Despite Wisconsin’s historical success on the ground, not many Badger tailbacks have turned their time at UW into productive NFL careers. Wisconsin has rarely seen more than one or two former backs active in the NFL at one time—except for now.
James White of the New England Patriots, Melvin Gordon of the Los Angeles Chargers, and Corey Clement of the Philadelphia Eagles have moved on from their productive careers at Wisconsin to produce for their respective NFL teams early on in their pro careers.
White, who became a productive part of the crowded Patriots backfield during his second NFL season by scoring six total touchdowns (two rushing, four receiving), followed his sophomore season up in 2016 by scoring five times, all through the air.
White hasn’t been much of a yardage guy for the Patriots, only compiling 61 total yards as a rookie and then 466 total yards and 717 total yards the past two seasons, but he has been one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets near the end zone.
The biggest game of his career came in the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI victory over the Atlanta Falcons. He was the leading receiver in the game with 110 yards and he scored three total touchdowns, one through the air and two on the ground, including the tying score and the game-winner in overtime. White even added a two-point conversion.
In 2017, White has scored once and has 298 total yards.
.@SweetFeet_White ➡ End Zone. #GoPats pic.twitter.com/BrgJnsM2Zn— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 23, 2017
Gordon, who struggled in his rookie campaign, failed to break the goal line until his sophomore season with the Chargers. Gordon avoided a sophomore slump in the NFL while scoring 12 total touchdowns (10 on the ground and two through the air).
Gordon suffered an injury during Week 13 of the 2016 season and wound up three yards shy of a 1,000-yard season.
So far in 2017, Gordon is back to his scoring ways, scoring seven total touchdowns (three rushing, four receiving) and is on pace to score 16 times.
Gordon has 394 rushing yards and 228 receiving yards. If he continues on the rushing pace he is on through seven games, he will end the season with 900 yards, giving him three straight NFL seasons with less than 1,000 yards.
However, Gordon has not seen may carries so far this season, averaging just over 16 per game, ranking him 11th in the NFL. Provided Gordon is able to see more carries as the season goes on, there is a good chance he could collect his first 1,000-yard NFL season and the Chargers could see some of the breakaway ability he displayed at Wisconsin, where he finished his career with 4,915 yards and 45 touchdowns.
While Gordon is the bellweather back for the Chargers, Clement currently finds himself as the Eagles’ third tailback after making the team as an undrafted rookie free agent behind LeGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood. Yet even though he’s sitting third in the depth chart, Clement has found his way into games and has found the end zone twice.
Clement scored his first touchdown of the season in the opener against the New York Giants, when he registered his longest run of the season of 15 yards to knot up the game at 21–21.
The Eagles rookie registered his season-high 10 carries against Gordon’s Chargers, registering 30 yards, his single-game high for the season.
Clement’s most recent score came in primetime on Monday Night Football this week. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz avoided heavy pressure in the backfield to find Clement, who made a leaping grab toward the boundary for a nine-yard touchdown reception.
“Corey Clement, the rookie out of Wisconsin!” #OnWisconsin— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 24, 2017
What a catch, @CoreyClement_6!pic.twitter.com/wWaaid5hFr
While at Wisconsin, Clement registered one 1,000-yard season when he rambled for 1,375 yards as a senior. He came close during his sophomore campaign in 2014, racking up 949 yards while sharing carries with Gordon, who amassed 2,587 yards.
While it is clear that all three of the former Badger tailbacks have varying levels of involvement in their respective teams’ offenses, it is clear that their time at Wisconsin set the tone for their NFL careers—something that could bode well for freshman Jonathan Taylor, who is leading the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (and the Big Ten) in rushing yards with 1,112.
Even though it is early in his career, it’s easy to see that there is something very special about Taylor, who could very well join the likes of White, Gordon, and Clement in the NFL. And while all three of the former Badgers had productive collegiate careers at Wisconsin, none of them got off to the start that Taylor has. He recently became the seventh FBS freshman to reach 1,000 rushing yards through seven games.