The NFL draft is exactly 15 days away, and it is annually one of the most analyzed spectacles in sports–and rightfully so. With a plethora of player analysis, mock draft scenarios, and historical statistics, there is certainly no shortage of material for sports writers to pull from. The likes of ESPN and CBS Sports seem to unveil a new mock draft every day, and it feels as though the Packers select a different player every time.
But that’s the beauty of the draft–people enjoy reading about speculation, about the different scenarios for their teams and the possibilities of drafting certain players. Some fan bases will walk away Saturday night with the strong belief that their team is Super Bowl bound, while others will conspire to overthrow the GM (It’s coming one of these years from Browns fans).
However, rather than submit to a mainstream NFL draft article, we’re going to take the road less traveled, breaking down a list of the top ten Badgers currently in the NFL.
The Wisconsin Badgers have a very solid class heading into the 2017 NFL draft, and though the Grateful Red will miss their contributions in Madison, they will certainly have an impact in the NFL. T.J. Watt and Ryan Ramczyk are potential first-rounders, with Vince Biegel, Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and Sojourn Shelton falling to the later rounds–all with the hope of one day working their way to a spot on the following list.
10. Lance Kendricks
Lance Kendricks has had a respectable career as a tight end in the NFL, but has never had a real chance to excel in the passing game, enduring the Rams’ seemingly endless quarterback carousel. In his five years in the league, Kendricks has caught passes from eight different quarterbacks. But the former Wisconsinite has hit a stroke of good fortune–he will now catch passes for local hero Aaron Rodgers. We’ve seen the impact Rodgers can have on free agent tight ends, and the athletic Kendricks should be no different, and may wind up higher on the list when his career is finished.
9. Rob Havenstein
Havenstein came into the league with Melvin Gordon, and both have had solid starts to their careers. Havenstein did not allow a sack in 13 games his rookie year, and is a bright spot for the future of an average Rams line. He is your textbook Wisconsin lineman–standing 6’8″, 321 lbs., few will want to face Havenstein head on, and with more development he will find himself moving up our list.
8. DeAndre Levy
Levy is most known for his comments regarding his collision with Joe Paterno in 2006, which broke the coaches’ leg–after the allegations were made public in regards to the sex abuse scandal, Levy proclaimed to the world that this was his “proudest college moment,” calling Paterno a “dirtbag.” Looking past his quarrel with members of the Penn State football team, Levy was a consistent contributor for the Lions in his eight years in the league, a pesky thorn in the Packer’s side. Now a free agent, his career appears to be on the down-slope, but his achievements can’t be discredited and deserves a spot on our list.
7. James White
Although White was never able to truly explode at Wisconsin given his “backup” role to Montee Ball, he landed on the best possible NFL team, the New England Patriots. If Cleveland is where great players go to die, New England is where solid, low-drafted players go to thrive, and that’s exactly what James White did. The 130th overall pick in the 2014 draft, he was not a key contributor in his rookie season, but managed to nab a Super Bowl ring nonetheless. But over the last two seasons, he’s emerged as a key component of the Patriots passing game, and without his performance in Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady would likely still have four rings.
6. Melvin Gordon
Gordon is the youngest player on this list, and has only had one notable season in the NFL, so why the generous ranking? Simply put, we’ve seen what Gordon could do in his second season, scoring 10 touchdowns and nearly eclipsing 1,000 yards, so this centers on potential. Gordon was able to have a stellar second season behind an abysmal front five, one of the worst in league–with an emphasis on boosting the offensive line in this year’s draft and another year behind fellow Badger Derek Watt, look for Gordon to have an explosive third year.
5. Kevin Zeitler
Zeitler was busy this offseason, leaving Cinncinati and signing a five year, $60 million contract with the in state rival Cleveland Browns, joining fellow Badger Joe Thomas to help balance out a mediocre Browns line. Now the highest paid guard in the NFL, expectations are higher than ever for Zeitler, but as a former Badger lineman, he’s up to the challenge.
4. Travis Frederick
If the Cowboys’ offensive line is an army, Travis Frederick is the General. This will be his fifth season in the NFL, and he’s made the most of his time thus far. Frederick has been selected to three Pro Bowls, and has had the opportunity to block for some very mobile quarterbacks in his football career in Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott. Not only is he an incredible lineman, but an academic as well, double majoring in computer science and computer engineering in his time at Madison.
3. Russell Wilson
Though not the best quarterback in the league, the notion that Wilson’s best is a role as a “game manager” is laughable. One of two players on this list with a Super Bowl title, Wilson has turned the Seahawks into an annual contender, and has already set several NFL records, including most passing touchdowns by a rookie (tied with Peyton Manning), most wins in first five seasons (tied with Matt Ryan), and is the only quarterback with 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, and 500 rushing yards in a season. And his best attribute comes with his ability to create on the run. Save Aaron Rodgers, Wilson might just be the best scrambler in the league. Game manager? Not by a long shot.
2. Joe Thomas
The ultimate faithful servant.
Thomas was drafted with the third overall pick by Cleveland in 2007, and has been one of the only bright spots on the Browns since he came into the league. He’s made TEN straight Pro Bowls, and is a seven-time All-Pro. So, the question has been raised many times, why on earth is Joe Thomas still in the Cleveland graveyard? According to Greg Bedard of SI.com, Thomas stated had stayed put because “I’m a Cleveland Brown, that’s who I am and I’m not going to change allegiances just to get a Super Bowl title. I want to do it as a Cleveland Brown because that’s who I am.” With so many chasing money and latching on to superstar teams, Thomas is a rarity in the NFL. Bravo, Joe. Bravo.
1. J.J. Watt
If someone were to compile a list of top ten players in the NFL, Watt would surely be on that list as well, so he is the clear-cut number one on our Badger list. In his first five years, Watt won three Defensive Player of the Year awards, joining Lawrence Taylor as the only other three-time winner–did we mention that Watt is only 28? Not only is J.J. a specimen, but his motor is always on. Most know the picture of him exiting the field with a bloody nose–that is the heart of a man going for the all-time sack record. Watt was sidelined with a herniated disc last season, but will look to get back on track in 2017.