Now that the NFL season has wrapped up, football fans can turn their attention squarely to the 2012 NFL Draft, which is a little more than two months away. One of the biggest events on the "Path to the Draft" in the NFL scouting combine, which opens this week in Indianapolis.
This year a school-record eight former Badgers were invited to the combine, the second-highest total of any school in the country. The players invited were:
* FB Bradie Ewing * CB Antonio Fenelus * C Peter Konz * P Brad Nortman * OL Josh Oglesby * WR Nick Toon * QB Russell Wilson * OL Kevin Zeitler
Last year, DE J.J. Watt wowed the scouts with his performance at the combine, working himself up to the No. 11 pick in the draft. QB Scott Tolzien also helped himself, making a good impression during drills and as a "throwing" quarterback while the other skill position players worked out, eventually landing a free agent deal and spending the season with the San Francisco 49ers.
Once again, NFL Network will have extensive coverage of the combine from Lucas Oil Stadium. Perhaps the Badgers will benefit from their familiarity with the field, having beaten Michigan State, 42-39, in the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship game on Dec. 3 in that venue.
The complete combine schedule is below, along with the NFL Network's coverage.
Day two of voting for the All-Bielema team was very similar to day one, with the most recent candidate running away with the popular vote. On both Facebook and Twitter, 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball easily outdistanced 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay and 2006 national Freshman of the Year P.J. Hill.
Wednesday the spotlight shifts to the less-heralded half of the Badgers' running back tandem, the fullback. As one of the few teams left in college football that regularly employs a fullback, Wisconsin has produced some pretty good ones in recent years.
The Fullback Candidates:
Bradie Ewing (2008-11) 2011 UW Special Teams Player of the Year ... invited to the 2012 Senior Bowl and 2012 NFL Scouting Combine ... 2010 Tom Wiesner Award winner, given to the team's top Wisconsin-born player ... three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection ... caught 20 passes for 246 yards as a senior ... 504 career all-purpose yards and four career TDs ... started on all four special teams units and made 17 career tackles
Chris Pressley (2004-08) Currently on the Cincinnati Bengals roster ... has played in 29 games in the NFL the last three seasons, starting 13 of them ... started 21 games at FB in his career as a Badger, including 18 in 2007-08 ... two-time Academic All-Big Ten and winner of UW's Ivan B. Williamson Scholastic Award ... 25 career carries for 103 yards and a touchdown ... also caught two passes for eight yards and a TD
Bill Rentmeester (2005-08) Appeared in 47 career games, including 39 from 2006-08 ... named UW's special teams player of the year as a senior ... famous for "Billy on the belly" play at Fresno State in 2008 when he ran for eight yards and a first down deep in Wisconsin territory that helped UW run out the clock to end the game ... carried the ball 26 times in his career for 116 yards and one touchdown ... also caught four passes for 21 yards and a score
Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).
Day one of voting for the All-Bielema Team is in the books and it looks like we have our quarterback. To the surprise of very few, unless there is a huge groundswell of support for either Scott Tolzien or John Stocco over the next three weeks, Russell Wilson will be under center when the team is revealed on March 15.
No one can argue that Wilson had a tremendous impact on the Badgers in his one season. He set an NCAA record for pass efficiency, set school records for passing yards, completions, passing TDs and total offense and led UW to the Rose Bowl. He was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten choice and won the league's inaugural Griese-Brees QB of the Year Award.
However, his competitors were no slouches either. In his only season under head coach Bret Bielema, Stocco led Wisconsin to its only 12-win season in school history. That year he was a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award. While not in the Bielema era, he held the single-season school records for passing yards, completions and passing TDs until Wilson smashed them this year. And for his career, he led the Badgers to a 29-7 record (second-most wins in school history) and ranks second at UW in passing yards, attempts, completions and passing TDs.
Before Wilson's amazing season, Tolzien probably would have been the runaway winner. He led the Badgers to a 21-5 record in his two years as a starter, including an appearance in the 2011 Rose Bowl. He owns the best career pass efficiency mark in school history, two of the top five passing yardage seasons in school history and nearly set a Big Ten record with a .729 completion percentage in 2010. As a senior, he won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, becoming the only UW quarterback to win a major national award in school history.
Today, we move on to the running backs, perhaps the deepest position of the Bielema era. All three candidates rank among the top 10 in school history in career rushing yardage. Combined they have accounted for six 1,000-yard rushing seasons. And they each scored more than 40 TDs in their career (one almost did it in a single season).
The Running Back Candidates:
Montee Ball (2009-present) 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist ... 2011 Doak Walker Award finalist ... 2011 Chicago Tribune Silver Football winner ... 2011 Graham-George Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year ... 2011 Ameche-Dayne Big Ten RB of the Year ... 2011 consensus first-team All-American ... scored 39 TDs in 2011, tying the NCAA record held by Barry Sanders ... led the NCAA with 1,923 rushing yards in 2011 ... career totals of 3,310 rushing yards (9th in school history), 5.8 ypc. (2nd), 55 rushing TDs (2nd), 16 100-yard rushing games (8th) 3,836 all-purpose yards (10th) and 61 total TDs (2nd)
John Clay (2008-10) 2010 Doak Walker Award finalist ... 2010 AP third-team All-American ... 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year ... 2009 consensus first-team All-Big Ten ... 2009 Champs Sports Bowl MVP ... ranked eighth in the country with 1,517 rushing yards in 2009 ... rushed for 100+ yards and scored at least one TD in 10 straight games ... career totals of 3,413rushing yards (7th in school history), 5.4 ypc. (4th), 41 rushing TDs (6th) and 18 100-yard rushing games (5th)
P.J. Hill (2006-08) 2006 national Freshman of the Year ... 2006 Big Ten Freshman of the Year ... 2006 first-team All-Big Ten ... 2006 Doak Walker Award semifinalist ... seventh-best rushing total for a freshman in NCAA history ... ranked sixth in the country with 1,569 rushing yards in 2006 ... joined Billy Marek and Ron Dayne as the only Badgers to rush for at least 1,000 yards in three-straight seasons ... career totals of 3,942 rushing yards (3rd in school history), 5.1 ypc. (T7th), 42 rushing TDs (T3rd) and 20 100-yard rushing games (3rd)
Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).
Badgers' head coach Bret Bielema is entering his seventh season patrolling UW's sidelines. While that may not sound like much, he is already the second-longest tenured head coach in the Big Ten (trailing only Iowa's Kirk Ferentz). Among the 66 BCS schools, only 12 coaches (Frank Beamer - Virginia Tech, Mack Brown - Texas, Ferentz, Bob Stoops - Oklahoma, Jim Grobe - Wake Forest, Gary Pinkel - Missouri, Mark Richt - Georgia, Jeff Tedford - California, Mike Riley - Oregon State, Mike Gundy - Oklahoma State, Steve Spurrier - South Carolina and Les Miles - LSU) have been in their current roles longer than Bielema.
With that as a backdrop, we felt it was a good time to take a look back and see what would happen if we took the best players from the past six seasons and lined them up on one team. A number of spirited debates come to mind. Who plays left tackle, Gabe Carimi or Joe Thomas? Which 1,000-yard rusher do you prefer, P.J. Hill, John Clay or Montee Ball? Who do you want directing the offense, John Stocco, Scott Tolzien or Russell Wilson? What's your preference at linebacker, Jonathan Casillas, DeAndre Levy, Mike Taylor or Chris Borland?
Since 2006, UW has produced some great football players. Sixteen different players have earned All-America honors, with 11 of them being named first-team All-Americans. The Badgers have had finalists for the Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker Award, John Mackey Award, Rimington Trophy, Ted Hendricks Award, Manning Award and Lou Groza Award. In addition, Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Watt won the Lott IMPACT trophy, and Carimi and Thomas both won the Outland Trophy.
Nineteen Badgers that played for Bielema were on NFL rosters at the end of the 2011 season. In five NFL drafts, 16 UW players have been taken and this year Wisconsin had eight players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, the most in school history and the second-most in the country.
So instead of just coming up with a team on our own and have people question our thought process, we wanted to open it up to fans to pick the team. Starting today (Monday, Feb. 20) fans will be able to vote on the Wisconsin Football Facebook page. Each day until Sunday, March 11, a different poll will be revealed asking for the fans' choice at a different position. Fans can also vote on Twitter using the hashtag #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).
After compiling all the votes, the All-Bielema team will be announced in the March 15 edition of 'Varsity' the official online magazine of Wisconsin Athletics.
Alabama and LSU were pretty good last year. I think most rational people will agree on that. To be a good team, you need good players. Again, pretty much a no-brainer. And if you are a good player in college, you will go on to play in the NFL. A pretty simple equation. Good college teams have good players who move on to the NFL.
So it shouldn't come as a huge shock that Alabama had the most players (9) invited to the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. Nor should anyone be surprised that LSU was tied for second with eight players. Here's where the script deviates a little. One of three teams LSU is tied with is Wisconsin. While that may give some people pause, it shouldn't.
Six players from UW's record-breaking 2011 offense are heading to Indianapolis. That is the most offensive players from one school. Included in that group are three offensive linemen. Wisconsin has a long tradition of producing NFL caliber o-linemen and just last year had three drafted (Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy) each of whom started for their respective teams on opening weekend.
The Badgers have won back-to-back Big Ten titles and to do that, you need some talent. Looking at the players who made the jump to the NFL last year and those preparing to do so this year tells you a little about just how talented they were.
Of the eight Badgers invited to the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, offensive linemen Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler look to be the highest-rated. After that, QB Russell Wilson intrigues a lot of teams with his athleticism and makeup. WR Nick Toon is a big body with good hands. FB Bradie Ewing can do a little bit of everything and is a beast on special teams, something that should earn him a long look at the next level.
As Coach Bielema said a number of times, you just don't see that many people the size of OT Josh Oglesby walking around, even at the NFL level. CB Antonio Fenelus may be a bit undersized but UW's defensive coaches will tell you he has been the Badgers' best player on that side of the ball the last two seasons. Lastly, P Brad Nortman impressed a lot of folks with a good week and good performance at the Senior Bowl.
While they weren't invited to the combine, S Aaron Henry, K Philip Welch, LS Kyle Wojta, DT Patrick Butrym and DE Louis Nzegwu all have shots to be late-round picks or free agent pick-ups.
All five former Badgers drafted in 2011 started for their teams last year, combining to log 41 starts. That number would have been much higher had Carimi, Moffitt and Nagy not all suffered season-ending injuries. This year's class looks to have a similar impact.
Badgers at the NFL Scouting Combine Bradie Ewing (RB08) Antonio Fenelus (DB13) Peter Konz (OL26) Brad Nortman (PK06) Josh Oglesby (OL38) Nick Toon (WO43) Russell Wilson (QB18) Kevin Zeitler (OL54)
Schools with most players at 2012 NFL Scouting Combine Alabama - 9 Wisconsin - 8 LSU - 8 Georgia - 8 Miami - 8
With national signing day for football coming up on Wednesday, this is the time of year a lot of folks get wrapped in recruiting rankings, "five-star" athletes and "winning" signing day. I thought it would be a good idea to go back and look at the Badgers' signing day classes in recent history and see how they fared. I left out last year's class because obviously the jury is still out on most of the players.
I don't want this taken as an indictment of recruiting rankings. According to Rivals.com, Alabama has had the No. 1 class in the country three of the last four years. And I heard they were pretty good this season. So there is some correlation between success on the recruiting trail and succeeding on the field. However, both Illinois and Minnesota were ranked higher than UW in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Their combined record over the last three seasons was 29-46 (.387). Wisconsin was 32-8 (.800).
From 2007-10, Wisconsin signed 86 players to National Letters of Intent. Sixty-four of those players (74.4 percent) are either still on the Badgers' roster or finished their careers at UW. A recent story came out that Auburn has only retained 57 percent of its signees from 2009 and 2010 (both classes ranked in the top 20 in the country by Rivals). UW has 39 of its 45 signees (86.7 percent) still on the roster over that span.
On the field, these classes have helped UW win back-to-back Big Ten titles, play in consecutive Rose Bowls and become one of just six teams in the country to win at least 10 games in each of the last three seasons.
Below are some facts and figures for the Badgers' classes in question:
2007 - 17 players signed - Ranked 34th nationally and 7th in the Big Ten by Rivals - Produced 11 starters - 10 players finished their careers as Badgers - 7 earned All-Big Ten honors and 1 All-American - Notable signees: RB John Clay (4 stars), S Aaron Henry (3 stars), OL Josh Oglesby (5 stars), WR Nick Toon (4 stars) 2008 - 24 players signed - Ranked 41st nationally and 6th in the Big Ten by Rivals - Produced 14 starters (includes 2 walk-ons) - 15 players finished their careers as Badgers or are still on the roster - 6 earned All-Big Ten honors (includes 1 walk-on) and 2 All-Americans - Notable signees: CB Antonio Fenelus (2 stars), OL Peter Konz (4 stars), LB Mike Taylor (2 stars), OL Kevin Zeitler (3 stars) - Notable walk-ons: FB Bradie Ewing (2 stars), OL Ricky Wagner (not rated) 2009 - 21 players signed - Ranked 43rd nationally and 8th in the Big Ten by Rivals - Produced 9 starters (includes 2 walk-ons) - 17 players are still on the roster - 5 earned All-Big Ten honors (includes 1 walk-on) and 2 All-Americans - Notable signees: RB Montee Ball (4 stars), LB Chris Borland (3 stars), OL Travis Frederick (3 stars), TE Jacob Pedersen (2 stars) - Notable walk-ons: Ethan Hemer (not rated), Jared Abbrederis (not rated) 2010 - 24 players signed - Not ranked in Rivals top 50, 11th in the Big Ten - 22 players are still on the roster - Notable signees: DT Beau Allen (3 stars), OL Rob Havenstein (3 stars), RB James White (3 stars), WR Manasseh Garner (3 stars) - Notable walk-ons: K Kyle French (not rated), LB Marcus Trotter (not rated)
As the teams make their final preparations for the Saturday's Senior Bowl, the Badgers who are participating in the game are still turning heads. However, inclement weather forced the North squad to "practice" inside a ballroom in the Mobile Convention Center.
Russell Wilson and the other North Team QBs have impressed the Minnesota Vikings coach staff they have been working with all week (Minneapolis Star-Tribune).
Pro Football Weekly's two reporters both couldn't help but notice Wilson during Wednesday's practice ("I wasn't watching the North quarterbacks closely this morning, but Wisconsin's Russell Wilson nonetheless caught my eye").
Even though he's not at the Senior Bowl (probably because he left as a junior), C Peter Konz shows up on Pro Football Weekly's Mock draft 1.0 at No. 18 to San Diego ("Konz has the strength and power to make an immediate impact and fortify the Chargers' interior").
The Senior Bowl will start at 3 p.m. CT with coverage beginning on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.
Some observations and links from Tuesday morning's North team practice at the 2012 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.:
QB Russell Wilson was again largely discussed on the NFL Network coverage. Badger head coach Bret Bielema called in to talk about his quarterback with Paul Burmeister and Mike Mayock (VIDEO).
The beat writer for the Houston Texans (Badgers south?) from the Houston Chronicle weighed in with his thoughts on Wilson ("Wilson has a nice, over-the-top delivery and keeps high during his backpedal") and Kevin Zeitler ("I was very excited to see Kevin Zeitler because he's such a powerful and technically sound run blocker and he didn't disappoint in the scrimmage phase").
Pro Football Weekly also briefly touched on Wilson ("Wilson was very impressive. He was accurate, consistent and had the best zip on his ball of the three quarterbacks"). They also checked in later on video breaking down Wilson's day.
Zeitler, who moved over and played a little center during practice, impressed Tom Melton ("As I said in my preview of the Senior Bowl I think that Kevin Zeitler is the top senior offensive guard and I still believe that").
Tony Softli, who covers the Rams, also had good things to say about Zeitler ("Tough and aggressive lineman. Is not the best athlete of the bunch, but he has that over-achiever attitude with skill set to develop at the next level. I like this young man.") and Wilson ("When it's all said and done, this quarterback might be the best at the 2012 Senior Bowl. Play-maker!").
Punter Brad Nortman also has been turning some heads. After Monday's practice, SI.com's Tony Pauline said, "Brad Nortman (P/Wisconsin) was kicking moon shots all afternoon. His punts were consistently flying 55-to-60 yards with great hang time."
SB Nation also chimed in following Tuesday's practice, "Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman boomed his kicks and routinely got quite a bit of hang time, garnering him some attention from a few scouts after practice."
Practice continues today, televised live at 10 a.m. CT on NFL Network.
Three former Badger defensive players took part in all-star games last weekend, with Aaron Henry playing in the East-West Shrine game, Patrick Butrym in the NFLPA Collegiate All-Star game and Antonio Fenelus in the Battle of Florida.
Fenelus, the only one of the three Badgers with an official invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine, was on the losing end of a 51-3 score at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla. He did account for one of the South Team's highlights, recording an interception. Fenelus also added two tackles and pass breakup.
Henry was voted the captain of the victorious West team in the East-West Shrine game in St. Petersburg, Fla. Defensive stats were hard to come by but The Naples Daily News caught up with Henry before the game.
Butrym played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, but information and stats on the game are scarce.
In contrast to that, the Senior Bowl is like the Super Bowl of college all-star games. Practices are televised, reporters are numerous and scouts fill the stands. Five Badgers are participating this week, including QB Russell Wilson, FB Bradie Ewing, OL Kevin Zeitler, P Brad Nortman and LS Kyle Wojta. WR Nick Toon was invited to the Senior Bowl but is sitting out due to a foot injury.
As is usually the case, the QBs garnered a lot of attention, especially on NFL Network's coverage of practice (VIDEO). The New York Times blog also broke down the QBs: "Wilson is an exceptional athlete and it showed on the first day of practice. He didn't start particularly well, but as the session progressed he was the most impressive quarterback in the first practice of the week."
And the Charlotte Observer also caught up with Wilson to discuss the one thing he has no control over, his height.
In the early going, Zeitler is the highest rated draft prospect among the former Badgers. He impressed a number of folks, including the web site NEPatriotsDraft.com: "Kevin Zeitler was a stud all day long, I didn't see him get beat at all and when I did watch him he dominated Alameda Ta'amu, knocking his helmet off of him. He is feisty and a battler."
NFLmocks.com also praised Zeitler: "I find it funny that everyone talks about DeCastro but no one talked about Zeitler. DeCastro might be better but I am not willing to admit that yet. Zeitler dominated in both run blocking and pass blocking in college and faced much stiffer competition. He fared well against Devon Still and Jerel Worthy who are both thought to be 1rst Round talents. With a week in front of scouts many might start wondering if Zeitler is DeCastro's equal."
The strongest endorsement came from DraftCountdown.com: "Wisconsin OG Kevin Zeitler was incredible at right guard. Zeitler wowed onlookers and showed a real nasty streak in the 1-on-1 drills. Alameda Ta'amu is just one of the guys who struggled to make anything happen against the Badger blocker. On the day Zeitler was only beat once and looked every bit the part of a first rounder."
Coverage of the Senior Bowl practices continue on Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. CT on NFL Network. There is also a daily recap show on Wednesday and Thursday on NFL Network at 9:30 p.m. CT. The Senior Bowl game is then televised live on NFL Network at 3 p.m. CT.
One year after having five players taken in the 2011 NFL Draft, including two in the first round, a number of former Badgers are embarking on a three-month job interview that will culminate in late April. The 2012 draft will be held April 26-28 and, for a number of familiar names to UW fans, the "Path to the Draft" has already started.
Some of the seniors from the 2011 Wisconsin squad that have NFL scouts talking are QB Russell Wilson, OL Kevin Zeitler, WR Nick Toon, FB Bradie Ewing and FS Aaron Henry. With junior center Peter Konz forgoing his senior season to put his name into the draft, there's a good chance that as many as seven or eight Badgers will hear their name called in late April.
As the former UW players train for the draft, they are spread all over the country, in Florida, Arizona, California and even Milwaukee and Madison. Over the course of the next three weeks, we will try to catch up with as many of them as possible to keep tabs on their progress.
There are a number of important dates between now and late April. Some of them are below:
NFL Draft (New York City) April 26-28 NFL Network and ESPN
This weekend, senior defensive captains Henry and DT Patrick Butrym have the chance to show off for scouts. Henry will be playing in the East-West Shrine Game while Butrym takes part in the NFLPA Collegiate All-Star Game.
Those two games are a prelude to the Senior Bowl. A school-record six Badgers will play in that game and take part in a week's worth of practices in front of NFL scouts. The UW players include Ewing, P Brad Nortman, Toon, Wilson, LS Kyle Wojta and Zeitler.
The "main event" of the NFL draft prep is the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine on Feb. 22-28 in Indianapolis. The NFL released its initial invite list, which does not include underclassmen and is not a final list. Among the Badgers heading to Indy are CB Antonio Fenelus, Nortman, OL Josh Oglesby, Toon and Wilson. More UW players, including Konz, should be added to the invite list later.
If nothing else, this should be an interesting offseason for the Wisconsin seniors. And for Badger fans, if you don't get NFL Network, you should probably find a way to watch it because UW should have a strong presence there for the next couple of months.