Minnesota football: 10 most valuable players from the past decade
Minnesota has been incredibly consistent over the past 10 seasons (2012-21). During the stretch, the Golden Gophers have gone 72-51, posting 6 winning seasons and only once finishing more than 1 game below .500. They won a school record 11 games in 2019 and have gone 5-0 in bowl games over the past 7 seasons.
Under 3 head coaches in the past decade, the Gophers have continued to row the boat.
The reason for all the success: a multitude of talented players who made their way to Minneapolis before and since PJ Fleck took over in 2017. The group includes 3 first-team All-Americans, 29 All-Big Ten selections and 21 NFL Draft picks.
The Gophers have had quite the talent pipeline, but here are the 10 players who made the biggest impacts over the past 10 seasons:
Tanner Morgan, QB (2018-present)
Heading into his final season in a Gophers uniform, Morgan has already etched his name onto a handful of all-time lists at Minnesota. He’s No. 1 in completion percentage (.620), 2nd in passing yards (8,072) and touchdowns (66), 5th in attempts (903) and 3rd in completions (554). With 27 wins in 39 starts, he’ll be looking to pad his program-record victory total this season. If he starts every game, he’ll surpass Adam Weber’s record 50 starts by a Minnesota QB.
Mitch Leidner, QB (2013-16)
Leidner ranks right up there with Morgan in passing yards (7,287, 4th), completions (580, 2nd), attempts (1,029, 2nd) and TD passes (36, 6th), For now, he has the 2nd-most starts of any signal-caller in Minnesota history (41), 2 ahead of Morgan.
Rodney Smith, RB (2014-19)
Before taking his talents to the NFL, Smith left Minnesota trailing only Darrell Thompson in both career rushing yards (4,122) and rushing attempts (879). He’s 7th in school history in touchdown runs (29) and owns the record for all-purpose yards (5,441).
Mohamed Ibrahim, RB (2018-present)
Like Morgan, Ibrahim is also entering his final year in Minnesota. And also like Morgan, he’s made history in his prior seasons in uniform, particularly 2020. Currently, Ibrahim is 8th all-time in rushing yards (3,003), 10th in rushing attempts (547), tied for 4th in rushing touchdowns (33) and tied for 6th in yards per attempt (5.5). He hasn’t played since suffering an injury in last year’s opener, but could be huge for the Gophers if he can duplicate his effort from 2 seasons ago. In only 7 games in that pandemic-abbreviated campaign, Ibrahim topped 1,000 yards, rushing for 153.7 per game — 2nd best in the FBS and first among Power 5 backs.
Tyler Johnson, WR (2016-19)
Before winning Super Bowl LV with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Johnson set the Gophers all-time records for touchdown catches (33), receiving yards (3,305) and 100-yard receiving games (16). He’s also No. 2 in receptions (213).
Daniel Faalele, OL (2018-2021)
He was a monster in the trenches as both a run and pass blocker. And when all was said and done, Faalele became the first Gophers offensive lineman to be chosen in the NFL Draft (4th round, 110th overall in 2022) since 2006. That was the year that both Greg Eslinger (6th round, Denver Broncos) and Mark Setterstrom (7th round, St. Louis Rams) were selected. No Gopher OL had gone higher than 110th since center Brian Williams went 18th overall in 1989.
Carter Coughlin, LB (2016-19)
Now preparing for this 3rd NFL season with the New York Giants, Coughlin made his mark in a Golden Gophers jersey over the course of 4 seasons. He’s 3rd in school history in sacks (22.5), 4th in tackles for loss (40.0) and has the most consecutive games with at least 1 sack (8 sacks over 6 games in 2018).
Boye Mafe, DE (2018-2021)
After having his own outstanding career in Minneapolis, Mafe was drafted in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks earlier this year. He’s among the school’s top 10 in sacks (15, 7th all-time) and also registered 87 tackles and 19.5 TFLs. Now he looks to post similar production in the NFL.
Antoine Winfield Jr., DB (2016-19)
Like Johnson, Winfield was also a member of the Bucs’ 2020 Super Bowl winning team. He’s tied for the 4th-most interceptions in program history (9) and tied for the most picks in a single season (7 in 2019). The son of Antoine Winfield Sr. also scored 2 defensive touchdowns during his collegiate career.
Emmit Carpenter, K (2015-18)
Thanks to his leg, Carpenter is the No. 2 scorer in school history (276 points) and has the program’s best field goal percentage ever (.791). He’s also made the 3rd-most field goals (53) and the 2nd-most extra points (117) of any Gophers kicker.
Coney Durr, DB (2016-2021): Not much got by Durr when he was patrolling the Minnesota secondary. That’s evidenced by the fact that he’s 3rd in Gophers history when it comes to pass deflections (25). He also totaled 143 tackles and 10.5 TFLs along the way.
Rashod Bateman, WR (2018-2020): In his 3 seasons in Minneapolis, Bateman put himself at No. 6 on the all-time list in both receiving yards (2,395) and catches (147). He’s No. 4 when it comes to most 100-yard receiving games (10) and 5th in touchdown receptions (19).
Eric Murray, DB (2012-15): He’s only one spot behind Durr in all-time pass breakups (24), and posted 192 tackles in his 4 years on the field.