Minnesota’s representatives at the NFL scouting combine this past weekend included safety Jordan Howden, running back Mohamed Ibrahim, center John Michael Schmitz and cornerback Terrell Smith.
That crop of players gave the Gophers four combine participants in three of the last four draft cycles (2023, 2022, 2020). The only instance with fewer happened in 2021 when they had two players invited.
Anyhow, with the annual event in Indianapolis already over, our mind has wandered from one question – How did this year’s class of Gophers fare compared to standouts of old? They did OK. – To the next: Who, if anyone, from the group performed well enough to earn a spot on the program’s All-Combine roster?
In this review, we’ll scan back to the turn of the century and name Minnesota’s top NFL combine participants at each position. (Note: We’ll also provide a brief on the four players who attended in 2023.)
QUARTERBACK: Mitch Leidner (2017)
Thanks to slim pickings and respectable marks in the running and jumping drills, Leidner gets the nod here. His 6.96 3-cone time and 4.25 short-shuttle complemented a 4.93-second 40-yard dash. Not bad at 6-foot-3, 226 pounds. Also, not surprising since Leidner ran for 33 touchdowns from 2013-16. As for his hops … he posted a 34.5-inch vertical and 10-feet, 3-inch broad jump. His 78 athleticism score – a metric computed by Next Gen Stats that analyzes athletic performance on a scale from 50-99 – in 2017 ranked sixth best among competing quarterbacks. Despite the solid effort, Leidner didn’t hear his name called.
HONORABLE MENTION: MarQueis Gray (2013)
Gray played quarterback and wide receiver at Minnesota but performed as a passer at the 2013 combine. His 4.65 40 time was good for a quarterback but negatively impacted his pro stock – teams didn’t believe he had the speed to line up at WR, his likeliest destination pre-draft, at the next level. He went undrafted, but lasted five seasons in the league as a tight end.
RUNNING BACKS: Marion Barber (2005), Laurence Maroney (2006)
Barber edges Maroney as RB1 on our team because of his all-around performance. Barber ran the 40 in 4.49 seconds at 221 pounds and nearly bunnied his way out of the gym with a 40-inch vertical leap and 10-6 broad jump. He did 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Maroney, meanwhile, clocked a 4.48 in the 40, which helped cement his future status as a first-round pick of the Patriots (No. 21 overall).
HONORABLE MENTION: Thomas Hamner (2000)
Hamner, a sixth-round selection by Philadelphia, didn’t wow in a specific drill but compiled a fine combine. His times – 4.50 (40), 6.97 (3-cone), 4.07 (shuttle) – propped up a meh vertical (32 inches).
2023 check-in: Ibrahim opted out of testing, presumably saving himself for Minnesota’s upcoming Pro Day. He did participate in select on-field running back drills and impressed analysts with his hands and movement. One issue: He measured in at 5-foot-8 – two inches shorter than his listed height in college.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Rashod Bateman (2021), Eric Decker (2010)
Bateman and Decker are the two clear winners at wide receiver since 2000 – granted, there are just four players to choose from. Bateman’s 4.39-second 40-yard dash was tied for seventh fastest at his position. He also recorded a 36-inch vertical and 10-3 broad jump. Decker ran a 4.54 40 at 6-3, 217 pounds.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ron Johnson (2002)
Johnson salvaged a poor showing – he ran the 40 in 4.70 seconds and registered a 34.5-inch vert – with a lightning quick 20-yard shuttle. His time of 4.02 is the second fastest by a Gophers player since 2000.
TIGHT END: Maxx Williams (2015)
By no means was he a burner, but Williams earned his second-round draft slot after running a 4.78 40 and 4.37 shuttle at 249 pounds. He had decent jumps – 34.5” (vertical), 9-8 (broad) – and did 17 reps.
HONORABLE MENTION: Matt Spaeth (2007)
Practically an extra O-linemen, Spaeth’s 40 time of 4.83 seconds at 6-7, 270 was uber-impressive.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Blaise Andries (2022), Greg Eslinger (2006), Daniel Faalele (2022)
Disclaimer: We narrowed our “starters” to one guard, center and tackle. Andries is the outlier because he went undrafted – a reality which probably had more to do with his tape than his athleticism since the latter stood out at the combine. Andries ran the 40 in 5.10 seconds, the shuttle in 4.68 and 3-cone in 7.84 – all at 6-6, 308lbs. He also posted a 30.5-inch vertical and 8-8 broad jump. His former teammate, Faalele stole the show at weigh-ins, reading 6-8, 384, although he waited until Pro Day to go through testing. Lastly, or shall we say firstly, Eslinger appears here for his strength alone. He did 28 reps at 225.
HONORABLE MENTION: John Michael Schmitz (2023)
Schmitz didn’t win the pajama olympics but didn’t do anything to hurt his late Day 1 or early Day 2 draft projection, either. At 6-4, 301, he ran a 5.35 40 and 4.56 shuttle. His 29.5” vert and 8-7 broad were OK.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Ra'Shede Hageman (2014)
Hageman turned the combine into a strong-man competition, repping 225 pounds a school-record 32 times (correct, we went beyond the 2000 cutoff date to check that number). He also turned heads in the other events. … He ran a sub 5.0-second 40 (4.92) at 6-6, 310, impressed scouts with a 4.50 shuttle and submitted monster jumps of 35.5” and 9-5. No wonder Atlanta was tempted to take him 37th overall.
HONORABLE MENTION: John Schlecht (2001)
Schlecht was undersized (6-foot-nothing, 295) but his times in the 40 (4.95) and shuttle (4.30) were fine.
EDGE RUSHER: Boye Mafe (2022)
Mafe rocketed up draft boards after sprinting the 40 in 4.53 seconds at 6-4, 261. His jumps were equally amazing – Mafe had a 38-inch vertical and 10-5 broad. His 86 athleticism score topped all edge rushers.
HONORABLE MENTION: Stylez White (2002)
Stylez, aka Greg, helped his case to make it to the NFL by running a 4.88 40 at 6-3, 268, and 4.36 shuttle.
LINEBACKER: Blake Cashman (2019)
Cashman’s performance at the 2019 combine fit perfectly for the new-age linebacker needed to stick with skill players in space and cover the seam 20-30 yards downfield. He earned an 85 athleticism score (No. 4 among linebackers) via a 4.50 40, 6.95 3-cone, 4.12 shuttle, 18 reps and jumps of 37.5” and 10-3.
HONORABLE MENTION: Carter Coughlin (2020)
Coughlin displayed underrated athleticism in 2020, notching a 4.57 40, 36-inch vertical and 10-5 broad.
CORNERBACKS: Jalen Myrick (2017), Benjamin St-Juste (2021)
If you blinked you probably missed Myrick’s 4.28-second 40-yard dash in 2017. The speediest Gopher in combine history also posted a nice shuttle time (4.22 seconds) and a terrific vertical (37.5 inches). St. Juste’s straight-line speed paled in comparison … but his change of direction was elite. His 3.96 shuttle and 6.63 3-cone finished as the No. 1 and No. 2 times among all combine participants two years ago.
HONORABLE MENTION: Michael Lehan (2003), Eric Murray (2016)
Lehan was outstanding in the running events 13 years before Murray put his versatility on display. The former documented a 4.48 40, 6.95 3-cone and 4.15 shuttle. The latter went 4.49, 7.08 and 4.05 with jumps of 39.5 inches and 10-3. They did 13 and 15 reps, respectively, of 225 on the bench press.
2023 check-in: Smith blazed his trail in the 40, crossing the line in 4.41 seconds. He fared decently across the board, pairing 4.30 and 7.02 times in the shuttle and 3-cone with a 34-inch vert and 10’ broad jump.
SAFETIES: Tyrone Carter (2000), Antoine Winfield Jr. (2020)
Carter, a fourth-round pick of the Vikings, raised his draft stock with a crazy vertical of 41 inches, which was good for the second-best mark at all positions in 2000, and a dazzling 6.75-second 3-cone time. He also put up 225 pounds 16 times – at 5-8, 190!! Winfield Jr. showcased his NFL bloodline with a 4.45 40 and a 10-3 broad jump. His 36-inch vertical was something slight compared to Carter, but still worthy.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jack Brewer (2002), Brock Vereen (2014)
Brewer and Vereen each had their moments 12 years apart. Brewer’s performance was buoyed by his jumps (37-inch vertical; 10-2 broad) and short-area change of direction as evidenced by his 6.90 3-cone and 4.24 shuttle. He ran a not-so-great 4.59 40 at 194 pounds. Vereen matched Brewer’s 3-cone and excelled in the 40 and shuttle, clocking in at 4.47 and 4.07. He also cranked out 25 reps at 225 pounds.
2023 check-in: Howden’s weekend was highlighted by his 4.49 40. His 33.5-inch vertical was a lowlight.