On Wisconsin? Keep an eye on these Badgers

Three Badgers warrant Ted Thompson's attention during Day 2 of next month's draft.

The Green Bay Packers rarely draft players from the University of Wisconsin.

The best Badgers player in the upcoming draft, offensive tackle Joe Thomas, will be selected long before the Packers spend their first-round pick.

After Thomas, there aren't any Badgers players who the scouts are drooling over.

Add it all up, and chances are Mark Tauscher will remain the only former UW player on the Packers.

With that said, there are a few Badgers who Ted Thompson should consider picking up during the second day of next month's draft or as an undrafted free agent.

Linebacker Mark Zalewski could add some fire and toughness to a bad special-team unit. Safety Roderick Rogers has the coverage ability to find a spot in the defensive backfield. Quarterback John Stocco's 29-7 record as a starter is hard to ignore.

All three players are flawed, which is why they'll be late-round draft picks, if they're drafted at all.

Zalewski has no chance of playing linebacker in Green Bay, at least not right away. Not with Nick Barnett in the middle, A.J. Hawk on the weak side and Brady Poppinga on the strong side. The Packers are high on second-year player Abdul Hodge, as well, but Zalewski could find a niche as the fifth linebacker on the roster and, more importantly, a demon on the coverage teams.

Zalewski doesn't have the athleticism to be a sideline-to-sideline defender, but he was smart and tough enough to be a productive middle linebacker on one of the nation's strongest defenses.

"I'm very physical, I can react very quickly, real sudden," Zalewski said in an interview with Scout.com last month. "Throughout my years, I've seen guard pulls, I've seen tackle pulls, and I think I've really become a smart player. I've started understanding how those different looks by the offensive lineman, no matter what it is, kind of determines where the ball's going to go and what play it is. I think I can really react and see that quickly."

Playing with a chip on your shoulder is always a benefit on special teams. Zalewski has one after not being invited to the scouting combine.

"I think once we start getting pads on and practicing, I think I'm going to have something to prove, and I'm going to go out there and fly around," Zalewski, Scout.com's 15th-ranked middle linebacker, said at UW's pro day on March 7.

With teams passing more and more, Rogers' coverage skills should be coveted, especially on a Packers defense that gave up a lot of big plays. He has the speed to break up the long ball — he ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at UW's pro day — but the scouts are down on his instincts and his tackling ability, which is a must for a safety.

"(I have) no doubts about what I can do in the NFL. I just want to go there and show what I can do," Rogers, UW's defensive quarterback last season and Scout.com's 12th-ranked safety, said after his workout.

Unlike Zalewski and Rogers, who weren't invited to the combine, Stocco got another chance to perform in front of the scouts at UW's pro day. Stocco didn't wow any of them with his ability to throw the deep ball or his ability to scramble for 5 yards on third-and-4, but all Stocco did with the Badgers was win.

"His whole deal is not about when and where he gets drafted, it's about once he gets to training camp and shows what he can do," said Reggie McKenzie, the Packers' director or pro personnel. "Because he may not have the strongest arm, he's not the biggest, (but) he'll overcome that like he's always done."

If former Badgers like Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi can earn paychecks in the NFL, why not the record-setting Stocco, who's Scout.com's 12th-ranked quarterback?

"That's the No. 1 criteria I look for. I don't know about anybody else. If you can win, that's what I want to know," Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said at the combine. "This guy's not only won, he's won in the Big Ten, at the University of Wisconsin. That's great football. Those guys are well-coached, they understand how to work hard. So, he's got a chance."

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.

Packer Report Top Stories