The NFL Draft has been a good experience for Wisconsin, considering the Badgers have had at least one player drafted every year since 1979 – the fifth longest streak in the Big Ten (Michigan - 1961, Nebraska – ‘62, Michigan State – ‘66 and Iowa – ‘77).
Wisconsin will see that trend continue this weekend as the Badgers should see at least two former prospect join the NFL. Over the last five years a total of 21 players have been drafted, including five last year and at least two the last seven years. Both running back Melvin Gordon and offensive tackle Rob Havenstein will have a chance to make early contributions to their respective NFL teams that draft them.
Below is the order I believe these former Badgers will come off the board over the next three days during the NFL Draft in Chicago.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Round 1: Wisconsin has seen a player drafted in the first round in three of the last four seasons, and Gordon has a very good chance to add his name to that list. Although running backs aren’t as highly valued as they have been in the past (no running backs have been drafted in the first round the last two years), Gordon is too talented to slip to the second round. The athleticism Gordon displayed in his time at Wisconsin has shown why he is so highly thought of from a running back standpoint by NFL scouts and general managers.
The stats for Gordon back up his lofty draft projection, as he ranks third in Wisconsin history in career rushing yards (4,915) and in touchdowns (45). His junior season numbers were outstanding. Gordon rushed for the most yards in school history (2,587) - the second player to rush for over 2,000 yards in Wisconsin history – and led the nation in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns (29). He won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top tailback and was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.
One of the concerns with Gordon is the number of carries he has registered in college. A year ago Gordon ran for 343 of his 631 carries last season, second most in the country behind Boise State’s Jay Ajayi (347) in the country. Despite the high level number of carries, Gordon will enter the NFL with fewer college carries then former Wisconsin running backs Montee Ball and James White.
One thing Gordon will have to clean up is ball security, as he fumbled seven times (six loses) last season. The high rate Gordon fumbled last season was surprising considering he only fumbled five times in his first two seasons. A lack of ball security will stymie Gordon’s career.
Gordon consistently has shown that he is a patient runner to allow holes to open up. He still needs to get better running the football up the middle but he showed significant improvement this past season. But as UW fans know, once he is in the open field, he is very elusive, is difficult to take down and can change direction quickly and smoothly. Gordon has been compared to Kansas City’s running back Jamaal Charles and Philadelphia running back DeMarco Murray.
But in order for Gordon to become an every-down running back, he will need to improve his pass catching skills. Gordon finished his career with 22 receptions, 19 of which came last season. Gordon was able to put it on film last season to show he is capable but he’ll need to do it on a consistent basis.
Gordon’s biggest competitor for first running back taken is Georgia’s Todd Gurley, who suffered an ACL injury this past season. If Gordon is indeed the first running back off the board, he will join Alan Ameche (third in 1955 draft) as the only Badgers tailbacks to be the first backs taken. Additionally, the last time a Big Ten running back was the first running back off the board was Curtis Enis from Penn State in 1998.
There have been five teams Gordon has been linked to: San Diego (17th pick), Detroit (23rd), Arizona (24th), Baltimore (26th) and Dallas (27th). All five teams would be good fits for Gordon to have success early in his NFL career. One wild card team could be Minnesota. While dealing with uncertainty around Adrian Peterson, it is unlikely that the Vikings would use their first pick (11th pick) in the first round on Gordon but they traded back into the first round each of the last three years.
If Gordon is still available to take for the Cardinals, I think he would be too good to pass up, as he could be the missing piece to help the Cardinals make a deep playoff run. Last season Arizona rushed for 1,308 yards, which ranked 31st in the NFL. Gordon in the backfield would help take pressure off of quarterback Carson Palmer and the passing game.
Rob Havenstein, RT, Round 4-5: Gordon will say that one of the main reasons why he had success on the football field was because of his offensive line. Havenstein was one of the reasons why that was true, as he consistently opened up the running lane for UW running backs over the last three seasons.
As it stands right now, Havenstein’s strength lies in the run game with his ability to consistently get to the second level in the run game. His pass blocking still needing work, but he has the tools to improve in this area and was able to limit Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, as one of the most talented pass rushers in the NFL Draft, to only half of a sack this past season. Havenstein and his linemates only allowed 13 sacks on the season.
When Havenstein hears his name called he will become the 17th offensive lineman drafted from Wisconsin since 2000 and the eighth since 2011. Although Havenstein needs some work, you can’t teach size. At 6-7 and 332 pounts, it will be difficult to move Havenstein off the line. If he can learn a couple of different techniques to try and disrupt some of the more athletic pass rushers in the league, he should be able to overcome some of his faults in this area.
Havenstein proved to be quite durable at Wisconsin, appearing in 54 career games and ending with 42 consecutive starts. If Havenstein is going to make an impact early in his career, he will need to be drafted by a team that is a strong running team. Havenstein could potentially be a good fit for St. Louis, Buffalo, San Diego or Green Bay. It appears St. Louis has a young emerging back in Tre Mason and the Rams are in the need for offensive linemen. Even if the Rams select one with their first pick, they could look for depth later on. Although the Packers have a strong offensive line, they have dealt with injuries over the last couple of years, meaning a guy like Havenstein would be great insurance.Of all the teams, Havenstein - a consensus first team all-Big Ten pick and AFCA first-team All-American - appears to be the best fit for Buffalo. The Bills acquired LeSean McCoy this offseason and hired Rex Ryan as their new head coach. Under Ryan’s watch, the Jets had success running the football and finished third in rushing yards a season ago. The Bills did select two tackles in last year’s draft in Cyrus Kouandijio in the second round (one game played) and Seantrel Henderson in the seventh round (16 starts), but that would allow Havenstein to develop and be inserted if there’s an injury or if a starter struggles.
Warren Herring, DE, Round 7-to-PFA: Herring needed a strong senior season to be considered a draftable prospect, and although there still is a chance he could hear his name on Saturday, it appears more likely that he will sign with a team as a preferred free agent. It didn’t help that Herring suffered an injury in the season opener against LSU that limited to only nine games and prevented him from fully showing what he could do.
Although Herring flipped from defensive end to nose guard in Dave Aranda’s 3-4 defense, his best fit is at defensive end. Herring does have some explosiveness but failed to register a sack last season and recorded 4.5 in his career. Despite the lack of tackles for loss, Herring has played every position on the line and has versatility that is needed in the NFL.
Herring was not invited to the NFL combine but registered good numbers at Wisconsin’s pro day that should lead to a tryout from an NFL team, finishing his pro day with 28 reps on the bench press, 1.7 seconds in the 10 yard dash, 35 inch on the vertical and 9-8 on the broad jump.
Kenzel Doe, WR, PFA: If Doe is going to make an NFL team he is going to have to do it through special teams, something Doe admitted after Wisconsin’s pro day. What helps Doe is that he appeared on four special teams units at Wisconsin. He could make it as a possible gunner or as a return man, as he finished his career at Wisconsin with 1,388 kick return yards and 481 punt return yards in his career and returned a punt and kickoff for a touchdown.
Like Herring, Doe was not invited to the NFL combine but had a solid pro day as he turned in a 4.48 second 40 yard dash. The speed will show that he has the ability to get down as a gunner but he will have to overcome his 5-8 listed height to show that he can be effective. Doe also did 22 reps on the 225 pound bench press and recorded a 37 inch vertical jump.