Taking a closer look at the former Wisconsin athletes eligible for this weekend's N.F.L. draft

With the N.F.L. draft beginning tonight in Chicago, BadgerNation looks at the former Wisconsin players hoping to hear their name called.

In the 22 years since the N.F.L. went to its standard format of seven rounds, a total of 86 former Wisconsin players have heard their name called. Although they’re a long shot to have a first-round selection tonight, the Badgers will certainty add to their list of having at least one player drafted every year since 1978.

But the question is how many former Badgers will hear their name called over the three day event? Linebacker Joe Schobert is the only guarantee to be drafted but Wisconsin could also potentially see Joel Stave, Tyler Marz, Alex Erickson and Derek Watt all get their names read.

Below is the order I believe these former Badgers will come off the board over the next three days during the N.F.L. Draft in Chicago.

Joe Schobert: Round 3-4

Schobert certainly made the most of his senior year to improve his draft stock, becoming a consistent playmaker with 79 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception. Those numbers helped him be recognized as a first-team All-American by the FWAA and him being named the Big Ten linebacker of the year.  

Schobert can play multiple linebacker spots and be a contributor on special teams, making him an attractive option for a teams who are pinched with their roster. Few will question Schobert’s motor, as he is constantly working toward getting into the backfield or getting downfield in coverage. Schobert impacted the game so much last season that teams started scheming away from him, causing his tackle numbers to drop but forced him to find other ways to impact the game.

While he doesn’t have tremendous speed (4.76 40-yard dash at the combine), Schobert is a smart football player and takes proper angles, which helps him make up for lack of speed compared to others. Due to his football IQ, he’s rarely out of position and holds up in pass coverage.

Schobert could be a fit for multiple teams, including the Green Bay Packers. Julius Peppers is nearing the end of his career and former first-round pick Nick Perry is on a one year deal. Other teams that could be high on Schobert are Arizona, Buffalo, and San Francisco.

Tyler Marz: Round 5-6

Marz was the only constant on the offensive line during a year of change, as he started 40 consecutive starts over three seasons as Wisconsin’s starting left tackle. Marz’s durability shows that he can be counted on being healthy from week to week.

While he was named a second team All-Big Ten selection, Marz struggled last year in pass protection, especially against higher-caliber defensive ends, who could get past him with one or two moves and make plays in the backfield. Considering his experience, Marz’s struggles on simple moves were surprising.

The Minnesota native is a better run blocker, so it’ll be important that he goes to a strong running team. Marz does use his hands well in order to engage the defensive end to help him win his battle in the trenches but is not a finished product by any means. He also did only 19 reps on the bench press, so there’s some questions about his strength.

Although he didn’t improve his draft stock much this year, Marz should hear his name called because of his durability and the pedigree of Wisconsin’s linemen. A team that needs to address the offensive line in the draft with multiple picks – like San Diego, Tampa Bay or Tennessee - could be willing to take a chance on Marz.

Alex EricksonRound 6-Undrafted Free Agent

Erickson more than filled the big shoes vacated by Jared Abbrederis following the 2014 season, leading Wisconsin’s receivers the last two years with 132 receptions, 1,750 yards and six touchdowns. And even though he didn’t earn an invite to any postseason college all-star games or the scouting combine, Erickson made the most of his Wisconsin pro day with a 4.52 40-yard dash, 3.88 seconds in the pro agility and a 6.65 seconds in the three-cone drill.

Those numbers certainly opened some eyes of scouts, who likely pushed Erickson up a few notches on the receiver draft board. Erickson was a reliable outlet for Wisconsin during his tenure, rarely dropping a pass and able to create separation to make plays to all three levels of the defense. His numbers are even more impressive when it’s taken into account that Erickson never had a true No.2 receiver to take pressure off of him.

Whether or not those numbers are good enough to get a closer look by scouts remains to be seen, but Erickson will be on a roster somewhere for his receiver and special team’s ability, especially after averaging 13.5 yards per punt last season. A team like Indianapolis could be a good landing spot for Erickson, as the Colts need to be able to provide some weapons for quarterback Andrew Luck.

Joel Stave: Round 6-UFA

Stave made the rounds during the pre-draft process by competing in the East-West Shrine game (7-for-12 31 yards and one interception), participating in the N.F.L. Scouting Combine and performing well during UW’s pro day, going 50-for-55 that included three receiver drops. During those three events, Stave showed his strong arm and capability of making the throws, but he’ll need to do it more consistently.

Stave has plenty of experience (44 career games) but his touchdown-interception ratio isn’t great (48 TDs to 37 INTs, including 20-to-21 the last two years) and he’s not the most mobile of athletes. Even so, at times during his career was able to make critical plays with his legs to help keep possessions alive. Best thing for N.F.L. coaches it that all of mistakes can be fixed with consistent coaching, something that was absent for him during his college tenure.

Wisconsin’s all-time wins leader (31-10) will be on some team’s minicamp roster, so this weekend will be interesting for Stave, especially with this year not being a particularly strong draft class for quarterbacks. Stave had workouts with Arizona and New England, who may need to bring in a quarterback with the upcoming four game suspension of Tom Brady. The New York Jets could also be a spot for Stave as a backup if they can’t resign Ryan Fitzpatrick, and a dark horse team is Dallas, who could draft a quarterback somewhere in the mid-range rounds.  

Derek Watt: Round 7-UFA

Scouts will be intrigued by his last name but the issue with Watt is fullback is not a high valued position. In last year’s draft, only four fullbacks were drafted and none higher than the fourth round. Over the last five years, only 17 fullbacks have been picked.

After appearing in only eight games as a redshirt junior due to a broken bone in his foot, Watt started all 13 games last season and produced when counted on. Over the last two games he rushed eight times for 42 yards and registered two catches for 12 yards.

Watt’s stats may not be as good compared to the other fullbacks in the draft (Northwestern’s Dan Vitale is rated as the top fullback) and he wasn’t invited to the combine, but Watt competed in the East-West Shrine game and stood out at UW’s pro day with a 4.69 40-yard dash and 19 reps at 225 pounds on the bench. Watt is a four-year starter at fullback, so he knows the position well, and can catch passes out of the backfield and play special teams, something that should intrigue teams.

The last time the Badgers had a fullback drafted was in 2012 when Bradie Ewing was picked in the fifth round by Atlanta. Even though fullback might not be a priority position for a lot of teams, Watt has a chance to be drafted late because of his value as a versatile athlete.

One potential landing spot for Watt is Houston as he had a visit with the Texans in April, and the Texans might want to draft their star player’s brother. Despite the Packers drafting fullback Aaron Ripkowski last year, they may consider Watt to push Ripkowski and have insurance in case John Kuhn doesn’t sign.

Undrafted free agents

Michael Caputo

Caputo wasn’t known for his ball hawking skills (three career interceptions) but he was a smart football player and was rarely caught out of position, a reason why Wisconsin will miss his abilities and leadership this year. Those smarts were shown with two interceptions in the East-West Shrine game, earned him defensive MVP honors. Caputo doesn’t necessarily show great closing speed (4.62 40-yard dash at Wisconsin’s pro day) but he can play aggressive at the line of scrimmage or drop back into pass coverage. He also is a solid tackler who can finish plays.

Caputo could be drafted at the end of round seven but more likely be an undrafted free agent. Depending on what happens over the three days, Pittsburgh and San Diego might be good landing spots for him.

Jesse Hayes

Hayes’ production doesn’t jump off the page (12 career tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one pass deflection, and one forced fumble) and his 5.03 40-yard dash is slow for a linebacker, but he still earned a spot in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl game in California. After being buried on the depth chart at Wisconsin, it’ll be interesting to see how Hayes approaches this next phase. He could possibly get a look from Cincinnati or Tampa Bay due to his family connections (his uncle, Jonathan, is the Bengals’ tight end coach and his dad, Jay, is the Bucs’ defensive line coach).   

Darius Hillary

A three-year starter with 40 career starts and 54 career games, Hillary approved every year, even though his 19 pass deflections and one interception doesn’t validate that. Turn on the film and it’s evident that teams didn’t challenge him often as a senior, and he did well of limiting space between himself and the receiver. In the bowl game, Hillary limited USC’s Juju Smith-Schuster, who averaged 103.8 yards per game, to only four catches for 65 yards.

Although Hillary upper-body strength needs to improve (he only did eight reps on the bench), he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at UW’s pro day and used sound technique to make sure he wouldn’t get beat off the line of scrimmage. It’s part of the reason why he was rarely flagged for penalties and didn’t give up many big plays. Tennessee, Dallas, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Baltimore all need to add some cornerbacks.  

Tanner McEvoy

Is he a wide receiver or a safety? That is the question teams will be asking themselves when they evaluate the 6-6 prospect. Although McEvoy had a productive career at Wisconsin, he never could settle in at one position to truly master it.

McEvoy finished his career with 74 tackles, 17 pass deflections and six interceptions. McEvoy isn’t a strong tackler, as there were many instances this year where he struggled in one-on-one situations. He didn’t get much work at receiver, but his height, speed and athleticism makes him intriguing to teams. He didn’t run the 40-yard dash at Wisconsin’s pro day but ran 11.22 in the 60-yard shuttle and a 6.84 in the three-cone drill.

McEvoy will likely end on a practice squad as a team tries to develop him. It is difficult to know which teams will be intrigued by McEvoy’s potential but either Seattle or the New York Giants could be possible destinations for McEvoy.

Drew Meyer

Meyer leaves Wisconsin with his name written all over the Wisconsin punting record book and enters his professional career on a solid high note. After struggling his sophomore and junior year, Meyer averaged 39.7 yards per punt and had 14 punts of 50 yards. Meyer’s best skill was landing the football inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, placing 100 punts inside the 20 over his four year career.

Able to punt or be a confident holder for kicks, Meyer will try and follow in former UW punter Brad Nortman’s steps, as Nortman recently signed a four year, $8.8 million dollar contract with Jacksonville this offseason.  

Austin Traylor

It looked like Traylor was going to have a breakout season in his final year but ended up missing five games with a right arm injury. Consistently catching 100 passes each day over the summer to build confidence, Taylor became a reliable target for Stave when the two were on the field together, as Taylor registered 10 receptions for 156 yards and three touchdowns. In his final game, Traylor registered three receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown.

Traylor registered a 4.81 40-yard dash during Wisconsin’s pro day but he is a strong blocker, which will help him get a look. If his work ethic from this past summer carries over to whatever team signs him, he will give himself a good chance of making a team’s practice squad and get into a training camp. 


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