Wisconsin has been stereotyped by many into producing successful NFL prospects at only two positions: offensive line and running back. The latter, as we've noted before, has produced pro rushers who didn't necessarily provide the results expected after their college days. The former, well, you have perennial Pro Bowler and Brookfield's favorite son, Joe Thomas, along with a slew of other noted linemen excelling in the trenches with Cincinnati's Kevin Zeitler and Dallas' Travis Frederick.
But what about the tight ends? In the past decade alone, you've seen many contribute heavily to their respective NFL teams. Former Badgers Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak, both heading to the Atlanta Falcons as undrafted free agents, have the opportunity and the starting experience to become the latest in the line of Wisconsin's productive NFL tight ends.
|WISCONSIN TIGHT ENDS IN THE NFL|
|PLAYER||ROUND / TEAM||NFL SEASONS / NOTABLE STAT||NOTES|
|Jake Byrne||UDFA, 2012 / New Orleans Saints||1 season / 0 career receptions||Played for both San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans in 2013 (8 games)|
|Lance Kendricks||2nd, 2011 / St. Louis Rams||3 seasons / 102 receptions, 8 touchdowns|
|Garrett Graham||4th, 2010 / Houston Texans||4 seasons / 78 receptions, 8 touchdowns||Re-signed with Houston in 2014|
|Travis Beckum||3rd, 2009 / Tennessee Titans||4 seasons / 26 receptions, 3 touchdowns||Signed with Seattle Seahawks in offseason; did not play in 2013|
|Owen Daniels||4th, 2006 / Houston Texans||8 seasons / 385 receptions, 29 touchdowns||Signed with Baltimore Ravens in offseason|
|Jason Pociask||5th, 2006 / N.Y. Jets||2 seasons / 1 reception|
There are currently five Badgers tight ends on NFL rosters. Players like Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks have helped their respective teams the most in their time in the NFL. Daniels is the elder statesmen, but he's the most distinguished tight end to come out of Wisconsin in the modern era.
Now enter Pedersen and Wozniak, two consistent, effective starters in the Badgers' offense the past two years with different assignments.
Before the draft, Pedersen cited his versatility as a key asset in his skill set. He's played the more standard "Y" tight end position, but mostly worked as an H-Back, while also playing in the slot at times. He was the 2012 Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year, and in 2013 was tied for second on the team in receptions with 39. He finished his Wisconsin career with the most touchdown receptions from a tight end with 17. His ability to play different positions, along with his special teams work, will help him get looks in training camp.
Wozniak's an intriguing prospect. Reminiscent of former tight end Jake Byrne, Wozniak's more of the standard, hand-in-the-ground "Y" tight end. He's a great run-blocker who started in 20 of 27 games the past two seasons, showing how both offensive coordinators Matt Canada and Andy Ludwig liked using two-tight end sets previously utilized by Paul Chryst. He can also be used as a short-yard/red-zone weapon, as though he caught only five passes in 2014, four of them went for touchdowns -- his longest reception was 9 yards.
They now go to Atlanta, with an offense boasting arguably the NFL's best wide receiving tandem in Roddy White and Julio Jones, if healthy, of course. Quarterback Matt Ryan will lead an offense hoping to regroup from an injury-plagued 2013 season, ranking 14th in total offense (last in rushing offense). Gone is Tony Gonzalez, who retired after coming back last season. It appears Pedersen and Wozniak will compete for a roster spot and playing time with second-year player Levine Toilolo and veteran Bear Pascoe.
Can Pedersen and Wozniak open holes for Stephen Jackson like they did for Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon? We'll see once training camp rolls around as they join three other former Badgers -- Peter Konz, Gabe Carimi and 2014 third-round draft pick Dezmen Southward -- in Atlanta.