February 8, 2023

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The Sports Fanatics

Schmitz’s decision to return to Gophers pays off North News

A look at who is trending up and down the past week in Minnesota sports, including All-Big Ten Gophers center John Michael Schmitz, Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards and a couple Vikings safeties.

John Michael Schmitz, Gophers center (UP ⬆️)

This is old news for Minnesota football fans: Schmitz has a bright future awaiting him at the next level. Named one of three finalists Monday for the Rimington Trophy, presented annually to the best center in college football, Schmitz is climbing 2023 NFL draft boards after his sixth season in the Gophers program. How good was Schmitz as a super senior in 2022? According to Pro Football Focus he was the top center in the FBS, bagging a 92.4 overall grade. Schmitz, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, also earned the highest run-blocking score (92.6) per PFF among FBS centers. Schmitz could’ve been drafted in 2022, but opted to return to school and boosted his stock, leading a Minnesota ground assault which ranked 11th in the nation in rushing yards per game, with 218.2. Individually, Schmitz had a special year. He bordered on perfection in the passing game, posting a 98.3 efficiency rating, allowing only two sacks and eight pressures across Minnesota’s 12-game slate. Incredibly, the two sacks allowed were the first by Schmitz in five seasons – the most recent four of which Schmitz started a combined 35 games at center. At the beginning of the week, Schmitz accepted an invitation to play in the 2023 Senior Bowl – a college All-Star game that works closely with NFL coaches, viewed to be the premier destination for graduating players – putting an exclamation point on what amounted to be a smart decision to Row the Boat again.

Camryn Bynum & Harrison Smith, Vikings safeties (UP ⬆️)

Each player intercepted Jets quarterback Mike White this past Sunday – Bynum on New York’s final play and Smith on the opponent’s game-opening drive. That’s working in tandem to a T. Minnesota’s safeties had big games against the Jets, combining for 15 tackles and five pass breakups, but they’re trending up for reasons beyond their timely takeaways and pursuit of the football in Week 13. We’ll start with Smith, for seniority purposes. The six-time Pro Bowl safety has already matched his career high for interceptions in a single season, with five. Since being drafted 29th overall out of Notre Dame in 2012, Smith leads the NFL with 34 INTs, fifth most in franchise history. His pick Sunday moved him into elite company – Smith is tied with Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters for the most seasons of 5+ INTs among active players (4). Of course, you don’t get nicknamed “Hitman” for nothing. Smith paces the Vikings secondary with 72 stops. Now how about Bynum? The second-year safety out of California, selected in the fourth round, is one of one on Minnesota’s defense – he’s the only Vikings defender to play all 829 defensive snaps this season. Bynum is more than just an Iron Man. He’s learning from Smith, becoming an apprentice ball magnet. On the year, Bynum has intercepted two passes, recovered two fumbles and recorded six PBUs. Very nice!

Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves guard (UP ⬆️)

Edwards has poured in 25+ points five games in a row, shooting 47.4% overall during that stretch. But that’s not why we’re writing about Ant. While he’s scored consistently, Edwards has smothered ball handlers, collecting 15 steals across the Timberwolves’ last five contests. Dating to Nov. 21 – a run of seven games – Edwards has picked opponent’s pockets 2.9 times per night, a notable elevation from his season average of 1.7 steals. His last time out, against Oklahoma City on Dec. 3, Edwards complemented 26 points on 10-of-22 shooting (45.5%) with five steals, becoming the seventh player in Wolves annals to tally 5+ steals in consecutive appearances (Edwards had five three nights earlier in the win vs. Memphis).

Za’Darius Smith, Vikings rush linebacker (DOWN ⬇️)

Smith isn’t playing poorly – heck, he leads the league with 63 total pressures and owns an impressive pass-rush win rate of 22.6% – but his sack numbers haven’t changed in three weeks, in other words he’s not finishing as well as he was earlier in the 2022 campaign. From Weeks 1-10, Smith registered 9.5 sacks and was close to a lock to reach and take down the quarterback at least once every game. Smith’s tear was interrupted Week 11, due to injury and playing just 25 snaps on defense against Dallas, and hasn’t resumed in the two games since despite returning to his usual workload off the edge. Hopefully, the Pro Bowl pass rusher can get back in the sack column vs. the Lions, who kept him off QB Jared Goff in the Week 3 meeting, on Sunday. The Vikings need more sacks: They have four in their last three games.

Rudy Gobert, Timberwolves center (DOWN ⬇️)

For starters, Gobert looked real bad, getting ejected early in the second quarter of the Dec. 3 loss to the Thunder for intentionally tripping Kenrich Williams seconds after the latter dropped in a floater over the head of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. It seemed spiteful, the type of thing done in a pick-up basketball game at your local gym, not on television on an NBA court. Gobert in general has been disappointing this season. He’s averaging 13.2 points, his fewest since 2015-16 – his third NBA season – and 11.4 rebounds which doesn’t hold a candle to his rebounding averages over the past three seasons. Maybe the worst part of Gobert’s non-impact … He was a total non-factor Nov. 30 in Minnesota’s exciting eight-point win over the Grizzlies. Even without KAT in the lineup, Gobert did almost zero damage, recording nine points, one rebound, a steal and a block and four turnovers in 26 minutes. Woof.