Boye Mafe has put himself in position to potentially be a 1st round draft pick and the second Gopher taken in the first round in consecutive NFL Drafts. In fact, Mafe should hear his name called in the 1st round, he would be the first Gopher defensive player drafted in the first round since Willie Middlebrooks in 2001.
Mafe attended Hopkins high school and chose to play for PJ Fleck and the Gophers. He was an in-state priority immediately after Fleck took the Gopher job and Mafe committed to the Gophers in late January of 2017 over Rutgers.
His career as a Gopher always was one with expectations, waiting for that breakout season. As a freshman he played in 10 games and had his best game in the bowl win over Georgia Tech with 6 tackles. During his sophomore season he was a part of the DE rotation on that very talented Gopher defense and finished with 3 sacks for the season (including 1 in the Outback Bowl win over Auburn).
2020 was obviously the Covid shortened season where Mafe was now starting. He played in 6 games, recording 4.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. This season he earned All Big Ten Honorable Mention.
Then 2021 is when the real breakout occurred. Mafe was one of the key defensive players for the Gophers and he was a beast in Big Ten offensive backfields. He finished with 7 sacks, 10 TFLs and another forced fumble. He was 2nd Team All-Big Ten by the media and voted 3rd team by the coaches.
After finishing his Gopher career contributing 4 tackles and a sack in the team’s win over West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, he went out to participate in the Senior Bowl. While competing out there, Mafe impressed everyone and earned himself the National Player of the Game honors.
You will see two words often associated with Mafe. You will hear “athletic” and “flash” frequently. His incredible athleticism has been known for a very long time. In July of 2020 he was named to Bruce Feldman’s “Freak List” where he was ranked at #5 among college football’s most athletically freakish players. He backed up this reputation at the NFL combine where he impressed by running the 2nd fastest shuttle time among defensive and he ran the 9th fastest 40 time for a defensive end since 1987† The speed and quickness is most certainly there.
You’ll also hear how he flashes. Flashing, in this context, refers to plays where Mafe clearly stands out on the Big Ten football field. On some plays he would look very clearly “different” than anybody else on the field. But other plays he didn’t. The assumption is that once football becomes his one and only job (Mafe was also Academic All-Big Ten in 2020 and 2021), when he is getting more specialized & detailed instruction, that the consistency will come. NFL coaching staff’s notoriously believe that they are the ones capable of getting players to turn their potential into consistency.
Mafe is a classing rush-end, tweener. Can he play as a rush, outside linebacker in the NFL? Yeah, he has the athleticism to do this. Can he play as a 3-point, down DE who specializes in getting to the quarterback on passing downs? Yes, likely needing more size, but yes.
So in the NFL it will ultimately depend on the team that drafts him. Will they want him to be used in a 3-4 defense or as a traditional DE in a 4-3? It is his freakishness and documented athleticism that makes him versatile and intriguing.
He is extremely fast off the edge, he uses his long strides, quick feet and leverage to get after quarterbacks. In the run game, his real strength is pursuit more so than standing up the blocker at the point of attack where he will shed the blocker to make the tackle.
Best guess is that Mafe spends his first year or two as a pass-rushing specialist. The guy who comes in on 3rd down passing situations to line up opposite a team’s stud DE and get some 1-on-1 opportunities. His intelligence and work ethic are what will help him to become a 3-down starter in a year or two, in the right system.
So where can we expect Mafe to be drafted? Well everything points to being a late 1st round or early 2nd round selection. Gopher fans and especially the Gopher coaching staff is very excited to hear Mafe’s name called on Thursday during the first round. Then we hope to see him excel and get added to the list of recent Gopher defensive players who are excelling on Sundays.