The NFL season is mercifully over for me (go Eagles and suck it, Mike!), although for most of you the seasons soldiers on to the playoffs. The Badgers were well represented at the pro level this year and even have three Pro Bowlers (Joe Thomas, J.J. Watt, Travis Frederick). Let's take a look at how all the Badgers did this year in the NFL.
Any season recap of Badgers in the NFL has to start with half man, half amazing J.J. Watt. The potential MVP of the whole dang league finished the year with 20.5 sacks, including three in the last game of the season. Watt also racked up 78 tackles, 10 passes defended, four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, one fumble returned for a TD, one blocked kick, one pick and an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown. Oh, he also had three catches for four yards and THREE RECEIVING TOUCHDOWNS! That was more than Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker and Reggie Wayne had. Those three are professional pass catchers, while Watt is not. He is the first player to ever have two seasons of more than 20 sacks. Although this kid might have more of a case for the MVP after his dominant defensive display before the Texans game on Sunday.
The other two Pro Bowlers, Thomas and Frederick, anchored their respective offensive lines. Frederick was a key cog for the Cowboys, who were second in the league in rushing. Thomas helped keep multiple Browns quarterbacks upright, but he could only do so much. Rick Wagner started 15 games for the Ravens, Kevin Zeitler started 12 games for the Bengals, Gabe Carimi started seven games for the Falcons and Kraig Urbik started nine games for Buffalo. Ryan Groy even got in on the fun, starting three games for the woeful Bears. Wisconsin's proud o-line tradition only grows as these men continue to maul at the next level.
Rookie Chris Borland was pressed into duty for San Francisco due to injuries and played so well that he'll probably win the Defensive Rookie of the Year despite only playing half the season. Borland had 107 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery and two picks for the 49ers. He was joined at "being awesome at linebacker" by DeAndre Levy. Levy finished second in the league with 150 tackles and, somehow, no Pro Bowl invite. Levy also had two and a half sacks and a pick. Jonathan Casillas got traded to the Patriots during the season and has taken on an important role in New England's defense. He has 37 tackles and a forced fumble on the season. O'Brien Schofield came on strong at the end of the year for Seattle, recording sacks in the last two games and 20 tackles on the season. In seven starts, Matt Shughnessy had 17 tackles.
On the offensive side of the ball, Russell Wilson led the way for Badger alumni. He finished the year 3,475 yards through the air (completion percentage of 63.1) and a career high 849 yards on the ground. He had 26 total TDs and only seven picks. He also, strangely, fumbled the ball 11 times and did not lose a single one.
Montee Ball had a rough sophomore campaign for the Broncos, only playing in five games before injuring himself. Ball had 172 yards and one touchdown before being shelved. He'll look to bounce back next year in a crowded Denver backfield.
A couple of pass catchers had nice seasons including Nick Toon of the Saints. Toon had 17 catches for 215 yards and one TD and seemed to gain Drew Brees' trust as the season wore on. Lance Kendricks, Garrett Graham and Owen Daniels all played roles in their respective teams' passing games. Kendricks had 27 catches for 259 yards and five scores, developing into a nice redzone target for the Rams. Graham reeled in 18 catches for 197 yards and a TD, but had his season ended by an ankle injury. Daniels had a nice bounce back season in his first year with Baltimore, catching 48 passes for 527 yards and four touchdowns.
The rest of the Badgers on defense had a variety of seasons. Beau Allen had 10 tackles and half a sack in his rookie year with the Eagles. Chris Maragos had 13 tackles and a force fumble while manning the role of special teams ace for Philadelphia. Dez Southward had 23 tackles, one sack and a pick for the Falcons, who see him as a longterm starter at safety. Jim Leonhard had 43 tackles, one sack and two picks for the Browns in his last season in the league. Nick Hayden had 38 stops for the Cowboys and started every game for the second consecutive season.
Lastly, Brad Nortman had a rough season at punter for the Panthers. He averaged 44.9 yards per punt, but had the worst net punting average in the league at 36.5, although that can partly be blamed on the Panthers poor special teams coverage. He had a career-high 26 punts downed inside the 20 yard line too.
Enjoy the playoffs everyone! I hope your favorite team wins, unless your favorite team is the Cowboys!