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Wisconsin football: Melvin Gordon leads way at pro day

Pro day was the former Badgers' chance to impress NFL personnel.

Jake Kocorowski

They ranged from projected superstar to FCS transfer, former NFL camp invitee to NCAA Division III standout.

For the 11 players participating at Wisconsin’s Pro Day Wednesday, the goal was the same: impress a scout from one of the 28 NFL teams represented.

Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon drew the most attention, even though he did not participate in drills he performed at the NFL Scouting Combine only a few weeks ago, such as the 40-yard dash and bench press, among others. Many draftniks have concerns with Gordon’s receiving abilities out of the backfield, but he performed well in pass-catching and position drills.

"I want to make a statement in the league. I want to prove to myself that I can play," Gordon said. "Obviously it’s a different league, guys are bigger, faster, stronger, smarter. I want to prove to myself I can make it. I don’t want to be a bust."

"Bust" seems to be a label preemptively applied to a lot of Wisconsin running backs. In years past, players like Ron Dayne and Michael Bennett failed to live up to the hype of being first round picks. Gordon sees no correlation.

"We’re motivated to change that. Me, Montee and James are all in a group together and we got to step up and change that," Gordon said. "We’re still young, all three of us, so we can change that perception about us.

"If we go out there and ball and do what we need to do, they won’t be saying that anymore, I can tell you that."

Right tackle Rob Havenstein drew a lot of criticism last month at the scouting combine, when he finished last among offensive linemen in the bench press with 16 reps. He improved upon those numbers Wednesday, tallying 20 reps.

"If the best I could do was a certain number, then that’s what it is," Havenstein said. "With everything through this process, obviously it’s long and you got a lot of different numbers and tests being thrown at you, but with everything you do you just do to the best of your ability."

Other Wisconsin participants included offensive lineman Dallas Lewallen and safety Peniel Jean. While Gordon and Havenstein are widely projected to be the first two Badgers selected, two sleeper players had strong performances to bolster their draft stock — wide receiver Kenzel Doe and defensive linemen Warren Herring.

According to Wisconsin football’s Twitter account, Doe ran a 4.48 40-yard dash and posted a 37-inch vertical, while also repping 22 times on the bench. A wide receiver with the Badgers, Doe will likely have to find his niche on special teams to make it in the NFL.

"I feel like I’m a special teams guru. I might have been the only senior to start on all four main units of special teams and start on offense," Doe said.

"My mindset, if I got to play special teams, that’s what I want to do…I know I can contribute."

Herring had a disappointing senior year where he missed five games with a knee injury, but put injury concerns aside and displayed a unique combination of strength and speed -- bench pressing 225 pounds 28 times, posting a 35-inch vertical and showing off his agility with a 7.42 time in the cone drill.

Primarily backing up Beau Allen at nose guard his junior year, Herring moved up and down the defensive line his senior year, appearing at both nose guard and defensive end.

"I feel like I can play anywhere. I’ve played everywhere across the defensive line and I feel very comfortable," Herring said, who noted he weighed in at 288 pounds. "That’s one thing teams can expect out of me —100 percent effort wherever they put me."

Meanwhile, there were a handful of unique participants at Pro Day -- each a long-shot player striving for an initial opportunity in the NFL. Former Wisconsin running back Jeff Lewis, who transferred to Illinois State his senior year, took part. Three in-state Division III players also participated -- Wisconsin-Whitewater wide receiver Jake Kumerow and quarterback Matt Behrendt, and Wisconsin-Eau Claire cornerback Thurgood Dennis. Per Kumerow's agent, the 6'4, 209-pound former Illinois walk-on ran 4.50 and 4.52 second 40-yard dashes and ran the three-cone drill in 6.83 seconds -- the latter of which would have placed him sixth amongst wide receivers at the NFL Scouting Combine.

There was one Pro Day participant returned to Madison after last summer’s NFL dreams failed to come to fruition.

Tight end Jacob Pedersen made it to the final cut last year with the Atlanta Falcons but didn’t make the 53-man roster. He registered for the NFL Veterans Combine but his application was not accepted. Wednesday may have been one of Pedersen’s last chances to catch on.

"You can’t take anything for granted. The NFL is definitely hard to get into," Pedersen said. "Last year, getting cut, going around and everything. I got to see a picture of how hard it is to get in."

With all the hype the Wisconsin basketball team is getting right now, it’s easy for Pro Day to get lost in the shuffle -- but Gordon still commanded an audience the same way Badgers senior forward Frank Kaminsky captivates hoop fans. Asked whether he or Kaminsky was the best Badger on campus, Gordon smiled and contemplated.

"I know Frank’s been balling, but I haven’t gotten to watch Wisconsin that much so I can’t really say," Gordon said. "But I’ll leave that up to y’all."