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Wisconsin football: 2010-2019 NFL Draft offensive positional deep dive

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A position by position breakdown of how Wisconsin football has fared with getting scholarship players into the league. Up second, the offense.

Penn State v Wisconsin

With four more former Wisconsin Badgers drafted into the NFL across four separate positions mere weeks ago, the timing seems right to take a look back at the recent success rate the football team has had since 2010 in putting players into the league.

Over the past thirty years, the Wisconsin football program has gained significant notoriety for their ability to mold running backs, offensive linemen and linebackers into future pros. While most reasonable college football fans, primarily in Big Ten country, have seen this trend, there hasn’t been a lot of specific data-driven research on Wisconsin’s success.

With that in mind, this week I began wondering what the data might actually look like when comparing the number of scholarship players brought into the program at each position and the number of players who were later drafted after their time in Madison.

To begin this data analysis, I first needed to figure out a process by which to gather the data.

I knew that I wanted to look at more recent years, so I limited the data from the 2010 season (2011 NFL Draft) through the 2019 roster, noting that any player that is still currently on the Wisconsin roster — or the current roster of a different program across FBS or FCS — would not be counted in the data set.

For the sake of this exercise, I only wanted to focus on comparing scholarship players brought into the program with eventual draft results. Therefore, I didn’t think it would be fair to include players who were initially walk-ons as part of the scholarship statistics. The walk-ons who turned into draft picks, would only benefit the drafted numbers as a bonus given that they were not originally included in the scholarship pool, and normally brought into the program to back fill positions for roster depth.

This was a crucial determination given the fact that Wisconsin had nine players who entered campus as a walk-on that eventually were drafted from 2010 to 2019. Those nine players represented just over 23% of the players drafted from the Badgers in that time span.

With the nuts and bolts of how the data was accumulated out of the way, let’s dive into how Wisconsin has fared at turning scholarship level athletes into NFL Draft picks at each position.


Big 10 Championship Game - Wisconsin v Michigan State
Russell Wilson celebrates a berth to the Rose Bowl.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Quarterback

Quarterbacks (2010 - 2019)

Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
1 11 9.09% Russell Wilson Russell Wilson, Scott Tolzien, Curt Phillips, Joe Brennan, Jon Budmayr, Danny O'Brien, Bart Houston, Austin Kafentzis, Tanner McEvoy, DJ Gillins, Alex Hornibrook

From 2010 to 2019, Wisconsin had 11 scholarship quarterbacks on their roster. Only one of those quarterbacks would eventually be drafted though, Russell Wilson. Wilson will go down as one of the best — if not THE best — quarterbacks at UW, and was a third round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. While he was the only quarterback who heard his name called on draft day, Scott Tolzien went on to have a multi-year career in the NFL after going undrafted. After walking on with the Badgers, Joel Stave also got a crack in the league as a practice squad member, while Tanner McEvoy spent time in the NFL as a wide receiver after playing quarterback and safety for the team as an undrafted free agent.

Also of note, Joe Brennan, DJ Gillins and Austin Kafentzis ended up transferring out of Wisconsin and had little success afterwards, while current quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr was forced to walk away from playing due to injuries. Everyone’s favorite quarterback, Alex Hornibrook, will be hoping to make a roster this season after going undrafted last weekend following a brief stint at Florida State

Overall, the quarterback position was a little bit of a crapshoot during this time with only 9% of scholarship players drafted. This position could have had it’s own article given all the twists and turns, but I digress.

Wisconsin v Michigan State
Montee Ball and James White celebrate a touchdown run at Michigan State.
Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Running back

Running backs (2010 - 2019)

Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
4 13 30.77% Melvin Gordon, James White, Montee Ball, Jonathan Taylor John Clay, Zach Brown, Melvin Gordon, James White, Jeff Lewis, Montee Ball, Vonte Jackson, Corey Clement, Caleb Kinlaw, Taiwan Deal, Sam Brodner, Chris James, Jonathan Taylor

One of the most historically noteworthy positions for Wisconsin has been running back. Over the span of 10 years, the Badgers had four players drafted in Melvin Gordon, James White, Montee Ball and Jonathan Taylor. Additionally, Corey Clement and former walk-on Dare Ogunbowale have found a home in the league for multiple years now as undrafted free agents. John Clay also spent a year in the NFL with the Steelers, while Vonte Jackson and Sam Brodner saw their careers cut short by knee injuries. Of note, Bradrick Shaw is not on this list as he searches for a new home as a graduate transfer.

Overall the decade was remarkably strong for the Badgers, as the feature back for the team in each season ended up on an NFL roster in some fashion. It is pretty crazy to think that nearly one in three scholarship backs brought in go on to be drafted from Wisconsin, a tremendously high hit rate. A nice feather in the cap for Thomas Hammock and John Settle, and good luck to you Thomas Brown.

Wisconsin v Iowa
Brady Ewing catches a huge touchdown pass at Iowa in one of the best games of the 2010 season.
Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

Fullback

Fullbacks (2010-2019)

Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
2 4 50% Brady Ewing, Derek Watt Derek Watt, Alec Ingold, Austin Ramesh, Jake Whalen

While the running back position has been a wildly successful, the highest hit rate of any position was fullback. The results are slightly skewed because Brady Ewing was originally a walk-on from Richland Center, but the results speak for themselves. In truth, Wisconsin has helped forge the path for three NFL players at the position in this time span, as Alec Ingold plays currently for the Raiders after going undrafted. Austin Ramesh opted to forego potential contract opportunity with the Arizona Cardinals due to injury concerns, and Jake Whalen stepped away from the game due to concussions.

Now Watt, Ingold and Ramesh were all players initially brought in as linebackers or jumbo athletes, but they carved out a nice niche in the backfield for Wisconsin and it turned out well for them.

The fullback position may not be as glamorous as running back or linebacker, but if you are looking for a golden ticket to the league...it might be the best position to play at Wisconsin for athletes in that size range.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Purdue at Wisconsin
Quintez Cephus shakes an oncoming Purdue defender.
Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wide receiver

Wide receivers (2010 - 2019)

Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
3 21 14.29% Nick Toon, Jared Abbrederis, Quintez Cephus Nick Toon, Kyle Jefferson, Isaac Anderson, David Gilreath, Kenzel Doe, Isaiah Williams, Jeff Duckworth, Menasseh Garner, Fred Willis, Jordan Frederick, AJ Jordan, Marquis Mason, Chase Hammond, Reggie Love, Jazz Peavy, Rob Wheelwright, Krenwick Sanders, George Rushing, Andrew James, AJ Taylor, Quintez Cephus

A position that Wisconsin has traditionally struggled to be bring in four-star talent at, the wide receiving hit rate was not all that high, especially considering that two of the most prolific and best pass catchers during this time were walk-ons. Jared Abbrederis went from walk-on sensation to an NFL Draft pick during his career, while Alex Erickson also made the leap from paying his own way to eventually carving out a nice career so far in the NFL with the Bengals.

Nick Toon came into college a highly regarded prospect, and lived up the hype as a primary receiving threat alongside Abbrederis. He and Quintez Cephus are the only other wide receivers to eventually be selected for the pros.

Beyond those four players, the results were fairly lacking. Rob Wheelwright and David Gilreath each had limited time in NFL circles after solid careers in Madison, while A.J. Taylor still must await his chance to try out for an NFL roster.

However, the wash-out rate was extremely high for this group, as a large subsection of the players had limited impact on campus due to injuries or other lingering setbacks.

81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Western Michigan v Wisconsin
Yes...Troy Fumagalli catches this pass.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Tight end

Tight ends (2010-2019)

Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
2 11 18.18% Lance Kendricks, Troy Fumagalli Austin Traylor, Zach Davison, Jacob Pedersen, Sam Arneson, Brock Decicco, Brian Wozniak, Sherard Codogan, Jake Byrne, Eric Steffes, Kyle Penniston, Luke Benzschawel

The tight end position has been a staple of Paul Chryst’s pro-style offense. The Badgers utilize multiple tight ends on the field frequently together, and have a reputation for strong play at the position.

During this time span, though, only two tight ends were selected in the NFL Draft, Lance Kendricks and Troy Fumagalli. Kendricks came to Wisconsin a heralded in-state recruit, while Fumagalli was a former walk-on who burst onto the scene early in his career. Both players are currently in the NFL still, and Jake Ferguson appears to be (most likely) the next tight end to be selected in the coming years.

In terms of the rest of the field, Austin Traylor has been in and out of practice squads in the NFL since college and teammates Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak and Jake Byrne were each picked up as UDFA’s before retiring from football. Sherard Cadogan would eventually shift positions in college when Gary Andersen came into town, but spent the majority of his career at tight end in a reserve fashion. Kyle Penniston would later graduate transfer to Rutgers, where he went undrafted. Luke Benzschawel would retire from football due to a career ending knee injury.

Overall Wisconsin has done a fairly good job with developing the tight end position, and with a steady influx of talented pass catchers in the pipeline there may be more potential NFL picks on the horizon.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio - Wisconsin v Oregon
Kevin Zeitler celebrates with Nate Tice during the Rose Bowl.

Offensive line

Offensive line (2010-2019)

Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
Number of players drafted Total number of scholarship players on campus % of players drafted Players drafted Scholarship signees at the position from 2010 to 2019 (current roster excluded)
12 33 36.36% Bill Nagy, John Moffit, Gabe Carimi, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler, Ricky Wagner, Travis Frederick, Rob Havenstein, Ryan Ramczyk, David Edwards, Michael Deiter, Tyler Biadasz Josh Oglesby, Dallas Lewallen, Zac Matthias, Bill Nagy, John Moffit, Gabe Carimi, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler, Travis Frederick, Jake Current, Casey Dehn, Ryan Groy, Tyler Marz, Ray Ball, Joe McNamara, Jake Meador, Walker Williams, Dan Voltz, Kyle Costigan, Matt Miller, Hayden Biegel, Jackson Keeler, Jacob Maxwell, George Panos, Beau Benzschawel, Jaden Gault, Micah Kapoi, Michael Deiter, Jon Dietzen, David Moorman, Kevin Estes, Patrick Kasl, Tyler Biadasz,

The cornerstone of the Wisconsin football program over the past thirty years has been the offensive line. With a whole host of talented prospects coming from within the state, the Badgers have made a name for themselves in the trenches. One of the most beloved positions on the football team, the offensive line has paved the way for offensive success year in and year out.

The draft data goes ahead and backs that up, as more than one in every three players brought in on scholarship from 2010 to 2019 has heard their name called in the NFL Draft. Furthermore, Ryan Groy and Tyler Marz each went on to have a solid professional careers as UDFA’s. Beau Benzschawel is also currently in the NFL after signing as an undrafted free agent.

The Wisconsin offensive line machine appears primed to continue marching forward with tremendous recruiting success ongoing at the position, and Joe Rudolph coaching them up.

Bottom line, if you end up starting along the Wisconsin offensive line you will have a chance in the league if you can stay healthy.