Too early to do a deep dive on the 2021 Gophers football roster? Yes, but let's give it a shot anyway. The Star Tribune's Megan Ryan shares her (very early) predictions on the 2021 starting lineups, assuming all seniors return and take advantage of the NCAA's eligibility waiver for this pandemic-riddled season (year in school listed for each player is current year):



Quarterback: Tanner Morgan • junior

He was a breakout star in 2019, setting school records and earning national attention. But without Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, he didn't look like the efficient and productive passer from just a year ago. In the Gophers' seven games this season, he threw just seven TDs, with five INTs. One of the faces of the 11-2 campaign in 2019, Morgan also now owns the 3-4 team record of this fall. His next game will be his 30th in maroon and gold.

2021 outlook: Still the starter as a highly respected leader on the team.

Other QB options: Zack Annexstad, Jacob Clark, Cole Kramer.

Running back: Mohamed Ibrahim • junior

He put the team on his back and literally carried it in every game, earning Big Ten Running Back of the Year with more than 100 (sometimes 200!) yards in all seven games. He rushed for 15 touchdowns this year, most in the Big Ten and tied for fifth-most nationally.

2021 outlook: He'll finish his degree, likely carry the Gophers again and set himself up for an NFL future.

Other RB options: Treyson Potts, Cam Wiley.

Right tackle: Daniel Faalele • junior

MIA for the entire season, noticeable for the 6-9, 400-pound Australian, with COVID-19 concerns. He hasn't played in more than a year after injuring his leg late in 2019.

2021 outlook: The latecomer to football still needs development.

Right guard: Curtis Dunlap Jr. • soph.

Another lineman sidelined for all of 2020, this time with a lower-leg injury. Dunlap was in the NCAA transfer portal for one day this past offseason but reneged and seems rededicated to the Gophers.

2021 outlook: Also in need of experience and development to go with his 6-5, 345 frame.

Center: Conner Olson • senior

An all-Big Ten third team honoree this season whose versatility was indispensable.

2021 outlook: Should continue being a consistent force on the line.

Left guard: Blaise Andries • junior

Also used his versatility to help a depth-tested unit and earned an all-Big Ten third team spot.

2021 outlook: Unclear if his mane of long, highlighted-blond locks will make the cut to next season.

Left tackle: Sam Schlueter • senior

Never abandoned his left tackle spot and became an all-Big Ten honorable mention.

2021 outlook: Shouldn't have any problem keeping his position even if fellow honorable mention John Michael Schmitz returns as a starter and reshuffles the unit.

Other O-line options: Schmitz, Axel Ruschmeyer, Nathan Boe, Aireonte Ersery.

Tight end: Ko Kieft • senior

Played only four games because of injury and the COVID-19 outbreak but still caught a 15-yard touchdown.

2021 outlook: All the tight ends will hope, yet again, to become a bigger part of the passing game.

Other TE options: Bryce Witham, Brevyn Spann-Ford, Jake Paulson.

Receiver: Chris Autman-Bell • junior

Caught 22 passes for 430 yards, one touchdown and several big gains, playing alongside Bateman for most of the year until the Big Ten Receiver of the Year re-opted out of the season.

2021 outlook: After years in the shadows of Johnson and Bateman, Crab is the No. 1 choice for Morgan.

Receiver: Daniel Jackson • fresh.

After Demetrius Douglas left the team, the true freshman became a starter. He showed glimpses of greatness but also made easy mistakes.

2021 outlook: A free year of experience will only help Jackson eliminate drops and improve his route-running.

Receiver: Mike Brown-Stephens • fresh.

Found increased playing time the final two games after Bateman left, even scoring his first touchdown.

2021 outlook: Will give his famous uncle, singer John Legend, more to celebrate.

Other WR options: Clay Geary, Seth Green.



Defensive end: Boye Mafe • junior

The Hopkins product surprisingly began the season not starting but asserted himself as an effective impact player with his 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two pass-breakups.

2021 outlook: The all-Big Ten honorable mention will look to deliver more consistency as the top pass-rusher.

Defensive tackle: DeAngelo Carter • fresh.

The 2019 player of the year on the Gophers' scout team played in every game this season, including a thrilling interception return 24 yards at Maryland.

2021 outlook: "Trill" showed a lot of potential in 2020, promising at his young age.

Defensive tackle: Micah Dew-Treadway • senior

The 2019 graduate transfer from Notre Dame helped on a sack and blocked a field goal this season.

2021 outlook: On a defense that struggled with inexperience, Dew-Treadway will need to share his veteran perspective even more next season.

Defensive end: Esezi Otomewo • junior

Continued his streak of playing in every game so far in his college career.

2021 outlook: Made one sack and two quarterback pressures this year but can add more impact plays to his arsenal.

Other D-line options: Keonte Schad, Thomas Rush, Rashad Cheney Jr.

Linebacker: Mariano Sori-Marin • junior

Struggled early this season trying to do too much and making individual mistakes, but he put together a strong game late with 18 tackles at Nebraska. He led the team with 54 total tackles.

2021 outlook: Sori-Marin has the talent but now needs to prove he is reliable and consistent.

Linebacker: Braelen Oliver • soph.

Missed all of 2020 after a spring practice injury. He was a rising star in 2019 but hasn't played in more than a year.

2021 outlook: Hopefully can avoid Sori-Marin's growing pains in his first season as a full-time starter.

Other LB options: Jack Gibbens, James Gordon IV, Josh Aune.

Cornerback: Justus Harris • senior

Played in every game this season and recovered a fumble at nickelback.

2021 outlook: Harris is probably the most under-the-radar defensive player and should work to assert himself in his final season.

Cornerback: Coney Durr • senior

Offenses sometimes tried to avoid the all-Big Ten honorable mention, who made an end-zone interception at Wisconsin.

2021 outlook: Durr has NFL dreams after an eye-catching 2019 and will hope his sixth year improves his stock.

Cornerback: Phil Howard • senior

The receiver-turned-cornerback has worked to learn his new position and been a key player on special teams.

2021 outlook: The Robbinsdale Cooper product will be back for a sixth year and starting in place of NFL Draft departure Benjamin St-Juste.

Other CB option: Terell Smith.

Safety: Jordan Howden • junior

His 37 tackles and a pass-breakup this year were good, but Howden didn't quite take over in current NFL safety Antoine Winfield Jr.'s wake.

2021 outlook: Will look to recreate more scintillating moments in 2021, like the game-saving interception against Penn State in 2019.

Safety: Tyler Nubin • soph.

At times, he played like it was his first season starting.

2021 outlook: Some distance from the direct comparisons to Winfield should help Nubin find his rhythm.

Other safety option: Michael Dixon.



Kicker: Michael Lantz • soph.

The kicking situation this year was head-spinning. Lantz, Brock Walker and Anders Gelecinskyj all took turns at field goals and even kickoffs before freshman Dragan Kesich made his debut for the latter. COVID-19 issues and injuries depleted the group and none really claimed the job.

Punter: Mark Crawford • fresh.

The older Australian freshman — nearly 30, as Autman-Bell likes to say — missed a couple games but had his best punting efforts late in the year. If he can be anything like his fellow Australian punter Tory Taylor at Iowa, it would immensely help a perennially shoddy special teams unit.