Gophers: With Chris Autman-Bell out, who steps up at receiver?

Gophers receiver Dylan Wright hauls in a touchdown catch during Minnesota's 49-7 win over Colorado on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. (University of Minnesota Athletics)

PJ Fleck made official on Monday the news that Gophers’ football fans both feared and expected after Saturday’s 49-7 win over Colorado: Chris Autman-Bell is out for the rest of the season.

The sixth-year senior suffered a lower right leg injury with 41 seconds left in the first half, landing awkwardly after trying to catch a Tanner Morgan pass. Autman-Bell had three catches for 58 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown, before the injury. He was Minnesota’s top receiver entering the season, and led the Gophers through three games with 11 catches for 214 yards, and one touchdown.

As the saying goes, next man up. The good news for the Gophers is that their receiver room is as deep as it’s ever been in Fleck’s tenure.

"It’s unfortunate, your heart breaks for him because he’s worked incredibly hard. But there’s a lot of people on this football team here in year six that can make a ton of plays for us," Fleck said.

So what are Fleck’s options at receiver behind Autman-Bell? Here’s a look.

  • DYLAN WRIGHT – The Texas A&M transfer is arguably just as talented as Autman-Bell, he’s just lacked the in-game consistency Fleck is seeking. In three games this season, Wright has four catches for 58 yards, and caught his first touchdown on the same drive Saturday that Autman-Bell got hurt. In  12 games last year, the 6-3 receiver had 18 catches for 365 yards and two scores.
  • MICHAEL BROWN-STEPHENS – He’s worked both in the slot and on the outside, and has six catches for 107 yards this season. He bounced back from an early fumble against Western Illinois to make three catches for 55 yards. He started nine games last season, making 23 catches for 392 yards and a touchdown. He can become a security blanket for Tanner Morgan.
  • BREVYN SPANN-FORD – The former St. Cloud Tech standout is in his fifth season with the Gophers. The 6-8 tight end is currently second in receiving with eight catches for 127 yards, and one touchdown. He’s a match-up nightmare for defenses with his size and athleticism, and will get more targets with Autman-Bell out.
  • DANIEL JACKSON – The wild card of the receiver room, Daniel Jackson was a four-star recruit out of high school. He missed the first two games this season with a bad ankle, but made two catches for 26 yards on Saturday. If he can stay healthy and build more chemistry with Morgan, the sky is the limit for his potential.
  • CLAY GEARY - The seventh-year senior, has largely gone under the radar for the Gophers’ offense. He has four catches for 73 yards, and got his first career touchdown on Saturday.
  • MO IBRAHIM – An option for the Gophers with Autman-Bell out is to run the ball more. Ibrahim leads the Gophers with 67 carries for 468 yards and seven touchdowns. He tied Darrell Thompson on Saturday with his 40th career touchdown. He’s second in the country in rushing yards per game (154.7) and is tied for the NCAA lead with seven scores. He’s being utilized in the passing game more, with two catches for 13 yards.

Losing Autman-Bell hurts, no doubt. But there are plenty of capable options behind him.

"You look across, there’s four or five wide outs who’ve all caught passes this year, all have played a ton of football, and can all make plays. They’re going to be relied upon," Fleck said. "Everybody can be the focal point, and that’s what this team offensively has to understand. My message to them was that, ‘You might be the guy that catches 12 passes in a game. You might go a game with one catch or zero catches. It just depends on what the defense is giving us.’ But that’s a good problem to have for us, that we have a lot of guys playing at a high level offensively that are showing that they can make the plays in the pressure of the moment and the pressure of the situation."