Gophers tight end Ko Kieft impresses at Minnesota’s Pro Day

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Iowa
Minnesota Golden Gophers tight end Ko Kieft runs for a 42 yard touchdown on a pass from quarterback Cole Kramer against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Nov. 13, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.
Jeffrey Becker / USA Today Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — “It’s a little like tire pumping.”

That’s how outgoing Minnesota Golden Gophers tight end Ko Kieft described some feedback from NFL personnel during the U’s Pro Day at the Larson Football Performance Center on Wednesday. Kieft was on the receiving end of that praise.

“Love your physicality,” Buffalo Bills assistant Leonard Johnson told Kieft after his workout.

Daniel Faalele heard it, too, from Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland after a pass-blocking set at the end of position-group work.

“Best drill of the day,” Stoutland said after the 6-foot-8, 390-pound offensive tackle showed his agility on one rep.


Fourteen Gophers players and a handful of small-school prospects looked to impress more than 50 NFL personnel from all 32 teams.

Kieft was one of the highest-graded tight ends in the country in 2021 but was not invited to NFL Scouting Combine in early March. The 6-foot-4, 259-pounder from Sioux Center, Iowa, said he didn’t feel any pressure to perform in his one shot in front of prospective employers.

“It was a really cool experience, and (me) as a little kid … his mind would be blown, if he knew I was going to do this,” Kieft said.

Kieft said he wished his 40-yard dash time could have been faster, but was satisfied with what he showed.

“I’m going to play harder than anyone else on the field, study more film, and I’m going to be smarter and just a step ahead,” Kieft said. “That’s my game. I’m just going to grind you into the ground. I’m just a grinder, man. Hopefully I latch onto a team and they can’t let me go.”

The NFL wasn’t the only one “pumping tires.” Guard Blaise Andries called Kieft “the best blocker I’ve been around. He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever met.”

Kieft responded, “I played my tail off for Blaise Andries. For him to reciprocate that and show me some love means the world.”

Otomewo out

Esezi Otomewo was invited to the Senior Bowl and the combine based on the 6-foot-5, 285-pound defensive end’s promise, but the Indiana native didn’t perform at either event due to a right knee injury.


Otomewo, who was seen limping during in the Gophers’ 18-6 win over West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 29, has recovered, but his training was set back, so he didn’t participate in the Pro Day either. Otomewo plans to have a workout in front of NFL personnel on April 4.

Best number

Defensive end Boye Mafe’s 41 1/2-inch vertical jump might have been the most-impressive stat from a Gopher on Wednesday. He had a 38-inch measurement in that test at the combine.

“I was definitely excited with my vertical,” the potential first-round pick said. “… Coming out today and showing what I can really do. (It) felt really well.”


Andries did not bench press at the Scouting Combine nor Pro Day due to a pectoral injury he is letting heal. He went through other tests at the combine earlier this month and did position drills with fellow offensive linemen Wednesday. … Sam Renner didn’t get a Pro Day when he left the U in 2020, but the Rams signed the Maple Grove native as an undrafted free agent before cutting him at the start of camp. Renner then signed a futures deal with the Buccaneers for 2021 but suffered a dislocated thumb and calf injury last fall. The 6-foot-3, 297-pounder was working as an accountant at his parent’s home in Brainerd after the injury last year, and Wednesday as a chance to get in front of NFL personnel again. He said he felt good about his workout. … Former Gophers defensive line coach Marcus West, now an assistant line coach with the Bills, was back at the U on Wednesday. … Former Vikings defensive coordinator Andre Patterson is the new New York Giants defensive line coach and he, too, was back in Minnesota.

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