Wisconsin improved its streak to 39 straight seasons with a former student-athlete drafted when T.J. Watt and Ryan Ramczyk became first-round selections late Thursday night. But considering the Badgers are known as a development program, Wisconsin has produced plenty of late-round selections that have found a way to produce early in the N.F.L.
The 2016 draft is a perfect example. Wisconsin had only two players selected, none in the first three rounds, but saw Joe Schobert (pick 99) play in all 16 games, including four starts, for the Cleveland Browns and sixth-round pick Derek Watt (16 games) cleared the way for former UW tailback Melvin Gordon to rush for nearly 1,000 yards last season.
With the N.F.L. draft continuing with second and third rounds tonight and rounds four through seven Saturday, here are our projections of where Wisconsin’s sleeper picks could wind up.
Vince Biegel: Round 3-4
After Ramczyk and Watt hear their names called, Biegel will likely be the third Badger to be drafted. One of the emotional leaders of Wisconsin’s defense last year, Biegel played a role in making sure Wisconsin was one of the top defenses in the country. Despite missing two games to a foot injury he still managed to register six tackles for loss and his four sacks were second on the team. Switching from boundary linebacker to field (Schobert’s old position), Biegel’s presence commanded extra attention from offenses, which opened the door for Watt to have a banner year.
Biegel appeared in 54 career games (40 starts) for Wisconsin as its clear his motor consistently runs, allowing him to consistently be in position to make a tackle. While not the most explosive athlete, Biegel’s passion for the game, work ethic, and experience/knowledge to diagnose players, take proper angles and be a sound tackler helped him finish his career with 39.5 tackles for loss and 21.5 sacks.
Biegel will need to improve his pass coverage (zero interceptions and five pass breakups in his career) and continue to gain strength to help him shed N.F.L. caliber blockers to get into the backfield.
Losing Zach Orr to retirement and Terrell Suggs getting up in age, the Baltimore Ravens will need to look to replenish the talent at linebacker. Biegel might be a strong selection to add to that linebacker room as he develops.
Corey Clement: Round 5-6
Clement was able to rebound from a disaster junior season to lead Wisconsin in rushing with 1,375 yards on 271 carries and had 13 touchdowns, but his injury history will be looked at carefully by teams. When healthy, Clement showed he can be relied on to carry the running game, as he rushed for over 100 yards in seven of Wisconsin’s last eight conference games.
In addition to the injury history, Clement’s ball security struggled at points and he wasn’t a big factor in the running game over the course of his career, registering only 24 career catches. If Clement can’t be relied on third down as a receiver out of the backfield or to pick up blitzes, it will prevent him from becoming a three-down back. Clement also didn’t help himself by running a 4.68 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, even though he improved that number to 4.54 at Wisconsin’s pro day.
The running back draft class is strong this year but Clement has the tools to develop into a player who can find success at the next level. Baltimore, Green Bay, Minnesota or Philadelphia are four teams that need tailbacks but will likely address the position early in the draft. In the end Houston could be the fit, considering Alfred Blue was second on the team with 408 rushing yards. Clement going to Texas would give him the chance to sit and learn, not to mention the possibility of him cracking the running back rotation.
Sojourn Shelton: Round 5-7
Shelton was able to make an impact on the field the moment he stepped on campus as an early enrollee. Starting a school record 51 games and matched a school record with 54 games played, Shelton registered nine career interceptions and 32 pass break ups, the fourth most by a Wisconsin player. Shelton’s experience and technique rarely gets him beat off the line of scrimmage, as his quickness and taking proper angles helps him read a quarterback and gives him a chance to make a play on the ball.
Height is a drawback for Shelton, who is listed at 5-9 but still showed the ability to make plays on the football against the opposing team's top receiver. In Wisconsin’s win over Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl, Shelton was able to slow down Corey Davis (the fifth overall pick) to six receptions for 73 yards and a miracle touchdown.
Whether a team sees him as a nickel cornerback or an outside defender will impact where Shelton ends up. Teams like Chicago, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh have a need for a player like Shelton.
Dare Ogunbowale: Round 7-UFA
Ogunbowale is still developing as a running back but for the former walk-on defensive back is a project who has shown improvement over his last two years at the position. While he needs to develop as a north-south runner, Ogunbowale has demonstrated the ability to make people miss and get to the outside. He posted a 4.58 second 40-yard dash at Wisconsin’s pro day, an improvement of the 4.65 40-yard dash from the scouting combine.
Ogunbowale’s biggest strength is his ability to consistently catch the football out of the backfield. Over the last two years he has a combined 60 receptions for 507 yards and two touchdowns. Ogunbowale’s ability to be relied on as a receiver is certainly a plus and will make him attractive to different N.F.L. teams, especially considering the success of New England tailback James White – a former Badgers standout – in last year’s Super Bowl. Ogunbowale’s ability to catch and block will need to transition to the N.F.L. in order for him to earn reps.
Talented enough to make an impact on special teams at the beginning, Ogunbowale could land with a team like Kansas City, Buffalo or Tampa Bay.
Bart Houston: UFA
Houston’s last season at Wisconsin was a summary of how his college career went - always willing to do anything for the betterment of the team. Despite losing the starting job after earning it to begin his senior season, Houston’s work ethic and attitude helped him be a factor in Wisconsin’s two quarterback system down the stretch. Houston is still developing as a quarterback but has a strong arm and ended the season without an interception on 57 straight passes.
It will be interesting to see where Houston lands as San Francisco, Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders or Miami could be landing spots.
Leo Musso: UFA
Named the team’s most valuable player after registering a team-leading five interceptions and second on the team with 74 tackles, Musso certainly made the most of his last season. Musso is able to read the football in the air and is able to make a few athletic plays on the football to haul in some acrobatic interceptions.
Like Shelton, Musso’s biggest drawback is his height (listed at 5-10) but still shows he can be effective. While not invited to the N.F.L. combine, Musso posted a 4.57 second 40-yard dash and had a 40.5-inch vertical jump, which would have placed him third among safeties who participated at the Combine. Moreover, Musso’s 6.56-second three-cone drill, would have tied for first among secondary players.
Willing to do whatever it takes to make a team, Musso will need to get stronger in order to have a chance to make a play in the open field. He will get a chance with a N.F.L. team, but likely will have to start on a practice squad in order to continue to develop. Chicago, Miami and Minnesota all have a need for safety but they will likely address the position through the draft. However, Musso’s work ethic and the steps he took as a player from his junior to senior season will allow him to fight for a roster spot.
Rob Wheelwright: UFA
After dealing with injuries over the first three years at Wisconsin Wheelwright appeared in all 14 games and registered 34 receptions for 448 yards and one touchdown. Wheelwright wasn’t invited to the Combine but competed in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where he registered three receptions for 27 yards.
Wheelwright showed flashes of how dominant he could be at the receiver position but his injury history prevented him from making a name for himself earlier in his career. Wheelwright may not have blazing speed but he ran a 4.54 second 40-yard dash at Wisconsin’s pro day.
Having shown the ability to make some athletic catches at the ball’s highest point, Wheelwright will need to continue to work on his routes and being able to create the separation he needs against the defender. If he can stay healthy and make the plays he made over the final 15 games of his career, Wheelwright will have a chance to make a team’s practice squad. Oakland, Kansas City, Cincinnati or Cleveland need receivers and could be landing spots for Wheelwright.