The Gophers Have a Star at a Vikings Position of Need

Jul 26, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers offensive lineman John Michael Schmitz talks to the media during Big 10 football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few years, the Minnesota Vikings constantly have been stuck trying to find solutions at the interior offensive line spots. In particular, everyone knows about Garrett Bradbury and his struggles at the center spot ever since being drafted in the first round. Well, there may not be a clear solution for 2022, but just down the road, a star is emerging in the Minnesota Gophers program.

Background

If you’ve been following the Gophers for a while, you have noticed No. 60 in the middle of the offensive line. Starting in 2019, John Michael Schmitz began to emerge as an anchor in the middle of the Minnesota’s offensive line. In 2021, he finally got his chance to be the full-time starter, and the redshirt junior delivered.

There’s an argument to be made that Schmitz could have been drafted in the mid-to-late rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft had he declared, but the excitement around Daniel Faalele at tackle and other interior o-line prospects likely left the Gophers center overlooked and pushed him down draft boards.

Schmitz decided to stick around with the Gophers for the 2022 season, and to this point in the season, it has paid off. He’s continued to build off the production in 2021, and he is getting rewarded with some of the highest PFF grades among all Power Five linemen.

Why the Vikings May Have Interest

I cannot say for certain whether or not the Vikings are paying close attention to Schmitz at this point. That said, we do know that they at least had their eyes on the Gophers this spring considering the front office selected Esezi Otomewo in the 2022 Draft. The Vikings also sent scouts to multiple Gophers games last fall.

I do know that personally, I would keep an eye on Schmitz throughout this fall and into the winter’s draft process. The Gophers center is the prototypical Big Ten offensive lineman in terms of stature. He stands at 6’4 and 320 pounds and possesses a mean streak that allows him to pile up pancake blocks in the middle of the Gophers o-line.

The bet that Schmitz placed on himself has worked out. Prior to the 2022 season, the hype around him had already built itself. Here’s what Pro Football Network’s Ian Cummings had to say about the Gophers star’s draft stock:

Schmitz’s average length slightly lowers his ceiling. And his advanced age may subtract a prime year or two. But NFL centers can play well into their 30s, and Schmitz’s tape suggests he could be a productive, scheme-versatile starter early in his career. Schmitz has the strength and power to pave open lanes between the A gaps, and he has enough mobility and flexibility to execute a variety of zone blocks.

Ian Cummings on John Michael Schmitz

Indeed, as Cummings points out, Schmitz could lose a bit of value as he will be a 24-year-old NFL rookie. However, that could end up being a good thing for the Vikings in that they may be able to snatch him in the second round rather than having to select him in the first.

Minnesota’s selection of Ed Ingram in the second round already seems to be paying off. Perhaps another second rounder on the offensive line could be coming in 2023. Additionally, we’ve seen a number of teams bringing in hometown kids through the draft (Aidan Hutchinson to the Lions, Kenny Pickett to the Steelers). Between talent, draft stock, and storylines, Schmitz looks like a perfect fit with the Vikings at this point.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing as well as minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh can often be found training for a marathon, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his takes, NFL and otherwise, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken