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Where do Gophers players land on NFL mock drafts?

Boye Mafe could be first defensive player picked in the first round of the NFL Draft in more than 20 years

NCAA Football: Guaranteed Rate Bowl-Minnesota at West Virginia
Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive lineman Boye Mafe celebrates a play against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the first half of the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 28, 2021, at Chase Field in Phoenix.
Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports
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The Minnesota Golden Gophers football program hasn’t had a defensive player picked in the first round of the NFL Draft in more than 20 years. Boye Mafe could change that when the three-day event in Las Vegas starts Thursday.

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound rush end from Hopkins is considered a borderline first-round pick, according to a handful of recent mock drafts the Pioneer Press perused on Monday.

If an NFL team takes Mafe on Day 1 of the draft, he would be the first Minnesota defensive player taken in the first round since cornerback Willie Middlebrooks went 24th overall to the Denver Broncos in 2001.

Here’s a look at where the top Gophers prospects are projected to be picked:

Boye Mafe

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler has Mafe going 30th overall to the Kansas City Chiefs, but Brugler’s colleague Nate Tice doesn’t name Mafe anywhere in his two-round mock draft. The Chiefs have consecutive picks at the tail end of the first round, and ESPN’s Jordan Reid also has Mafe coming off the board then. Pro Football Focus Austin Gayle has Make being picked at No. 31 by Cincinnati.

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NFL.com’s Chad Reuter has Mafe at 35th to the New York Jets, which means he would be an early second-round pick in Reuter’s book. The Ringer has Mafe as the 45th overall pick on its top 75 list.

NFL.com gave Mafe a grade of 6.35 and said he could be taken in Rounds 1 or 2. Analyst Lance Zierlein put Mafe in the category of “will eventually be a plus starter.”

The Gophers and their fans have gotten used to waiting for a former player to hear his name called in Round 1. Receiver Rashod Bateman was picked 27th by the Baltimore Ravens last year, while safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was passed over in the opening round and went 45th to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two years ago.

Daniel Faalele

The Gophers’ massive 6-foot-8, 384-pound offensive tackle from Melbourne, Australia, appears to be a second- or third-round pick, meaning Day 2.

The Athletic’s Tice has Faalale going the highest of the seven mock drafts the Pioneer Press consulted — 40th to the Seattle Seahawks, while NFL.com’s Reuter has him 90th to Tennessee. The Ringer placed Faalele at 53rd out of 75, while Pro Football Focus has him much, much lower at No. 157 on its big board.

NFL: Scouting Combine
Minnesota offensive lineman Daniel Faalele during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 3, 2022, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.
Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports

These projections represent big fluctuations for where the big man could be taken this weekend.

NFL.com had Faalele at a grade of 6.28, slotted him to go in Round 3 and put in the “will eventually be an average starter” category.

If Faalele is picked at any time, he will snap a drought Minnesota is desperate to end: they haven’t had an offensive lineman picked since Greg Eslinger and Mark Setterstrom in 2006.

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Esezi Otomewo

The 6-foot-6, 285-pound defensive end from Indianapolis had a knee injury from the Guaranteed Rate Bowl keep him out of the NFL Scouting Combine or Minnesota's Pro Day, but he has appeared on the edge of three mock drafts in either Rounds 6 or 7. He was absent from four others.

NFL.com had Otomewo at a 5.93 grade, going in Round 6 and labeled him an “average backup or special teamer.”

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Blaise Andries

The 6-foot-6, 335-pound offensive lineman from Marshall, Minn., participated in drills at the Senior Bowl, the combine and worked out during the Minnesota's pro day, but he wasn’t listed on any of these mock drafts.

NFL.com put Andries at a 5.64 grade, pegged him for Round 7 or as priority free-agent signing and forecast him as a “candidate for the bottom of a roster or practice squad.”

Briefly

The Gophers have a handful of other NFL hopefuls who participated in Minnesota's Pro Day in mid-March: linebacker Jack Gibbens; tight end Ko Kieft; defensive backs Coney Durr, Justus Harris, Phil Howard and Bishop McDonald; defensive linemen Nyles Pinckney, Micah Dew Treadway and Sam Renner, and offensive lineman Sam Schlueter.

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