Scouting the Big Ten: Minnesota

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

The Gophers begin anew with P.J. Fleck, the highly regarded head coach who should take the program to the next level. They have four legitimate NFL prospects on the roster, and all can be found on the offensive side of the ball.

Running back Rodney Smith has been a productive ball carrier the past two seasons and projects well as a situational back at the next level. He can flip it on through the hole or turn the corner, and I appreciate the way he creates yardage.

Brandon Lingen is a solid pass catcher and adequate blocker who sat on the sidelines much of last season with injury. He has solid size and could jump into the third day of the draft if he stays healthy and has a good season then runs well during workouts.

Scouts consider the Gophers other tight end Nathaniel Wozniak a street free agent, but I disagree. Wozniak is a tight end in a tackle's body, measuring over 6-foot-9 and close to 280 pounds. He catches the ball extremely well and dominates as a blocker. I don’t believe Wozniak will be drafted but do think he has a real chance to make a roster as a third tight end.

Junior tackle Donnell Greene is a massive lineman with potential at guard or tackle. He needs to step up his game and improve his conditioning but has late-round possibilities.

Scouts like Gopher defensive lineman Steve Richardson, but the one defender I would keep an eye on is nose tackle prospect Merrick Jackson.

His play last season was plagued by inconsistency, but when on his game Jackson was unstoppable; just watch the Wisconsin film. Jackson has the size (6-feet-2, 322 pounds), power and explosion to hold down the nose tackle spot in the NFL. If Fleck can motivate him to play to his potential, Jackson will soar up draft boards.