Former Gophers look to NFL draft

Jack Satzinger

Between the time the NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night and ends Saturday, Maxx Williams, David Cobb, Damien Wilson and Cedric Thompson hope to hear their names called. 
 
The Minnesota Daily caught up with the former Gophers to talk about the draft process and conducted research to predict when they’re likely to be selected this weekend. 
 
 
Cedric Thompson
Year: Senior
Position: Safety
 
Thompson came into the NFL Draft process overlooked. While Williams, Cobb and Wilson received invites to the NFL Combine, the former Gophers safety waited for his chance to show what he could do. 
 
He did just that at Minnesota’s Pro Day in March, running a sub-4.40 40-yard dash. Since then, Thompson has been contacted by more than 20 NFL teams and met face-to-face with half a dozen of them. 
 
Of the former Gophers with a good chance of being drafted, Thompson is definitely the least known. He didn’t record as many tackles as Wilson. He didn’t spearhead Minnesota’s offense like Cobb or Williams. But he led most of Minnesota’s offseason workouts, is smart, hits hard and showed at Pro Day he has the speed to play in open space. 
 
Projection: 
Late-round selection or an undrafted free agent.
 
What they’re saying:
 
I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of a good portion of Cedric’s journey throughout college and [to] see just how much he’s grown in the last four years is remarkable. 
 
— Charlotte Paguyo, Thompson’s longtime girlfriend
 
 
Maxx Williams
Year: Redshirt sophomore
Position: Tight end
 
Williams’ statistics from 2014-15 — 36 receptions for 569 receiving yards — don’t jump off the page. But the Waconia native’s playmaking ability was on full display in Minnesota’s run-heavy offense last season, whether he was making one-handed catches in a rare road victory at Michigan or hurdling over defenders during a Citrus Bowl loss to Missouri. 
 
Reports have surfaced that Williams came off as overconfident in some team meetings, and others question his ability to be a productive blocker right away without gaining more weight. 
 
But the former Gophers tight end’s athleticism and good hands caught the attention of NFL scouts and there appears to be a consensus that Williams will be the first Minnesota player selected in the NFL Draft this weekend. 
 
Projection: 
First tight end off the board, taken late in the first round or in the second round. 
 
What they’re saying:
 
I’ve got a good grade on him in terms of intangibles. From everyone I’ve talked to in the program, he knows what it takes to be a pro. … I’d take Maxx Williams in the second round and feel really good about it.”
 
— ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay 
 
 
David Cobb
Year: Senior
Position: Running back
 
There’s a reason why Williams didn’t get that many touches last season: Cobb excelled at doing the heavy lifting for Minnesota’s offense. The Killeen, Texas, native shattered the program’s single-season rushing record with 1,626 yards.
Cobb came into his junior year as Minnesota’s third-string tailback but quickly floated to the top of the depth chart after a Donnell Kirkwood ankle injury gave him a chance at game action for an extended period of time. 
 
Running back is a difficult position to project in the NFL Draft since the league has almost exclusively shifted to spread offenses lately and gotten away from traditional power-run schemes like the one Cobb played in at Minnesota. 
 
The position’s value has probably never been lower at the next level, but Cobb’s ability to shed tackles, catch passes and read the field at a high level should result in a selection in this year’s stacked running back class. 
 
Projection: 
A middle-round pick, taken after Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and others.
 
What they’re saying:
 
He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he has really good instincts as a runner. He’s tough, he runs low to the ground.
 
 — McShay 
 
 
 
Damien Wilson
Year: Senior
Position: Linebacker
 
If there were any concerns the Gophers’ defensive front seven would drop off after losing Ra’Shede Hageman to the NFL, Wilson quickly dispelled them. He tallied double-digit tackles in Minnesota’s first three games and led the Gophers defense in the category by far with 119 tackles on the season. 
 
Wilson showed impressive speed throughout the year, racking up tackles against some of college football’s most elusive offensive players like Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. He also has some great qualities NFL teams look for in defensive players — like long arms. 
 
However, Wilson wasn’t perfect. He was badly fooled by Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett on a quarterback draw play that resulted in an 86-yard touchdown. 
 
Projection: 
Middle- to late-round pick.
 
What they’re saying:
 
When you have a great middle linebacker in Damien, it’s definitely going to be a little tough filling those shoes the way he runs sideline to sideline and just attacks the ball.
 
— Gophers cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun