The 2014 NFL Draft doesn't begin until May 8, and who knows what mock drafts and such will look like by then. But for now, we're all thinking about where this year's class of draft-eligbile Wisconsin Badgers will end up.
To get a grasp on things, we solicited Ian Kenyon, NFL Associate Editor at Bleacher Report and creator of Sideline Scouting. Ian's also a Wisconsin guy (he resides in Eau Claire) and has seen the recent crop of Badgers closer than many other draft experts you'll read. Follow him on Twitter @IanKenyonNFL and please feel free to hit both of us are up for questions, feedback and such as to where Chris Borland, James White, Jared Abbrederis and more will wind up.
Knowing much of this is likely to fluctuate, how many eligible former Badgers do you see getting drafted in May?
Ian: I feel confident that four will be drafted with an outside shot at six. I think Borland, Abbrederis, and Jacob Pederson are shoe-ins to be drafted. James White is on the cusp, but he played well enough at the Senior Bowl and measured in well enough that I think he gets drafted. Ryan Groy and Dezmen Southward are the two outside shots, but I don't expect them to be drafted.
Badgers' draft stocks and NFL prospects
Ian: Borland's draft stock is as high as it's going to get right now. He played marvelously at the Senior Bowl, forced a fumble in the game itself (his signature) and showed the instincts that make scouts salivate. The downside with Borland is everything that teams measure. I don't mind that Borland is 5'11; guys like Zach Thomas have gotten away with that. What bothers me is that Borland has 28 7/8 inch arms which are by far the shortest at the position. It's hard to shed blocks and use proper hand technique when you're coming in with short arms. The lack of height and arm length give him a major disadvantage, which is too bad because if he were ideal height/arm length he's a top-20 pick in my opinion. That's why I say his draft stock is about as high as it'll ever be right now, the things teams will criticize are impossible for him to change. Right now I'd have him the mid-to-late second round range.
Senior Bowl Recap
Senior Bowl Recap
Ian: I was fairly shocked by James White's measurements at the Senior Bowl. Matt Waldman, who runs the Rookie Scouting Report, and I were discussing James White a couple weeks ago and we both expected him to measure in around 5'10, 190 and run slower than most expect. However, he came in at the Senior Bowl at a rock solid 5'9, 206 which is ideal for an NFL back. Then he came out and won most outstanding player for the North team. I'd say his draft range right now is the 5th-6th round. He's hurt by the fact that there were around 15 underclassmen who declared at running back this year, so a lot of running backs are going to end up falling.
Ian: Draft analysts are really starting to come around on Abbrederis. He's looking like a top-100 lock and has the potential to go as high as the second round. He never put up gaudy numbers playing in Wisconsin's run oriented offense, but he has been their best receiver for 3-4 years and when you turn on the tape you can tell why. Most analysts that I know reference the Ohio State game where Abbrederis burned Bradley Roby multiple times. Abbrederis is faster than you'd think and is a master route runner which was on display at Senior Bowl practices.
Ian: Honestly don't expect Beau to be drafted. He's a big nose tackle candidate, but he's looking more like a priority free agent right now.
Ian: He's not the biggest or the fastest guy which doesn't help him. At around 6'3, 245 he's not going to be a guy with a high ceiling, but I like him as a possible move-blocker and receiving option. He's looking like a 6th-7th rounder right now.
Ian: Sounds like he's looking at a conversion from safety to cornerback which I think suits him better at the next level. He's going to be a project and someone that I can see a team using a priority free agent claim on after the draft as a developmental cornerback prospect.
Ian: Groy is a borderline draftable prospect right now. He's massive (6'5, 325), but not particularly athletic, the typical Wisconsin mauler. Could be a fit for a power running team.
How does this Wisconsin draft class look compared to those of recent years?
Ian: This year's class is probably most similar to the 2009 class where Wisconsin had four fourth rounders in Matt Shaughnessy, DeAndre Levy, Kraig Urbik, and Travis Beckum. There's no first-round guy this year like Travis Frederick, Kevin Zeitler, J.J. Watt, etc. but there are three guys that I could see going in that 60-130 range. I'd say on the whole, its stronger than last year's class, but nowhere near the strength of the 2012 class that had Zeitler, Konz, Russell Wilson, Nick Toon, etc.
How much does a university's reputation for churning out NFL prospects factor into the initial perception of a draft prospect? For instance, do the NFL careers of Montee Ball and John Clay have people looking at James White any differently?
Ian: Honestly, I don't think that factors into the evaluation process. People always want to lean on that and say "well, Wisconsin running backs..." but then you see a guy like Montee Ball get picked in the second round even after the string of running backs who didn't exactly pan out in the NFL. You have to look at prospects in a vacuum and ignore the success or failures of the players that came before. With that said, I do think you have to look at the players around the prospect and the offense/situation the player is in. In Montee Ball's case, he put up record statistics, but he wasn't/isn't the best running back of last year's class. Which is why you scout skill sets and not statistics.
For kicks, who are the best two or three NFL prospects on next year's Wisconsin team? What's an early draft prediction for Melvin Gordon?
Ian: It should be no surprise that the two top draft prospects on Wisconsin are at running back. We'll start with Melvin Gordon since that was part of the original question. I am all-in on Melvin Gordon. I think he's a top-20 pick once he comes out. There are some concerns with Gordon about his ability to pass-protect and contribute in the passing game overall, but he has all offseason to work on those and he'll have to take on more of those responsibilities with James White gone. He literally is Jamaal Charles when the ball is in his hands. He's not quite as fast as Charles, who ran a 4.38, but I could see Gordon running in the 4.45 range and he's more tenacious/physical than Charles.
The second running back I wanted to talk about is Corey Clement. I could see him being a future 2nd-3rd rounder in 2-3 years. He's shown impressive burst and power. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he's the breakout player of the Big 10 next year after he takes James White's carries and gets 1,000-1,400 yards. He has the chance to be a star.
Last, wanted to switch to the defensive side of the ball where I really what I saw from Sojurn Shelton this year. Only a freshman but started 11 games and had four interceptions. Not the biggest guy at 5'9, but has shown the physicality to hang in there and looks like a guy who could be in the top-100 draft discussion in a couple years.
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