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Badgering the NFL: Wisconsin's Impact on the Draft

Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt before their game at Heinz Field.
© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The upcoming 2024 NFL draft, set to kick off on April 25, offers a prime opportunity to look back on the impact the Wisconsin Badgers have had over the past 33 seasons. During this period, 119 Badgers were drafted by all 32 NFL teams. This number is expected to increase in the upcoming draft, with up to three Badgers from the 2023 team potentially being selected.

Why focus on the last 33 seasons? On Jan. 2, 1990, the trajectory of the Wisconsin football team changed forever with the announcement of Barry Alvarez being hired as coach. Alvarez, who arrived after a successful stint as defensive coordinator for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, exuded confidence when he was officially introduced at a press conference on that January day.

"But let me say this: They better get season tickets right now, because before long they probably won't be able to." - Barry alvarez on Jan. 2, 1990.

The 1991 draft marked the first time players from an Alvarez-coached team were eligible, providing an ideal starting point for a deep dive into the Badgers draft history.

Barry Alvarez, former head football coach and athletic direction at Wisconsin
© Rick Wood via Imagn Content Services, LLC

what teams avoid the Wisconsin Badgers in the NFL draft?

Three teams have only selected one Badger over the past 33 drafts:

  1. Cincinnati Bengals: Kevin Zeitler (OL), 2012

  2. Kansas City Chiefs: Leo Chena (LB), 2022

  3. Washington: Cory Raymer (OL), 1995

Interestingly, all three players have had long, successful careers in the NFL or are on their way to doing so. Zeitler is still playing in the league, having finished his 12th season with the Baltimore Ravens and was named to his first Pro Bowl after the 2023 season. Raymer played in the NFL for 11 seasons with Washington and the San Diego Chargers. Chenal had an amazing start to his professional career, winning Super Bowls in both years. In the Super Bowl LVIII victory against the San Francisco 49ers, he had 6 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble and a key blocked extra point.

Considering the high level of play all three players have demonstrated in the NFL, it seems these teams should reassess why their scouting departments aren't valuing players in cardinal and white jerseys more highly.


what teams love the Wisconsin Badgers in the NFL draft?

Six teams have selected six or more Badgers over the past 33 drafts, but we will focus on the Green Bay Packers later in the article. Several observations stand out from reviewing the list below:

  • If you play center for the Wisconsin pay attention when the Dallas Cowboys are drafting because it seems to be your most likely landing spot. In addition, you will likely have a good career there, as Travis Frederick and Tyler Biadasz have been to six Pro Bowls combined.

  • The New Orleans Saints may reconsider selecting Badgers, as only one of the eight players taken, Ryan Ramczyk, has turned out well. He has made it onto multiple All-Pro teams and was ranked 82nd by other players on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2020 rankings.

  • The Steelers will continue drafting Badgers based solely on the production of future Hall-of-Famer T.J. Watt, a four-time finalist for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, including winning the award in 2021.

NFL Teams Drafting 6 or More Badgers

  1. New Orleans Saints: 8 players

    1. Lee DeRamus (WR) and Mike Verstegen (OL), 1995

    2. Jason Jefferson (DT), 2005

    3. Taylor Mehlhaff (K), 2008

    4. Nick Toon (WR), 2012

    5. Ryan Ramczyk (OL), 2017

    6. Natrell Jamerson (S), 2018

    7. Zack Baun (LB), 2020

  2. Pittsburgh Steelers: 6 players

    1. Roger Knight (LB), 2001

    2. Kraig Urbik (OL), 2009

    3. T.J. Watt (LB), 2017

    4. Isaiahh Loudermilk (DE), 2021

    5. Nick Herbig (LB) and Keeanu Benton (DT), 2023

  3. New York Giants: 6 players

    1. Pete Monty (LB), 1997

    2. Ron Dayne (RB), 2000

    3. Ross Kolodziej (DT), 2001

    4. Nick Greisen (LB), 2002

    5. Travis Beckum (TE), 2009

    6. Ryan Connelly (LB), 2019

  4. Detroit Lions: 6 players

    1. Aaron Gibson (OL), 1999

    2. Ben Johnson (OL), 2003

    3. Alex Lewis (LB), 2004

    4. Brian Calhoun (RB), 2006

    5. DeAndre Levy (LB), 2009

    6. Quintez Cephus (WR), 2020

  5. Dallas Cowboys: 6 players

    1. B.J. Tucker (DB), 2003

    2. Al Johnson (OL), 2003

    3. Bill Nagy (OL), 2011

    4. Travis Frederick (OL), 2013

    5. Tyler Biadasz (OL), 2020

    6. Jake Ferguson (TE), 2022


what positions are most popular?

Let's start with the number of players drafted by each side of the ball before we drill down into the top positions:

  • Offense: 67 players

  • Defense: 50 players

  • Special teams: 2 players

From a position perspective, the offensive line is the most popular position group, with 28 players selected. This won't surprise any Badger fan, as the team has been built around the OL for years, and typically, the team's overall success or struggles can be traced directly back to how well the OL performed.

Looking at the top four positions drafted, we see:

  1. LB: 18 players

  2. T: 13 players

  3. WR: 11 players

  4. RB: 11 players

For a program known for years for its ground-and-pound rushing attack, it's surprising to see WR as the one of the most drafted positions. Nine of the WRs did not have impactful careers in the league, but Chris Chambers (540 receptions, 7,648 receiving yards, 58 touchdowns) and Lee Evans (381 receptions, 6,008 yards receiving, 43 touchdowns) acquitted themselves quite well.


packers' history of drafting Badgers

Starting with the good news, the Packers are tied for second in the NFL for drafting the most Badgers, as shown below. Unfortunately, the only player who turned out to be a success was Mark Tauscher, who played his entire 11-year career with Green Bay and was the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner in 2008.

Green Bay Packers tackle Mark Tauscher
© Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The real story with the Packers is the Badgers they have had an opportunity to draft they have passed on for various reasons. Let's look at three separate drafts in chronological order where the Packers missed out on Badgers who had or are having great careers, while the players the Packers selected were disappointments:

  • 1992 NFL Draft

    • Player selected by Packers: Terrell Buckley, CB, Florida State (first round, No. 5)

    • Badger missed by Packers: Troy Vincent, CB (first round, No. 7 pick by Miami Dolphins)

    • Analysis: Vincent made five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams and has been nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Buckley played 14 seasons in the NFL and ended with 50 career interceptions, but he was never the player Vincent was.

  • 2001 NFL Draft

    • Player selected by Packers: Robert Ferguson, WR, Texas A&M (second round, No. 41 pick)

    • Badger missed by Packers: Chris Chambers, WR (second round, No. 52 pick by Miami)

    • Analysis: Chambers had a great NFL career (540 receptions, 7,648 receiving yards, 58 touchdowns) and was selected to one Pro Bowl. Ferguson lasted seven seasons in the league and did not come close to matching Chambers' production (151 receptions, 1,993 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns).

  • 2017 NFL Draft

    • Player selected by Packers: Kevin King, CB, Washington (second round, No. 33 pick as Packers traded back, giving No. 29 pick to the Cleveland Browns)

    • Badger missed by Packers: T.J. Watt, LB (first round, No. 30 pick by Pittsburgh Steelers)

    • Analysis: No need to share statistics here, as one player (Watt) will likely be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while the other player (King) is no longer in the league. Ted Thompson was a great general manager for the Packers, but this will likely be remembered as his biggest miss and likely cost the Packers another Super Bowl victory during the Aaron Rodgers era.

Green Packers CB Kevin King against Tampa Bay in the 2020 NFC Championship Game
© Mike De Sisti / The Milwaukee Jo via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Badgers drafted by Green Bay

  1. Don Davey (DT), 1991

  2. Mark Tauscher (T), 2000

  3. Bill Ferrario (G), 2001

  4. Jared Abbrederis (WR), 2014

  5. Vince Biegel (LB), 2017

  6. Cole Van Lanen (OL), 2021


future Wisconsin badgers in the NFL

As Luke Fickell enters his second season as coach at Wisconsin, he will need to re-establish the Badgers as a team that has six or more players drafted each year. According to On3, the 2024 recruiting class is a top-25 class and the sixth-best class in the Big Ten Conference. If Fickell can maintain Wisconsin's strong tradition of player development, it should lead to more Badgers being called in future drafts.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst may even seriously consider drafting a few more Badgers, if we are lucky

Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell
© Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

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