For four former Gophers, life didn’t slow down when the season ended at the Outback Bowl about two months ago.
In fact, everything accelerated.
From signing with agents, to taking off for sunny training locales, to heading to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Carter Coughlin, Tyler Johnson, Kamal Martin and Antoine Winfield Jr. have immersed themselves in preparation for the big leagues. It’s all in an effort to ensure a pro team reads out their names in late April at the NFL draft.
With the Gophers coming off an 11-2 season, fan interest in the team’s NFL prospects has piqued. The last time the Gophers had four players drafted was 2016, with Maxx Williams (second round), Damien Wilson (fourth), David Cobb (fifth) and Cedric Thompson (fifth). Before that, it hadn’t happened since 2006.
The combine — which stretches through next Monday — might be the best chance to impress league scouts, the other being the Gophers’ own Pro Day, usually in late March. Coughlin, Johnson, Martin and Winfield will go through measurements, weightlifting, medical and psych exams, team interviews and on-field workouts, the latter of which will air on the NFL Network. They have to be ready for scoring high on the vertical jump and drawing up a defense if an interviewer asks.
Coughlin and Martin, best friends and linebackers, signed with the same agency and have been training together in Santa Ana, Calif. Johnson, a receiver, has been an hour southeast in Carlsbad, Calif., while Winfield, a safety, has trained near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But Coughlin says they all share a group chat to update each other on their progress and keep in touch.
“It’s just going to be a blast to see those guys kill it because I know they’re going to,” Coughlin said. “We’re going to be repping a school that’s given us so much over the last four years, and I know that all four of us are going to make everybody back home proud.”
Here’s what to expect from the quartet:
WR, 6-2, 205 pounds
On-field workouts: Thursday, 4-11 p.m.
What to watch: The Gophers’ record holder in career (3,305) and single-season (1,318) receiving yards and career (33) and single-season (13) receiving touchdowns, excels at route-running and contested catches. But his biggest knock is speed. His couple months in SoCal have presumably helped him improve his 40-yard dash time. He’ll need to show that’s developing to stand out even more in a stacked receiver draft class.
Draft projection: High, rounds two or three. NFL.com graded him as a “good backup who could become a starter.”
Linebacker, 6-3, 245
On-field workouts: Saturday, 4-11 p.m.
What to watch: Martin played only eight games last year for the Gophers (missing one on suspension and four with various foot and knee injuries, including skipping the Outback Bowl to have surgery). The combine will be important for him to show he’s recovered from those as well as answer any questions about his two-game suspension — that spanned the Quick Lane Bowl and this season’s opener — for a violation of team rules. Physically and athleticism-wise, though, he looks like an NFL linebacker.
Draft projection: Late, rounds four through six. NFL.com graded him as a “priority free agent.”
Linebacker, 6-3, 234
On-field workouts: Saturday, 4-11 p.m.
What to watch: Coughlin led the Gophers with 9 1/2 tackles for a loss and 4 1/2 sacks last season. He started his Gophers career as a linebacker, eventually converting to defensive line as a rush end. He’ll rep as an outside linebacker at the Combine, but he also projects as an edge in the NFL and could be an option on all special teams units. “I’m excited to show off my athleticism that, at times, I wasn’t able to show just being on the line of scrimmage,” Coughlin said. “When you play for more depth, you get to show speed more, a little bit of more of your agility.”
Draft projection: Late, rounds four through six. NFL.com graded him as having a “chance to make end of roster or practice squad.”
ANTOINE WINFIELD JR.
Safety, 5-10, 205
On-field workouts: Sunday, 2-7 p.m.
What to watch: The Gophers’ top prospect after leading the team with 88 tackles and seven interceptions last season. Started every game but endured back-to-back season-ending injuries the two previous campaigns, hurting his hamstring and foot. His biggest point to pro teams is that those setbacks were freak instead of evidence he’s injury-prone.
Draft projection: High, likely round two. ESPN’s Mel Kiper recently projected the Vikings to take Winfield in the first round with the 25th overall pick, following in the footsteps of his father, Antoine Winfield Sr. NFL.com graded him as a player who “will be starter within first two seasons.”