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Mel Kiper Jr.: T.J. Watt’s NFL combine could boost him into first round

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Plus, final reactions to each Badger’s performance at the combine.

NFL Combine - Day 5 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Even with several Wisconsin Badgers prospects expected to get drafted into the NFL late next month, a wide consensus believed only Ryan Ramczyk would go in the first round.

Could T.J. Watt be joining him?

Following Watt’s performance at the NFL Scouting Combine last week (see below), ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. told Hannah Storm on SportsCenter on Wednesday that he could see the former Badgers linebacker going within the first 32 picks.

“He did great at the combine,” Kiper said. “What you expected, Hannah. 6’4.5, 252 pounds. Long arms, huge hands, runs under 4.7. Vertical’s 37 inches, strong kid. Now with his hand on the ground, he can beat that offensive tackle out of his stance in the Big Ten. Had all the numbers, all the productivity you would want. Injury issues as well; medical’s going to be important for T.J. Watt.

“I think if that checks out OK, Hannah, the medical part, I think T.J. Watt, because of the combine and the productivity and the pass-rush talent that he shows and the ability to play on his feet in a 3-4, I think T.J. Watt could maybe land in the late first round, no worse than the early to mid-second round.”

Watt, who elected to leave Wisconsin for the draft one year early, is coming off an incredible junior season. For a refresher, here’s how we summed up Watt’s UW career when he announced his decision to leave early:

Watt switched from tight end to outside linebacker before the 2015 season and quickly became a force at that position group. Not even a full season into the switch, the youngest Watt brother found playing time on the field in Dave Aranda’s defense a year ago in various subpackages.

Starting off in spring 2016, Watt took over the first-team boundary outside linebacker position opposite Vince Biegel, who moved over to the field-side position. Watt responded by leading the Big Ten with 11.5 sacks while also leading the Badgers’ defense in tackles for loss (15.5) and quarterback hurries (13).

The Pewaukee, Wis., native also recorded 63 tackles, ranking him third on the team this season, and had a spectacular pass tip-interception for a touchdown against Purdue.

His performance led to a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and first-team All-American selections by ESPN and Sports Illustrated, with second-team honors from the Associated Press and CBSSports.com.

Watt was already widely considered a top two-round prospect, as Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller gave Watt an initial second-round grade. According to WalterFootball.com, Watt is the draft class’s No. 7 outside linebacker and projected to be a first or second-round pick.

As for the rest of the draft-eligible Badgers in this draft class, B5Q’s Owen Riese recapped their performances at the combine below.

Ryan Ramczyk, OL, 6’6, 310

Ramczyk was unable to perform in the workouts due to the hip surgery he had after the Cotton Bowl. While he was able to put up 25 reps in the bench press, the combine wasn’t really going to matter for Ramczyk, who put up some great film against some of the best teams in college football this season. He’s got an odd story, but he’s going to be one of the first three or four offensive linemen selected in the draft, almost a lock for the first round.

Corey Clement, RB, 5’10, 220

Man, Clement is a better football player than he is an athlete, but he didn’t perform particularly well at the combine. A 4.68 40-yard dash wasn’t unexpected, but still isn’t good. While he put up a respectable 19 reps on the bench, his 28.5” vertical and 9’7 broad jump lead you to believe he’s not very explosive. While I think that Clement is what he is and he’ll get drafted and have a fine NFL career, he is what he is, and that’s likely a rotational back at the next level. He’ll find a home somewhere on Day 3.

Dare Ogunbowale, RB, 5’11, 213

While Rich Eisen couldn’t say his name correctly, Ogunbowale had a little better showing in Indianapolis in the on-field drills than his backfield mate. A 4.65 40 was expected (he’s quicker than he is fast) but a 35” vertical and a 10’ broad jump were a little more encouraging, and a 6.99 three-cone was fifth-best among RBs. Also, coming in at 213 pounds is a bit unexpected for the combine; normally guys come in light to run fast /shrugs. He’ll also get drafted late on Day 3 and carve out a nice career for himself.

Vince Biegel, LB, 6’3, 246

An inch shorter than he was listed at UW, Biegel worked out well and was pretty impressive in Indy. A 4.67 40 is super solid, and 33.5” in the vertical is about right. 9’10 is a bit short, but he’s fine. A 6.92 three-cone is also good for Biegel. He’s likely going to be moved off of the ball in the NFL, although he could sneak by as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Special teams will be another area where he excels. Biegel did well at the combine, but unfortunately all Badgers were in the next one’s shadow.

T.J. Watt, LB, 6’5, 252

Holy buckets. Watt blew the combine out of the water. Watt ran 4.69, which is good for a long strider. He’s got 11” hands, so you know he’s got big gloves. 21 reps on the bench press isn’t bad for a guy with longer arms, but the jumps are crazy. 37” vertical jump, the same as his oldest brother (who was 290 at the Combine in 2011), and 10’8 shows he’s very explosive. Personally, I didn’t see this type of athleticism on tape—I’ll have to watch more. Also a 4.13 5-10-5 and a 6.79 three-cone are insane for a guy Watt’s size. He made a ton of money in Indy.

Sojourn Shelton, CB, 5’9, 177

Up from the 168 Shelton was listed at on the Badgers’ roster, he performed pretty well. A 4.51 on the 40 is respectable, and what he needed to run to not scare teams away due to his size. He also had a 35” vertical and a 10’ broad jump, identical to teammate Dare Ogunbowale’s jumps at the combine, however he’s 36 pounds lighter. To Shelton’s credit, a 4.02 short shuttle and 6.92 three-cone are pretty decent. Overall, a nice showing from Shelton, the lightest defensive back (and third-lightest guy) at the combine.