Q&A: Daniel House previews NFL draft outlook for Minnesota’s prospects

A number of Gophers are poised to hear their names called over the weekend.

Gophers Head Coach P.J. Fleck converses with Defensive Back Antoine Winfield Jr. at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 1. Minnesota holds a 24-17 lead over Auburn heading into the third quarter of the Outback Bowl. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

Kamaan Richards

Gophers Head Coach P.J. Fleck converses with Defensive Back Antoine Winfield Jr. at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 1. Minnesota holds a 24-17 lead over Auburn heading into the third quarter of the Outback Bowl. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

Nick Jungheim

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Daily spoke with Daniel House to discuss what the Gophers’ top prospects can expect in this NFL draft, which begins Thursday night and continues through Saturday.

House is a Gophers football analyst for SKOR North and GopherHole. He is also the founder of the Minnesota Vikings blog, Vikings Corner.

In the conversation, House references Relative Athletic Scores, a metric graded on a 0-10 scale to measure the overall athleticism for draft prospects compared to their peers.

What makes safety Antoine Winfield Jr. such a high-caliber prospect, and could you see him getting selected in the first round?

It’s definitely possible to see him getting selected in the first round. Right now, late-first round, early second is the sweet spot — probably between [pick] 25 and 50. I love his versatility. Teams will fall in love with the fact that he can play the deep half, come down into the box and play within multiple different coverage schemes. Honestly, I could see him having the skill set to play every single defensive back position if he needed it. He probably projects best as a safety, but testing-wise I thought he really shattered expectations.

There has been a lot of speculation about where wide receiver Tyler Johnson could get picked. Where do you see him getting selected?

It’s tough because this wide receiver core is historic — it is full of talent. I have 12 wide receivers with first or second round grades. Johnson is squarely in the third round range. You don’t know where he is going to fall right now because of all the wide receivers and how closely ranked they are. There are so many guys that are closely stacked together in the rankings I have. Tyler’s route running is one thing teams are really going to like — the short to intermediate routes but not only that, he doesn’t get enough credit for his vertical releases too. You know you are getting someone with polished route running, footwork [and] technique, and he was solid in the red zone. The Gophers went his way when they needed something to happen.

I think scouts really wanted to see his overall speed, what he would test like, but with no pro day, that made it complicated. I would compare him to Mohamed Sanu, a player P.J. Fleck coached at Rutgers, a comparable skill set, probably would have tested similar.

With linebacker Kamal Martin, he really improved his draft stock this season where do you have him projected, and what do you like about him?

With Kamal it is complex because of the pro day being canceled, which really impacted his ability to test and work out. He was rehabbing his knee during the combine and the Senior Bowl, so he was only able to interview with teams. He is one of those players where we don’t know where he will fall as the late rounds go on. How are teams going to assess players that they don’t have testing metrics on — are they willing to look at his production? You see that 15-tackle performance he had against Nebraska, that’s the best game to watch of Kamal. I just wish we had athletic testing. I would say the seventh round could be a potential target, maybe the sixth round or undrafted free agent. Again it is hard to project.

Linebacker Carter Coughlin was projected high coming into the season but maybe didn’t have the numbers he was hoping for. Where do you see him going on draft day?

Carter’s draft stock significantly improved at the combine. He did a really nice job with the drills and tested extremely well with a 9.81 Relative Athletic Score, so he turned some heads in that category. In the NFL, he probably projects best as an off-ball linebacker. Teams really like the production he had as a pass rusher, particularly in 2018. Coaches are going to look at him as a guy who can play in a 3-4 hybrid linebacker role, or I would even consider investing in him as a 4-3 outside linebacker. He has the speed, range, versatility as a rusher and blitzer. He can help on special teams right away. Carter is projecting in that early sixth round range, maybe even late fifth round because of the testing.

Who else do you think could go late in the seventh round or find their way onto a roster as an undrafted free agent?

Defensive back Chris Williamson is one of the more underrated players among Minnesota’s draft eligible prospects. He actually was tasked with covering a lot of dynamic receivers the Gophers played over the course of the last two seasons including Rondale Moore and KJ Hamler. … I have him as a potential seventh round pick, right on the fringe of getting drafted, possibly an undrafted free agent. He’s met with a few NFL teams and definitely has some interest there.

Defensive lineman Sam Renner is another name to keep an eye on. He’s been gaining quite a bit of interest. When he posted his testing metrics the other day, he had a Relative Athletic Score of 9.85 out of 10 — so very good athletic testing, and if teams are getting those similar metrics, he will be high on their boards as possibly an undrafted free agent. He was quite disruptive last season at the three technique spot.

Also, running back Rodney Smith said he has heard from several NFL teams when I talked to him recently, including the Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers. Zone scheme fit as a runner, I don’t see him getting picked but probably an undrafted free agent target because of his versatility. He can do well as a running back, kick returner, showed some flashes as a receiver out of the backfield.

There is a realistic scenario of four Gophers getting picked, maybe five. Six or seven players could be on a roster.