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Gophers don't have player in NFL scouting combine

Gopher football coach P.J. Fleck Forum News Service file photo

MINNEAPOLIS—The Gophers are one of only two Big Ten programs that don't have a player participating in the NFL scouting combine that starts Tuesday in Indianapolis.

Minnesota, which went 5-7 in 2017, and Illinois have been shut out, while Ohio State will have 11 players tested, second nationally only to Alabama's 14. The Gophers' biggest rivals are also well represented; Wisconsin has six invitees and Iowa five. Even Rutgers and Purdue will have a player to be poked, prodded and run through drills ahead of the April 26-28 NFL draft.

A year ago, Gophers cornerback Jalen Myrick and safety Damarius Travis were invited to the combine. Myrick impressed with a 40-yard dash of 4.28 seconds, the fastest time for a defensive back since 2011.

Myrick, who played in the East-West Shrine Game, also was the only Gopher drafted a year ago, going to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the seventh round. That kept alive Minnesota's streak of a defensive back selected in four consecutive drafts.

Without representatives in the top-flight college all-star games and in the combine this year, Minnesota likely won't have a player drafted for the first time since its drought in 2011-13. Outgoing senior defensive tackle Steven Richardson, linebacker Jon Celestin and safety Duke McGhee seem to have the best chances to impress NFL scouts at the Gophers' pro day this spring.

Head coach P.J. Fleck's recruiting and development of players during his four-year run at Western Michigan indicate that Minnesota's expected drought could be short.

After Fleck took the Broncos to a 13-1 season in 2016 that ended in a Cotton Bowl loss to Wisconsin, three players from that team were drafted, including receiver Corey Davis as the fifth overall pick.

In 2017, Western Michigan went 6-6, including 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference, and it will have four players from Fleck's recruiting classes in 2013-14 going to this year's scouting combine.

Among the 13 Gophers seniors going into the 2018 season, running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, offensive tackle Donnell Greene and kicker Emmit Carpenter figure to have the best shots to be invited to next year's combine.

Looking further ahead, recruiting rankings were shown to be a good indicator of combine invites and draft selections a year ago. Nearly 40 percent of players at the combine in 2017 were five- and four-star recruits out of high school, an additional 34 percent had three stars and 25 percent had two stars or were unranked, according to 247sports.com.

With the 2018 recruiting class wrapped up in early February, the Gophers' new class now ranks 37th in the nation, per 247sports.com's composite rankings. It's their best placement since 2009. Some of the headliners are four-star receiver Rashod Bateman, top junior-college quarterback Vic Viramontes, four-star offensive linemen Curtis Dunlap and Daniel Faalele, and high three-star defensive tackle Elijah Teague.

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