Well, this sucks.
Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim is an absolute treat to watch on the gridiron. He’s powerful, twitchy, and good for a number of explosive runs on any given Saturday. But we will not see Ibrahim take the field on Saturday again this fall. The Minnesota back left his team’s loss to Ohio State in the second half after what appeared to be a significant lower-body injury (which is currently unspecified) and has already been declared out for the year by the team. Perhaps the silver lining here is that his coach, P.J. Fleck, indicated that the injury will require four to six months for a full recovery.
But Fleck also set the table for a fascinating decision facing Ibrahim.
"Whether he comes back or goes to the NFL, that's a choice he'll make, not now, but later," said Fleck. "He doesn't need to make it now. He needs to worry about getting healthy and making a full recovery."
Is this the last we’ve seen of Ibrahim with the Gophers? What was a difficult decision to make last winter has suddenly become an exponentially more complicated proposition in the here and now. Ibrahim faces potentially jumping ship and leaving Minnesota with just one game of his senior season on the record and 30 carries added to his career totals. And while no one is questioning Ibrahim’s appeal as a runner, there were areas of his game where additional play could have helped portray a more complete resume—he caught just 15 passes in three seasons before 2021’s injury ended his year just as it was getting started.
If Ibrahim jumps to the NFL now, he’ll be doing so with medical concerns that are much more complex than what he’d had before—he missed five games combined in his first two seasons of play at Minnesota after redshirting in 2017 due to injuries, calling his durability into question while working in a backfield timeshare. Those questions of durability are no closer to being answered after a spectacular 2020 campaign that saw him post the Big Ten’s only 1,000-yard rushing season in seven games and now a one-and-done scenario in 2021.
Age is working against Ibrahim’s resume should he choose to return to school. This was supposed to be Ibrahim’s redshirt senior season—coming back for a sixth year would make him an aged prospect at one of the NFL’s most short shelf-life positions.
These layers are what Ibrahim is going to have to vet through in order to make an educated decision on the cost and benefit of each option:
- Return to Minnesota to revive your draft stock as a healthy runner and a more well-rounded weapon
- Declare for the NFL draft in 2022 to salvage your earning potential as a professional athlete
One thing we do know is that Ibrahim can tote the rock at a high level. TDN’s scouting department first discussed Ibrahim in the summer of 2020, when Ibrahim was coming off of a tremendous performance against Auburn in the 2020 Outback Bowl. He had 20 carries for 140 yards in that contest. I was charged with presenting Ibrahim to the group and the lede of that discussion from July of 2020 paints a clear picture of Ibrahim’s ability as a runner.
“I really liked his tape. (Ibrahim’s) contact balance and suddenness are standout traits. He has an angry running style and a punishing finishing ability as a ball-carrier. He was highly productive on a per-touch basis and had large performances in big games. He reminded me a lot of David Montgomery. He'll blow you up and he's got pretty dynamic lower-half agility. I gave him an early day-three grade, but he’s really, really impressive.” — Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network
That’s perhaps the most heartbreaking dynamic of Ibrahim’s situation. His gifts as a runner were apparent so early in his career at Minnesota—I offered that level of a review before ever seeing him take on a full-time role. 2020 brought that opportunity and he crushed it. And then, after a decision to return to school in 2021, Ibrahim’s progress and development as a full-time back have been blown up by an ill-timed injury that will cost him the rest of this season.
There is no easy answer here for Ibrahim. But he and those around him must now ask themselves is it better to cut your losses and leap to the NFL, hoping that your play trumps the concerns on your resume, or come back to school for a sixth year and risk being profiled as an aged prospect due to your age and position just to prove you’re healthy?