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Hogs Haven 2020 NFL Draft Coverage: Wisconsin Preview

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An early preview of the Wisconsin players who may be prominent in the 2020 NFL draft

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Wisconsin at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As part of Hogs Haven’s pre-draft coverage, I am going to preview one team per week throughout the college football season. One of the biggest games this weekend will be when 6-1 Wisconsin travels to Columbus to take on 7-0 Ohio State.

Among the Power Five teams, over the last five seasons, only Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio State have a higher winning percentage than Wisconsin, which has gone 48-13 since the start of the 2015 season.

Through the years, the Badgers have been known for their ability to churn our offensive lineman, such as Joe Thomas, Ryan Ramczyk, Travis Frederick, Gabe Carimi, and Kevin Zeitler.

This season, Wisconsin did not allow in single point over the first ten quarters of the season, and the defense pitched a shut out in four of their first six games.

So it’s curious to see how few Wisconsin players get drafted in the top-100. Other than TJ Watt and Ryan Ramczyk in 2017, Wisconsin has only had one other player drafted in the top three rounds since 2015.

Despite performing at or near All-American levels in college, linebackers Joe Schobert, Vince Biegel, Ryan Connelly, Jack Cichy were all drafted in the 4th round or later.

Just this past draft cycle, TJ Edwards (4 year starter, 367 career tackles, first-team All-American), Beau Benzschawel (49 consecutive starts, first-team All-American), and D’Cota Dixon (3 year starter) all went undrafted despite their great resumes while at Madison.

Will this year be different? I think so. If all eight prospects that I have as draftable end up being selected in 2020, it will mark the first time since 2001 that that many were taken in a single year.

POTENTIAL FIRST ROUND PROSPECTS

#23 Jonathan Taylor, RB (Jr.) 5’11/219

Taylor was ranked as just a 3-star prospect coming out of high school, but started in 13 out of 14 games as a true freshman. Voted the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2017, Taylor took over as Wisconsin’s starting tailback the second week of his freshman season, finishing with 1,977 yards while breaking Adrian Peterson’s single-season freshman FBS record.

For his encore performance, in 2018 Taylor won the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation’s best running back.

Per PFF, After earning an 89.2 overall grade in 2017, Taylor boosted his rating to a 92.2 last season, a two-year grade that leads all FBS running backs. Per PFF, Taylor has forced 133 missed tackles over the past two years, 66 in 2017 and 67 in 2018 while he’s also gained over 1,300 yards after contact in each of his two seasons.

Last Saturday, Taylor became the third player in FBS history to reach 5,000 rushing yards before the end of his junior season, and the fastest ever to reach the milestone. He currently has 5,128 career rushing yards on 763 carries.

From Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball, and Ron Dayne to Jonathan Taylor, the Badgers have a long history of great play from their running backs, but thus far, only Gordon has gone on to have success in the NFL.

Taylor has played like a Rd1 prospect, but there’s probably only a 50/50 chance he gets drafted that high. More and more NFL teams are subscribing to the philosophy that you can find a RB later in the draft, and the 2020 draft class appears to have many options (D’Andre Swift, Georgia; Travis Etienne, Clemson; J.K. Dobbins).

Factoring in Taylor’s high mileage, ball security issues (8 fumbles in 2017, 4 in 2018) and multiple drops in the passing game, I have him as a high day two pick rather than Rd1.

#61 Tyler Biadasz, Center (RS-Jr.) 6’3/320

Just a 3-star HS prospect, Biadasz’s only Division-1 scholarship offer was to the University of Wisconsin. After red-shirting his first season, he has started all 34 games at center over the past 2 1/2 seasons.

As just a red-shirt sophomore, Pro Football Focus graded Biadasz as the top center in the country in 2018, fueling speculation that he would declare for the 2019 NFL draft, but a hip injury would have prevented him from participating at the NFL Combine and/or pro day.

Over the summer, PFF explained, “No center comes close to matching what Biadasz has done over the past two seasons with the Badgers. While his run-blocking skills are second to none, he’s allowed just 17 career pressures on 692 reps in pass protection.”

In his summer scouting series, Dane Brugler wrote “A sound technician, Biadasz affects the game with his effort and attention to detail. Although he might not be an elite athlete, he has a decent first step and quickly finds his landmarks, relying on both his upper and lower halves to stymie defenders. Biadasz has a natural understanding of the proper biomechanics as a blocker, making him pro-ready and a possible first-round NFL draft choice.”

Despite his accolades, his hip injury and positional value caused me to pencil Biadasz in my top-50 but outside Rd1 over the summer. Additionally, he does not appear to be as athletic as the Pouncey brothers or Garrett Bradbury.

At this point he is fighting with Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey to be the top center prospect in the country, and is certainly a potential first rounder.

POSSIBLE DAY TWO (ROUNDS 2-3) PROSPECTS

#84 Jake Ferguson, TE (RS-Soph.) 6’5/246

Ferguson is the grandson of Wisconsin athletic director and former football head coach Barry Alvarez.

As just a red-shirt freshman, Ferguson ranked second on the team in catches (36), yards (456) and touchdowns (four) last season, despite making only two starts. Pro Football Focus rated Ferguson as the second-highest-graded tight end among returning FBS tight ends with at least 20 targets.

Through the first seven games this season, Ferguson has 20 receptions, 242 yards, 2 TDs. He was quarterback Jack Coan’s top target in the loss to Illinois, totaling 77 yards and a touchdown on five receptions.

Ferguson has an NFL-ready frame and is expected to be one of the most athletic tight ends potentially available. He ran a a 4.73-second 40-yard dash and 4.15 short shuttle during high school all-star SPARQ testing. Could be follow in the footsteps of another Big-10 redshirt sophomore - TJ Hockenson?

#56 Zack Baun, OLB (RS-Sr.) 6’3/235

As The Athletic Wisconsin writes, ”Baun is a classic example of Wisconsin’s approach. He took a redshirt season as a freshman in 2015, didn’t become a starter until last season as a redshirt junior and has turned himself into a midseason All-America selection as a senior. When he committed to Wisconsin, his only other scholarship offer was to FCS school South Dakota State.”

While he played in 2016, he made just 15 tackles before missing the entire 2017 season with a foot injury. Baun’s breakout season came last year, after he finished third on the team last season with 63 tackles in 2018 (7.5 tackles for loss with 2.5 sacks).

This season, he has 30 tackles, including 11 TFL, with 6.5 sacks, 8 QB hurries, 2 fumbles forced, and 1 Int.

Baun isn’t asked to do much in man coverage, but when he does, he generally shows both awareness and ability. One comparison I saw was to the Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

LIKELY DAY THREE (ROUNDS 4-7) PROSPECTS

#71 Cole Van Lanen, OT (RS-Jr.) 6’5/312

A consensus 4-star prospect, Van Lanen only started one game at left tackle last season, but still appeared in all 13 games while rotating responsibility at left tackle with Jon Dietzen, who retired due to health reasons. Even though he was a part-time starter, Pro Football Focus charted Van Lanen with the highest grade for offensive tackles during the 2018 season.

Per PFF, Van Lanen “returns as the nation’s highest-graded tackle overall and his run-blocking grade of 90.0 is a full 9.0 points higher than the next-closest tackle. In pass protection, he allowed just six total pressures across 223 snaps.”

Most preseason draft writers remained skeptical, and now that Van Lanen is entrenched as the Badgers’ full time starting LT, I think he has become exposed as benefiting from a run-heavy scheme while somewhat lumbering in pass-protection.

In order to beat Ohio State, Van Lanen simply has to keep the nation’s top pass rusher, Chase Young, as quiet as possible.

#87 Quintez Cephus, WR (RS-Jr.) 6’1/207

After starting 13 games over his first two seasons, Cephus missed the final five games in 2017 after suffering leg injury then the entire 2018 season for disciplinary/legal reasons. Cephus was dismissed from Wisconsin after he was charged with two counts of sexual assault, but those charges were dropped and the wideout applied (sued the school) to be reinstated.

His 2019 stats of 24 receptions, 353 yards, and 3 TDs, while modest, are more a product of a run-heavy offense.

There are some character concerns here, and some teams will not consider him in any round, but there is enough talent to win at the catch point, that Cephus will probably be drafted sometime during the draft’s third day.

#97 Isaiahh Loudermilk, DT (RS-Jr.) 6’7/307

Just a 3-star HS prospect by 247 Sports, ESPN and Rivals, Loudermilk played 8-man football while in high school in Kansas.

In 2018, Loudermilk played in nine games with six starts at defensive end, finishing with 15 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and three pass breakups.

At 6-foot-7 and 307-pounds, Loudermilk has the prototypical build for a 3-4 DE and he causes serious problems for an offensive line. While he should probably return for his final season, it may be hard for all 32 teams to pass on Loudermilk if he were to forgo his final season.

#25 Eric Burrell, Safety (Jr.) 6’0/195

Those around the program considered sophomore safety Scott Nelson to be the Badgers’ top safety, but he suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the season. No returning Badgers defensive back had more tackles than Burrell’s 42 last season and he is now the top safety.

There has been some good and bad when watching him, and I am interested in evaluating him further against the Ohio State offense.

OTHERS/UDFA

#54 Chris Orr, ILB (RS-Sr.) 6’0/225

Quietly, the ILB position has become tradition at Wisconsin, with Ryan Connelly, Jack Cichy, and TJ Edwards each having outstanding careers in Madison.

Despite that, due to injuries, Orr found himself starting six games as a true freshman in 2015. Unfortunately, Orr suffered season-ending torn ACL on first defensive snap of the 2016 season.

A part-time starter during the 2017-18 seasons, Orr had made 16 starts coming into the 2019, and has become a more consistently disruptive force this season.

While suffering their first loss of the season to Illinois, Orr led Wisconsin with nine tackles, racked up three sacks, and forced a fumble.

Through the first seven games, Orr has 38 tackles (20 solos), 8 TFLs, 8 sacks, 6 QB hurries, 2 pass breakups, and 2 fumbles forced. His eight sacks leads the team, and is tied for 6th in the nation.

Just a 3-star HS recruit, Orr is one of those tricky Wisconsin players to evaluate. While he is clearly disruptive on film, and his resume is better than at least four of the guys I have above him, I don’t view him as a better prospect than TJ Edwards, a first-team All-American in 2017, who went undrafted this past spring.

#17 Jack Coan, QB (Jr.) 6’3/221

In 2018, Wisconsin’s passing attack was one of the worst in the country last year (118 out of 129). After Alex Hornibrook’s transfer, Coan has enjoyed a breakout season. Through seven games, Coan has completed 127-of-167 (76%) of his passes with 9 touchdowns vs just 1 interception, while showing the ability to serve as a competent Big Ten starter.

While certainly an upgrade vs the Badgers’ recent quarterback play, at this point, it would be a huge surprise for Coan to bypass his senior season.

Finally, Wisconsin starts a pair of red-shirt sophomores at corner, but neither Faion Hicks (#1) or Deron Harrell (#8) appear to be candidates to leave early, when each still have two seasons of eligibility remaining.