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Badgers in the NFL: Season Outlook

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It’s opening night for the 2021 NFL season, let’s take a look at what we can expect from former Badgers in the league this year.

  • Russell Wilson, QB (Seahawks): The former Super Bowl champion is back for his 10th season with the Seahawks and will look to build upon an already impressive career. Wilson will have one of the best wide receiver duos in the league to throw to in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and with new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron in Seattle, all signs point to another huge season for Russ.
  • Jonathan Taylor, RB (Colts): After finishing a stellar rookie season with 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns, Taylor is back for his sophomore campaign and again should be one of the better running backs in the league. The Colts have a great offensive line and I’d expect to see a heavy workload for Taylor, especially if new quarterback Carson Wentz struggles (Editor’s note: HE WILL!) in his first season in Indy.
  • James White, RB (Patriots): White hit the open market this offseason but opted to return to the Patriots for his eighth NFL season and has been named a team captain for 2021. The former Super Bowl hero has put together quite a career in New England as a pass-catching back and should be leaned on heavily as a safety valve out of the backfield for rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
  • Melvin Gordon, RB (Broncos): Gordon enters his second season with the Broncos and will open the year as Denver’s starting running back. He’ll have to curtail some of the fumbling issues he’s had in his career and second-round rookie Javonte Williams will be pushing him for snaps, but Gordon should still be in line for another solid year.
  • Corey Clement, RB (Cowboys): It was a busy offseason for Clement who signed a one-year deal with the Giants before being cut last week. The Cowboys signed him the next day and he’ll likely contribute mostly on special teams in Dallas. Entering his fifth season in the league, Clement has carved out a nice role as a special teams player and competent pass-catching back when given the opportunity (see Super Bowl LII with the Philadelphia Eagles).
  • Dare Ogunbowale, RB (Jaguars): Ogunbowale made Jacksonville’s 53-man roster for the second straight season and will be a key special teams player for the Jags this season. The former walk-on could also see some action as a third-down back, especially now that first-round draft pick Travis Etienne will miss the entire season.
  • Derek Watt, FB (Steelers): Watt enters his sixth season in the NFL and has proven himself to be one of the best special teams contributors in the league. In just his second season with the Steelers, Watt was named a special teams captain and will also serve as the team’s lone fullback.
  • Alec Ingold, FB (Raiders): Ingold enters his third season as the Raiders’ starting fullback and was named a team captain for 2021.
  • Ryan Ramczyk, OT (Saints): Ramczyk will be the Saints’ starting right tackle for the fifth straight year. A second-team All-Pro last season, Ramczyk is poised for another dominant season in New Orleans.
  • Rob Havenstein, OT (Rams): Havenstein will begin his seventh season in the league as the Rams’ starting right tackle. The former second-round pick has started 84 games since being drafted by the Rams in 2015.
  • Kevin Zeitler, OG (Ravens): After starting all 16 games for the Giants last season, Zeitler signed a three-year deal with the Ravens over the summer. The ten-year veteran will open the season as Baltimore’s starting right guard.
  • David Edwards, OG (Rams): Edwards had a breakout season in 2020, starting 14 games at guard for the Rams. The former fifth-round pick will begin the year as the Rams’ starting left guard.
  • Beau Benzschawel, OG (Washington): After being claimed off waivers by the Washington Football Team in April, Benzschawel was unable to make the 53-man roster. He was, however, resigned to Washington’s practice squad for the 2021 season.
  • Michael Deiter, C (Dolphins): Deiter started 15 games at guard for Miami as a rookie in 2019 before being passed on the depth chart last season and playing just a handful of snaps a game on special teams. Despite his struggles last year, Deiter impressed in training camp and won the starting center job heading into Week 1.
  • Tyler Biadasz, C (Cowboys): After a rookie season that included four starts as well as a stint on IR, Biadasz is healthy and locked in as the Cowboys’ starting center for 2021. The former Rimington Trophy winner will pave the way up front for running back Ezekiel Elliott and a Dallas offense that should be one of the best in the league.
  • Quintez Cephus, WR (Lions): Cephus enters his sophomore season with a great opportunity for playing time in Detroit. Wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. are gone, leaving Cephus, veteran Tyrell Williams and fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown as the main outside targets for quarterback Jared Goff. The Lions should be playing from behind in almost every game this year, so they’re should be plenty of passes to go around for Cephus to have a nice season.
  • Alex Erickson, WR (Panthers): After spending his first five seasons with the Bengals, Erickson was signed by the Texans in the spring before being released during roster cuts. The Panthers quickly signed Erickson to their practice squad last week and protected him. The former walk-on will likely fit in as Carolina’s emergency punt returner for the season.
  • J.J. Watt, DE (Cardinals): The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year signed with the Cardinals this offseason after ten exceptional years in Houston. Watt still has plenty left in the tank and it was encouraging to see him play all 16 games a year ago. As long as Watt can stay healthy, he figures to be a important piece on Arizona’s defense opposite Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones.
  • T.J. Watt, LB (Steelers): It’s been an eventful training camp for Watt, who is looking for a new lucrative contact as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. A 3x All-Pro and last year’s sacks leader, Watt is one of the most disruptive defensive players in the league and deserves a big payday. He returned to the practice field in full on Wednesday, after sitting out the preseason and team drills all camp. It looks like Watt won’t miss any games due to the contract dispute, but c’mon Pittsburgh, pay the man!
  • Joe Schobert, LB (Steelers): After spending last season with the Jaguars, Schobert was traded to the Steelers in August. The six-year veteran will start at inside linebacker and look to continue his four-year streak of finishing with 100+ tackles.
  • Andrew Van Ginkel, LB (Dolphins): Van Ginkel became an important defensive player for the Dolphins towards the end of last season, finishing with 48 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles in just his second year in the league. He earned a starting spot at outside linebacker this training camp and is prime candidate to have a breakout season.
  • T.J. Edwards, LB (Eagles): Edwards enters his third season on the Eagles, after going undrafted in 2019. He’ll begin the year as Philly’s backup middle linebacker, after starting 12 games and notching 70 total tackles last season.
  • Ryan Connelly, LB (Vikings): The former walk-on made the Vikings 53-man roster and is listed as a third-string outside linebacker on the depth chart. Connelly played almost exclusively on special teams in 14 games last season and should see a similar role in 2021.
  • Zack Baun, LB (Saints): Baun played sparingly in 15 games as a rookie last year and will begin his sophomore campaign as the Saints’ backup weak-side linebacker.

Rookies

  • Isaiahh Loudermilk, DT (Steelers): The lone Wisconsin rookie to make a 53-man roster, Loudermilk is listed as Pittsburgh’s back up defensive tackle heading into the season.
  • Cole Van Lanen OT (Packers): Van Lanen was released by the Packers during roster cuts but was signed to their practice squad shortly thereafter.
  • Rachad Wildgoose (Bills): The sixth-round pick was left off Buffalo’s 53-man roster before being signed back to their practice squad last week.