In 2005 Owen Daniels was a senior on the last Barry Alvarez led Wisconsin squad. Even though Daniels' recieving numbers weren't that prolific as a Badger (62 catches for 852 yards and 8 TD's), NFL scouts saw the athleticism and potential he possessed. The Chicago suburb Naperville High Central product was recruited to Wisconsin as a QB and didn't become a tight end until his junior season, which makes you wonder what his numbers would have looked like as a Badger had he been dedicated to the position his entire collegiate career. The Texans took him in the 4th round and the two-time Pro Bowler went on to finish his NFL career with 479 receptions, 36 TD's, and 5,661 yards, which is the 25th most yards all-time by a tight end in NFL history. Not bad Owen, not bad.
On that same roster in 2005 was a freshman linebacker by the name of Travis Beckum. The very next year he made the switch to tight end, and my goodness the Badgers hit a grand slam in the 6-4 220 pounder from Oak Creek. He flirted with 1,000 receiving yards in his sophomore and junior seasons and had his senior year cut short due to a broken leg finishing with just 264 yards. Even still, he's the 5th all time leading receiver (in receptions and yards) to ever wear the Badger uniform with 159 receptions, 2,149 yards, and 11 TD's. His NFL career never gained much traction in his first few years making just four starts for the Giants after selecting him in the 3rd round. A torn ACL in the Giants Super Bowl win over the Patriots was devastating for his pro career. You still can't take away the fact that Beckum was a 2nd Team All-American and put together two of the best single-season receiving years a Badger has ever had regardless of position and certainly the two best by a tight end.
Ok, you've got to be thinking "Wow, that's a pretty compelling case right there". Well, we're only halfway home. Also a freshman on the 2005 roster was the only player I'll mention in this post that was actually recruited to Wisconsin as a tight end, and that's Garrett Graham. Graham is one of several New Jersey players that Barry Alvarez had so much success with in his tenure. A complete tight end, Graham excelled as both a blocker and pass catcher, making him a force that would wreak havoc on Big Ten defenses for three years. Graham was a model of consistency as a Badger and he had a nose for the end zone catching 16 TD's which is tied for 8th all-time in Wisconsin history with Chris Chambers and just one TD behind Jacob Pedersen who holds the Badger record for tight ends with 17. The Texans got smart and realized the Badgers had this whole tight end thing figured out and drafted him in the 4th round. He had 121 receptions and 1,492 yards as a Badger to go along with 100 receptions, 1,059 yards, and 10 TD's in his NFL career.
We have to jump a year to 2006 to welcome Milwaukee native and King HS product Lance Kendricks to the roster. Kendricks was a prized WR recruit rated four stars (133rd nationally) by 247 and considered the best prospect in the state. He came to Madison with an impressive 6-4 frame and made the transition to tight end heading into his redshirt-sohpomore season. He went on to post 78 catches for 1,160 yards and 8 TD's for the Badgers mostly in his junior and senior seasons. Kendricks finished his Wisconsin career with 14.9 yards a reception. That's more than speedster A.J. Taylor (4.46 40-yard dash) and tied with the great Donald Hayes who caught passes from Darrell Bevell during the Badger revival in the 90's. Lance had some wheels himself running a 4.57 40-yard dash, which turned the heads of pro scouts and got him drafted in the 2nd round of the NFL draft. Kendricks has had a more than respectable NFL career with 224 catches, 2,555 yards, and 19 TD's to his credit.
These are numbers that are impressive in any offensive system, but when you consider the run-first approach of the Badgers it really makes you realize just how special all four of these guys were for Wisconsin. I know there have been some other great tight end traditions at places like Iowa, etc... I'm not sure that you can look at a roster over a 2 year stretch from any college football team in the history of the game and find four guys that did as much at each level as these four did.
It's great to be a Wisconsin fan.