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How Wisconsin Badgers have fared as Green Bay Packers draft picks

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A brief history of UW standouts staying in-state to begin their pro careers.

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NFL: Green Bay Packers Rookie Orientation Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

There was much rejoicing within the state of Wisconsin when the Green Bay Packers selected outside linebacker Vince Biegel in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Biegel, a captain and the heartbeat of a Wisconsin Badgers team that went 11-3 last season, is a homegrown son of the state. He grew up in central Wisconsin, son of a former BYU linebacker and grandson of a hall-of-fame high school football coach. He stayed in-state to play for the Badgers and he made a significant impact from 2013-16 in a class that’s the winningest in school history.

Since 1984, nine former Badgers have been drafted by the Packers*. Despite dealing with a pair of injuries to start his NFL career—ones that reportedly will hold him out until at least training camp—Biegel has a shot to be one of the more productive UW standouts in recent memory to don the green and gold.

*Writer’s note: It could have been 11, but as ESPN Wisconsin’s and the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Wilde noted on Thursday, Green Bay passed on cornerback Troy Vincent (1992) and wide receiver Chris Chambers (2001), instead electing to draft Florida State’s Terrell Buckley and Texas A&M’s Robert Ferguson, respectively. As a kid who grew up cheering for the Packers but whose fan allegiances have significantly dimmed since joining “the media,” those selections somehow still hurt.

It should be no surprise that in that time, the most successful career by a former Badger with Green Bay was enjoyed by an offensive lineman. Mark Tauscher, a former walk-on, started at right tackle for Wisconsin in 1999, the second of two straight Rose Bowl championship seasons.

The Auburndale native essentially came out of nowhere and almost went to Youngstown State before returning to Wisconsin. He not only started that season, but helped running back Ron Dayne break the NCAA career rushing record on the way to a Big Ten title and smelling roses in Pasadena (with a cigar in his mouth post-victory, according to his recount in Walk-On This Way).

Tauscher utilized that momentum heading into the NFL Draft. Scooped up by Wolf in the seventh round in 2000, he took advantage of his opportunities with veteran Earl Dotson injured by starting in his rookie season and essentially holding down the right tackle spot for quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers until 2010.

In all, Tauscher played in 134 games (132 starts) over his 11 seasons with the Packers. He also received a Super Bowl ring despite being forced to go on injured reserve during the 2010 season.

His teammate on the offensive line for those glory years of Wisconsin football, guard Bill Ferrario, played in the Hula Bowl (like Tauscher a year prior) and was drafted in the fourth round in the 2001 draft. A four-year starter at UW, Ferrario played in 16 games for the Packers in 2002, his only during his time in Green Bay.

The most recent former Wisconsin standout to be drafted in Green Bay, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, fell to the fifth round in the 2014 NFL Draft. In terms of fan favorites of the large cross-section of fans rooting for both teams, Biegel may just rival his former teammate for the top spot as the most-hyped UW player to play in northeast Wisconsin.

Abbrederis, a former walk-on from Wautoma, is tied with Brandon Williams for the most receptions in school history and is No. 2 in receiving yards behind Lee Evans, another Badgers wide receiver who made an impact in the NFL. A two-time first-team All-Big Ten honoree, Abbrederis holds the UW single-season record for catches (78) and also won the Burlsworth Trophy as the top college football player who started his career as a walk-on.

Injuries have so far hampered Abbrederis’s NFL career and unfortunately led to his exit from Green Bay. A torn ACL at the beginning of the 2014 camp cut short a promising start to his rookie campaign, while a significant concussion on the first day of training camp in 2015 held him out of practices for a month. Signed to the practice squad after being cut that year, he worked his way back onto the active roster and played a key role later in the season with injuries decimating the wide receiving corp. In the regular season, he caught nine passes for 111 yards, along with being one of Rodgers’s primary receivers in the playoffs with six receptions for 69 yards over two games.

Abbrederis had a solid 2016 training camp and made the team amid fierce competition at the position group. He only caught one passes for eight yards last season, however, and was placed on injured reserve with a thigh contusion in late October. A couple of days later, he and the team agreed on an injury settlement allowing him to become a free agent. He signed with the Detroit Lions on a futures contract for the 2017 season.

Divisional Round - Green Bay Packers v Arizona Cardinals
Injuries derailed the realization of Jared Abbrederis’s potential in Green Bay.
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Before the 2000s, five other Badgers were selected by the Packers. Defensive lineman Don Davey, after a UW career in which he racked up 49 tackles for loss and 21 sacks plus first-team Big Ten honors in 1990, was drafted in the third round by Green Bay.

Davey played in 50 career games for the Packers, third among this group of Badgers drafted by the organization since 1984. After being part of those teams who rebuilt Titletown in the early 1990s, he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995 and played in 42 more games for the newly minted AFC franchise.

Two Badgers quarterbacks were drafted by the Packers in the 1980s: Bud Keyes (10th round, 1988) and Randy Wright (sixth round, 1984). Finishing sixth in school history in passing yards (5,003), Wright played in 46 games for the Packers, completing about 54 percent of his passes with 31 career touchdowns and 57 interceptions.

For fans old enough to remember those Packers teams coached by Forrest Gregg, there wasn’t much talent on those teams outside of future Hall of Fame wider receiver James Lofton. Wright admitted as much in a January 2010 article in Packer Plus. His best season came in 1986 when he played in all 16 games, throwing for 3,247 yards with 17 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

Eleven Badgers were selected in the 1985 draft (back when there were 12 rounds, but it was still a testament to the turnaround the late Dave McClain made on the program). In a draft where three players—wide receiver Al Toon, defensive back Richard Johnson, and defensive lineman Darryl Simms—were all selected in the first round, Green Bay selected running back Gary Ellerson and defensive back Kenny Stills in the seventh and eighth rounds, respectively.

Ellerson played in 31 games for the Packers over two seasons, rushing for 492 yards and five touchdowns, while Stills played in 65 games with Green Bay from 1985-89. The latter, whose son, Kenny, currently plays for the Miami Dolphins, may be best known for his hit as a rookie on the Chicago Bears’ Matt Suhey.

Hanging around the state

For some of these former Badgers-turned-Packers, their impact is still found around the state.

Tauscher has dipped his toes into many different ponds, most notably in the media. You can currently hear him on ESPN Wisconsin on the weekday morning show “Wilde and Tausch,” as well as during UW home games alongside Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas on the Badger Radio Network. He also is a co-owner of the Red Card Meal Plan, a dining app that allows students to purchase groceries or go out to dinner in Madison.

Ferrario currently lives in state and owns Packer Events, LLC, where businesses can access former Packers and Badgers for speaking arrangements and other related activities.

After a career broadcasting for ESPN, Wright coached high school football and is the director of the Trickey-Wright QB-Receiver camps.

Like Tauscher, Ellerson has made a mark in the Wisconsin sports talk radio world. He is currently a co-host of “The Big Show” on 1250 WSSP (105.7 FM) The Fan in Milwaukee and has also contributed analysis on television since his retirement.

Notes

According to UW’s fact book, 29 former Badgers were drafted by the Packers between 1937 and 1965. As Wilde stated in his article earlier this month, the draft was a little different and more regional.

There were no Badgers drafted by the Packers from 1966 to 1983.

[Update May 20, 8:30 a.m. CT — we revised the writer’s note, as it was Mike Sherman who took over as general manager in 2001, though through research it appears Wolf stayed on until after the draft.]