBS Sports draft analyst Benjamin Allbright has tweeted that Leidner could be a sleeper, which was notable because Allbright had done the same thing with Wentz, the North Dakota State QB that just went No. 2 overall to the Eagles.
Allbright later tweeted, "My mentions are in shambles, Gophers fans somehow think 'sleeper' means I think Leidner is going day 1. He's barely draftable, but has tools."
Leidner will get a chance this year to work with the Gophers' new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson. Leidner has the size and the arm strength, he runs well when healthy and he has led the Gophers on numerous late-game scoring drives in close contests.
Last year, when McShay wrote his "Way-too-early 2016 NFL mock draft," he was bullish on Big Ten quarterbacks. He had Penn State's Christian Hackenberg going No. 1 overall, Michigan State's Connor Cook going No. 2 and Ohio State's Cardale Jones going No. 7.
Ultimately, Hackenberg was a second-rounder (Jets), Cook (Raiders) and Jones (Bills) went in the fourth round, Indiana's Nate Sudfeld (Redskins) and Michigan's Jake Rudock (Lions) went in the sixth round. No Big Ten QB has been drafted in the first round since Kerry Collins went No. 5 overall in 1995.
McShay qualified this year's picks by writing: "Let's start by emphasizing the first part of the headline above: Way-too-early. There's a reason we use that terminology for this piece. I have not studied tape on most of these players. I've simply done my best to match up many of the top players on my preliminary list with teams that make sense."
For what it's worth, in last year's "Way-too-early" mock draft, McShay did hit on 15 of the eventual 32 first-round names.