Vince Biegel woke up Saturday morning, looked at the television, and tried not to be disappointed.
“The Packers have 3 minutes left on the clock and I was like, ‘Shoot, the Packers aren’t taking me with the first pick,” he said.
The Wisconsin Badgers outside linebacker and Wisconsin Rapids native had thrown a draft party at his home the night before with friends and family, only to go undrafted in the second and third rounds.
“I was just patiently waiting, patiently waiting…. and obviously my call doesn’t come (Friday) night. But one thing is, I’m a very religious guy and I trust in the process, and I know that the Lord works in mysterious ways. And I knew everything was going to work out for a reason.”
His patience and faith were about to be rewarded.
With a clear need for a pass rusher following the free-agent departures of Julius Peppers and Datone Jones, Biegel was hoping the team he grew up rooting for would call him as it kicked off the fourth round of the NFL Draft. He watched the screen as seconds ticked off the clock.
“All of a sudden, my phone blows up,” Biegel said excitedly. “It says Green Bay, Wis., and it’s the Packers on the line and I’m like, I could not believe it. And you know, you can’t write it better than that. I mean, it’s crazy!”
Football fans across the state had high hopes that Green Bay would add a Badgers pass rusher to their roster. Few thought that would be Biegel.
There was much head shaking and lamenting through the state of Wisconsin when the Packers passed on Biegel’s more-heralded teammate, fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt with the 29th overall pick in the first round Thursday night. But in a twist, it is Biegel whose pro football journey will continue in Titletown. More so, he was selected with the fourth-round pick the Packers acquired from the Cleveland Browns when they traded out of the first round, passing on Watt to ultimately select Washington cornerback Kevin King with the 33rd selection.
“I grew up in the state of Wisconsin,” Biegel said. “I dreamed about being a Wisconsin Badger first -- and then obviously became a Badger -- and I dreamed of one day playing in the NFL. If you looked at old pictures of me growing up, it was all green and gold. I was a Cheesehead, and I was as probably the most Wisconsin as you can be. So to be able to say I played Wisconsin football in high school football, college football and now in the NFL, this is every Wisconsin kid’s dream.”
The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Biegel might not possess Watt’s pure athleticism but he’s no slouch, having clocked a 4.67 40 at the NFL Combine – which, for perspective, is the same time put up by Green Bay Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews. Biegel closed out his Badgers career with 191 stops and 21.5 sacks – the latter good for seventh all-time at UW. He tied a school record by playing in 54 games, with 40 starts.
And while he might not have the NFL bloodlines Watt does as the younger brother of both a Chargers fullback and three-time NFL Defensive MVP for the Texans, Biegel does hail from a football family. His father, Rocky, played linebacker at BYU; an uncle, T.D., was a fullback for the Cougars. Even his grandfather, Ken, played Division III football at UW-Eau Claire before becoming a Wisconsin and national high school hall of fame coach.
Biegel started 12 games for the Badgers in 2016 (he missed two with a broken foot) and was a key part of a unit that ranked No. 4 nationally in scoring defense, No. 7 in total defense and No. 3 in rushing defense. He notched 44 tackles, including six tackles for losses, four sacks and seven quarterback hurries. Biegel closed out his career earning second-team all-Big Ten honors for the second time. And when Green Bay was looking to add some juice to the edge of their defense on Day 3 of the draft, Biegel was exactly who they were looking for.
“When I visited Wisconsin for their pro day, I was very impressed with his overall makeup and what he could do,” said Alonzo Highsmith, the Packers’ senior personnel executive. “He was very versatile. He was quick, he was athletic, very flexible athlete, and I liked the way he went about his business at the pro day. The one striking thing that I thought about him when I watched him was the way he approached the game. I’ve been doing this for 19 years, I used to work the Combine for 10 years down on the floor with athletes, and I’ve always watched how they approached the game. When you watch Adrian Peterson, you watch Clay Matthews, you watch all these guys, you watch how they approach the workouts, and I was very impressed in the way he approached his workout and the way he went about doing things. He checks all the major boxes.”
Vince Biegel isn’t T.J. Watt. But he is a Green Bay Packer, and both he and his new employer can’t wait to see what he brings to their defense.
“All the great guys that I’ve ever been around that played this game, there’s something about them makes them who they are. Sometime – not all the time – sometimes you feel that in players. You go to a school and you watch this guy’s professionalism, how he approaches and his demeanor and all that kind of stuff, and he’s been a good football on film, you put all of that together, you go, ‘Oh, man, there’s something about this guy.’ I’m not just saying that about Biegel but that’s just the whole process in this business,” Highsmith said.
“What I’m trying to say is when you work out a kid like Biegel, whose intensity level is up here, who plays hard, who does all the things that you measure and he runs well, he does this, you say, ‘You know what? We may have something here.’”
Packers and Badgers fans will know soon enough.