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NFL Draft: Gophers defensive backs Jordan Howden, Terell Smith go in fifth round

Safety Jordan Howden was the first Gophers to find a new home in the NFL on Saturday and cornerback Terell Smith was not far behind.

In the fifth round, the New Orleans Saints picked Howden with the 146th overall pick and the Chicago Bears took Smith with the 165th selection.

With John Michael Schmitz going to the New York Giants in with the 57th pick on Friday, Minnesota has had three players taken in 2023 draft, giving them total of 14 across four consecutive drafts — a program most since 1988-91.

Howden has a great story as a former walk-on from San Diego who stuck out a rough start as a true freshman in 2018 to earn a scholarship, grow into a leader on Minnesota and an all-Big Ten-level performer.

ESPN’s Todd McShay sees Howden as an early contributor on special teams due to his speed and tackling ability.

“You look at the experience he brings to the game, 49 starts at Minnesota as a four-year player, 240 tackles, he’s played in the slot in the big nickel role, he’s played as a two-high safety, which I think he can hold up in,” McShay. “I question if he can be a single-high safety. I don’t see the twitch and change of direction skills, but when the ball is in front of him, he can close in a flash. I like his instincts as a safety as well.

Smith also had to overcome adversity. He was a starter as a true freshman, struggled with injuries and inconsistencies during the middle of his career, but came back strong as a senior last year.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said Smith is what you want physically at (6 feet and 205 pounds) and a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. “The traits and the mentality you want,” he said. “He closes quickly, where he reads the quarterbacks eyes, anticipates well. I thought he was a good tackler overall in coverage, down the field, he was making plays late in coverage.”

Matt Miller shared that Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck thought Smith as going to leave via the NCAA transfer portal. “He didn’t do it, which speaks to the maturity, the leadership he is going to bring to the Chicago Bears,” Miller said on ESPN.

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