Tag Archive: Wisconsin Badgers


Dominic_RaiolaWhat year is it? Oh, it’s 2013? Good to know, because Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola set us back a few years today before and after the Lions began their game against the Green Bay Packers.

The Wisconsin Band, one of the best in the nation I must say, typically performs for at least one Packers home game during the season. As someone who grew up across the street from three boys who have ALL played the tuba and marched in the band I am very familiar with this tradition and I have seen numerous pictures of them during these events. In fact, my best friend even got to do a Lambeau Leap into the crowd after his performance (a childhood dream for any die hard Packer fan). The Packer faithful love the band, and the band loves performing at these events. It is truly a win-win, but that wasn’t the case today thanks to Raiola.

According to a Wisconsin tuba player, Raiola and his teammates were engaged in their pregame warm-ups on the field near the goal line when he turned around and called him and the other tubas “Fat mother f**kers” and told them that “they sucked.” According to that tuba player no one in the band had done anything to provoke him, and no other band members I spoke with witnessed anything that could have provoked Raiola. The tuba player I spoke with made sure to point out that the rest of the band hadn’t even been on the field yet, and none of the tuba players said anything to him, so no one in the band could have provoked Raiola prior to him making those comments.

As the band was preparing to play the National Anthem another band member told me Raiola was yelling at him, saying such things such as “Hey fat guy, you want a hot dog?” When this band member did not acknowledge him, he continued to yell at other band members within earshot of him until the band began to play. A third band member told me Raiola was calling a band member near him a “fat fu**” prior to their pregame performance as well.

After the band’s halftime performance multiple band members I spoke with told me he and multiple other band members vividly heard Raiola ridicule a trombone player’s weight while they were performing. One band member reported hearing a female member of the band say “Hey number 51,” referring to Raiola, which multiple band members told me he responded to by calling her “the c-word” as they were walking back to their seats.

This is all in addition to this facebook status which has been shared 243 times as of this writing:

Zach York Facebook Status

According to this band member Raiola made comments regarding his sexuality, as well as other insults involving his sister and recently deceased mother. An additional band member confirmed this story, adding that one such insult was “[Raiola] was going to take his trumpet and shove it up his sister’s p***y” in addition to Raiola “repeatedly calling him a f*g.” According to this band member “as soon as we stopped for our position to play the National Anthem I just heard [Raiola] yelling continually at him.”  Multiple other members of the band reported hearing Raiola uttering homophobic slurs throughout his unprovoked denigrating of the students prior to the National anthem.

This is a developing story and as I confirm more information regarding this story I will be sure to update this post. Raiola, 34, is the longtime starting center for the Detroit Lions. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2001 NFL Draft and has been a regular starter since the 2002 season. He played college football at the University of Nebraska.

It is worth noting that while Raiola’s comments were completely uncalled for, a band member confirmed to me that Lions safety Louis Delmas apologized to him and other members of the band for Raiola’s actions and assured them that he had spoken with him about it. He also added that he enjoyed their performance.

Update: 11:31 am CT 10/7/13

For those asking, I have emailed the Lions director of Media Relations for comment and have not heard back as of this time. At least one other writer has attempted to reach them for comment and has not heard yet back either.

Update: 11:37 am CT 10/7/13

The Lions have issued a statement, this is via Chris McCosky of Detroit News and DetroitNews.com:
@cmccosky: Lions statement on Raiola: “Those reports are extremely inconsistent with the standard of behavior we expect from our players.”
@cmccosky: More from Lions: “We currently are gathering more information and will respond further when appropriate.”

Update: 11:48 CT 10/7/13

Jay Sorgi (@jsorgi) interviewed the father of a band member who witnessed it, listen to the interview and read his article on it here: http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/green-bay-packers/Report-Lions-player-tosses-epithets-at-UW-Band-during-Packers-game-226755831.html

Update: 12:05 CT 10/7/13

My colleague Jeff Risdon weighs in on the Raiola comments: http://www.detroitlionsdraft.com/2013/10/raiola-and-the-band/

Update: 12:20 pm CT 10/7/13

Jay Sorgi interviews a band member who heard the comments Raiola made: http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/green-bay-packers/Report-Lions-player-tosses-epithets-at-UW-Band-during-Packers-game-226755831.html

Update: 1:53 pm CT 10/8/13

Dominic Raiola has issued an apology. Here is the link courtesy of Jay Sorgi: http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/green-bay-packers/Lions-player-apologizes-for-attacks-UW-Band-members-during-Packers-game-226935431.html

Update: 1:58 pm CT 10/8/13

This will likely be the final update, Pro Football Talk is reporting that the Lions will not discipline Raiola and that he is making a donation to the Wisconsin Band program. No word on how much money he is donating. http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/10/08/dominic-raiola-donates-to-wisconsin-band-wont-be-disciplined-2/

Johnny Manziel: Enough Is Enough

First of all, I just want to say that I am a little frustrated with myself for even writing this article. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject of Johnny Manziel and the outrageous attention he has been receiving this offseason, and as a result I am very passionate on the subject. But as much as I have wanted to write this article for the past few weeks, I also regret doing it because it is just adding to the list of articles and news stories talking about him, and that is not something I am proud of doing. I am proud of what I have written here, but I am not proud of continuing to excessively discuss Manziel and everything that has happened to him. I think we have gone beyond overkill, and I think we all as members of the media and society need to take a step back and think about what we are doing and the impact it could have. However, in order to do that, I must talk about myself a bit to help create some context for why I think the way I do.

It seems pretty clear to me that Manziel is overwhelmed by everything that has happened to him, and I can’t say I blame him one bit. I am a NFL Draft analyst and I pride myself on finding potential stars or breakout players before the season starts, and even a week or two into the season I had never heard of Johnny Manziel. In that sense, watching him play and develop over the course of the season was beautiful to me. I didn’t see it coming at all, and that was refreshing. As I strive longer and harder to turn covering or participating in football into my long term career I am finding that making football my job removes a little bit of the fun from watching it. I can’t help but look up players I have never watched before when they make a play that sticks out to me. I can’t help but analyze the plays as they unfold, and I find it harder and harder to turn off the scout inside me and just watch the game to enjoy it. In a weird way, that is why I think I, in some miniscule way, understand what Manziel is attempting to grapple with.

Let me be very clear: I have never played a down of organized football. I worked for Beloit College’s football team for three years doing film work while I attended the school, but I have never played. I realize that makes what I just asserted seem completely ridiculous, but I have no interest in deceiving people by making them think that I too was a superbly talented quarterback who had to struggle to comprehend and control his own fame. That has never happened to me. However, I did grow up in affluent suburb called Edina in the state of Minnesota and I think I understand, in very small way, how Manziel has grown up. I lived in the same house for my entire life until two years ago when my parents told me they were getting a divorce. I visited during my school’s October break my senior year of college and everything was the same. My parents were clearly unhappy, my basketball hoop was still intact in the backyard, and all of my possessions were in my room or downstairs in front of our big screen TV. I was happy with things remaining the way they were, but I knew they wouldn’t be that way for long. When I came back for Thanksgiving just a month later my mom had moved into a new house 30 minutes away in the country and my dad had moved into an apartment ten minutes away, but still in the city of Edina. My house was empty and on the market, and I felt like I was robbed of the chance to say goodbye to it. It was my own fault for not doing so ahead of time, but I still I felt like I had missed the chance to pack up all of my things one possession at a time, reminisce about all the memories I had made in that house, and then make my peace as I moved on with my life. When I go home I still drive by my old house, thinking about all the memories I made living there for over 21 years of my life, and how lucky I was to have not had to move out of my family home until I had nearly graduated from college. But this clarity and perception of what was happening has only come to me after having been removed from that time period, and I am hopeful that the same will be true for Manziel, though by then I am afraid it might be too late.

Let me pose you all a question. How often after a tragic event happens to a celebrity or someone who is perceived to “have it all” do we all say “it’s always the happy ones” or “no one saw it coming”? I did not anticipate Junior Seau, a Hall of Fame linebacker with thousands of adoring fans, committing suicide as he unsuccessfully grappled with his life post-football. The point is, it’s not “always the happy ones,” it is always the ones that are perceived as happy from the outside, from fans, and from the media. As unfortunate as this is, Wright Thompson’s brilliant article on Manziel and his family have made it obvious: A tragic event may be coming. There are signs, the writing is on the wall, and yet no one is letting up. Everyone who writes about him continues to push him further and further to the brink. Why? Because he won a Heisman trophy? Because he tries to escape his own persona by living a normal college life? Because he makes mistakes??

I realize many people think Manziel is spoiled, and as a result have absolutely no sympathy for him. After all, he and his family are wealthy, if he wants something he can buy it, and even if he doesn’t succeed as a NFL quarterback he likely won’t ever be working two low-paying jobs just to pay the electric bill. But isn’t there an old adage that money doesn’t buy happiness, or did I just make that up? Just because you or I – complete outsiders as it pertains to Johnny Manziel’s life – think to ourselves, “Wow, if I had everything he has then I would be very happy with my life,” doesn’t mean that Manziel is happy. That likely has everything to do with his perspective as well as your own, but I don’t think there is anyone who has read an article about him that would argue that he doesn’t seem like he is troubled, or perhaps even deeply troubled. I have no proof of this, but I believe Manziel is partying and trying to have fun to escape the reality that he has stumbled into. And you know what? I don’t blame him. I’ve never been under nearly the same microscope that Manziel has been under, and yet I have gone out and partied to try to deal with the stresses of my life in a similar, albeit likely less extravagant, fashion. This all dawned on me over this past weekend that I spent in Madison, Wisconsin with my best friend since I was in middle school.

I woke up on Friday, July 26th and as I do most days I got up, grabbed my phone, and checked Twitter. I tend to get on Twitter and read my timeline like a personalized newspaper, catching up on things that may have happened over the hours that I was sleeping. It may seem ridiculous, but there have been many nights I have gone to bed at 2:00 or even 3:00 am and woken up the next morning behind on a story regarding a suspension, an arrest, or even at times, a death. That was the case on the morning of July, 30th when I woke up and saw an ESPN alert that Texas A&M’s Polo Manukainiu, and incoming Utah Ute Gaius Vaenuke had tragically lost their lives in a one vehicle accident.

However, last Friday, something much different happened. I looked at my Twitter notifications and to my shock and awe David Pollack, an ESPN analyst and member of the College Football Gameday crew, had followed me on Twitter. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was to me. I watched Pollack dominate the SEC as a Georgia linebacker as I was growing up, and I watched him blossom into a very good NFL player prior to his career ending neck injury. I was relieved to see him land on his feet with ESPN and continue to be involved with football, something not all football players manage to do after their careers end whether on their own terms or someone else’s. Not only was I honored to have him follow me at all, but he was just shy of 95,000 followers (he has since exceeded that total) and follows under 100 people. It absolutely blew my mind, and I really couldn’t wrap my head around it. I immediately texted my best friend, asked him what he was doing this weekend, and in minutes it was decided that I would be heading up to Madison, Wisconsin – one of the country’s greatest college towns – to hang out with him on his last full weekend before he went back to school. I needed to get away and share the absurdity not only of David Pollack following me on Twitter, but of Bomani Jones, a man I have been reading and watching on ESPN First Take since I was in high school (if not longer) following me on Twitter two weeks beforehand. I may not have been Johnny Manziel but, not to toot my own horn, I felt like I was getting popular on Twitter. I began to think about whether or not I should get a personal account for my high school and college friends to interact with me on, something I never thought I would do, that I honestly thought was a ridiculously egotistical thing for anyone to do when I first created my NFL Draft Blog and Twitter account. “Why would I ever need a personal account and a professional one? Will I ever be that egomaniacal?” It seemed absurd to me, and yet here I was, contemplating the very thing that just a few years ago I practically swore I would never take myself seriously enough to do.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, the craziness did not end there. I went out with my best friend and some of his friends from college and had a great night. It really helped me get out of my own head. I woke up at 8:00 am the next morning, and while my friend slept in the other room, I began working on my Arkansas Razorbacks prospect preview by watching their entire Spring Game on YouTube prior to watching the games I have on my external hard drive. I completed my evaluations of about half of the players that I wanted to include in the preview, but decided to delve deeper into my evaluation of Travis Swanson, Arkansas’ highly touted senior center prospect who I have seen regarded as the top center in this class. He has all the size, football IQ and leadership capability you could want in a center, so without having scouted him it made sense that he would be discussed in such a way. However, upon watching him play I was disappointed. I expected a 1st or 2nd round player, but I felt like I was watching a 4th rounder. That shouldn’t sound like an insult (though I realize it likely comes off that way) because being drafted at all is a monumental accomplishment. I elected to tweet my thoughts about Swanson being a “mid-rounder”, not knowing what would ensue that afternoon.

A local TV reporter in Arkansas happened to see my tweet and in his response he casually mentioned that my opinion of Swanson seemed to fly in the face of what the Razorbacks’ new head coach, Bret Bielema, seemed to think of the senior center. We had a brief, civil discussion, and as a result I received tweets from a few Arkansas fans eager for me to further explain my position. Understandably so. I continued to watch Arkansas games to further improve my evaluation of Swanson as well as the rest of his teammates that I was including in the preview, when all of a sudden I saw a new interaction pop up on Twitter. I paused the game, opened the Twitter tab on my laptop, and to my complete surprise, Bret Bielema had seen the tweet, looked at my Twitter page and sent a response. Without quoting it directly, he essentially insinuated that because I was a “former” draft analyst at the web site NFL Draft Monsters (where I cut my teeth in my coverage of the NFL Draft) my opinion should not be trusted, and that his evaluation of his center was correct. I was not offended by this, rather I enjoyed the confrontation and another insinuation that I simply didn’t know what I was talking about. I thrive in those situations as Alex Holmes and his family found out when they attacked my credibility as it pertained to my evaluation of his brother, Khaled Holmes, after I projected him as a 4th round draft pick in June 2012 prior to his being drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 draft. I simply couldn’t believe that Bielema, the former head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers (whose town I was staying in for the weekend) and the new head man of an SEC football team had taken the time to look at my Twitter profile and respond to my tweet, even if it wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence in my skills as a draft analyst. I respectfully responded and, as I expected, received no response from him, but that didn’t stop a number of angry Arkansas fans from calling me a hater, looking through my past scouting reports to find guys that I had missed on, or simply telling me I had no idea what I was talking about. My phone went off with new tweets for the rest of the afternoon, as well as text messages from friends who thought it was absolutely hilarious that I had ruffled Bielema’s feathers enough to get a response out of him.

As the night wore on I went out to have some fun and get my mind off of this new Twitter interaction, and after a couple particularly specific shots at my credibility I responded to a couple of angry Arkansas fans in a less than professional manner. I didn’t swear at them, but I did use a heavy dose of sarcasm and I was less than nice to them. I was tired of being attacked, particularly since they hadn’t even gotten to read my analysis of Swanson because I hadn’t even written it yet! The next night I again went out with my friends and had fun, but unfortunately got in an argument with a Vikings fan who disagreed with my selection of David Fales in a Twitter mock draft I had been participating in. He wasn’t being very respectful, and I was pretty short on patience after my bout with the unhappy Arkansas fans the day before, so I wasn’t very respectful back. It was just another ridiculous Twitter interaction, and I was starting to get overwhelmed by the whole thing. This was capped off beautifully by gaining a number of influential followers who were beat writers or reporters in Arkansas and Kentucky following discussion of the Razorback prospects and the release of my Kentucky Wildcats prospect preview on Monday, July 29th. That same day, I was followed by Chris Smith and Trey Flowers, two very talented starting defensive ends on the Razorbacks, just days after their coach insinuated I wasn’t exactly credible. The brightest moment of all was, without a doubt, one of my all time favorite players, Alge Crumpler, following me on Twitter. Crumpler was a star tight end on the Falcons back when Mike Vick was on the team, and I have been a huge fan of his for at least the past ten years. Seeing him finally follow me on Twitter was a huge moment for me, and yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds. But later, to top it all off, I got dragged into a pissing match that a New York Post beat writer found himself in after mistakenly tweeting about the read option being a formation, rather than just a play. If you had told me on Thursday night when I went to bed that within the next four days I would be followed by all those people, tweeted at by Bielema and involved in any of those absurd arguments, I would have told you that you were crazy.  And yet…here I was.

I am telling you all of this not to try to put you to sleep, not to try to act like I am a hot shot, but to get all of this off my chest in what I consider to be a safe space on my blog. I may not be proud of this, but all of that overwhelmed me. I began to realize that I couldn’t just tweet whatever I wanted without ever having to face the consequences of the things or people I was tweeting about seeing my thoughts. I finally understood that I had to be more professional on Twitter, and though I had learned those lessons previously, I had never learned them as intensely as I had this particular weekend. And finally, I am telling you this because this is the context that I needed to paint for you so that I could prove to you that in some miniscule, fraction of a way, I think I understand how Johnny Manziel feels.

I have spent thousands of words trying to explain why I think I understand how Manziel feels, and yet even as I type it that sounds ridiculous to me, as I’m sure it sounds just as ridiculous to all of you. Yet I still believe it anyway. I have not felt the pressure he has, nor have I been attacked the way he has been, but on a microscopic level I have experienced a small fraction of what he has. I have let my frustrations get the better of me after reading too many negative tweets, I have lashed out at people who I felt have criticized me unfairly, and I have tried to get away from it all by surrounding myself with trusted friends who, as much as I want them to, didn’t understand what I was going through. Doesn’t that sound, just a little bit, like what Manziel is dealing with?

I have spent a lot of time trying to legitimize my claim that I get where Manziel is coming from, but now it’s time to delve deeper into what he is dealing with. It is clear to me that Manziel has stumbled into this fame without knowing exactly what to do with it, and before he knew it, partially because he was barred from interacting with the media per Kevin Sumlin’s coaching policy, Johnny Football took off and no one got to know the man behind the mask. I see people criticizing his maturity, lambasting him for poor decision making, and shredding him for how he carries himself. I see people call him cocky, arrogant, spoiled, and various other adjectives. But how many of you reading this had your life figured out at 20 years old? How many of you were vastly more mature than Manziel is at the ripe old age of 20? I certainly wasn’t. I might have thought I was at the time, but I like to think I’m smart enough now to realize that I wasn’t. I made mistakes. I screwed up. But most importantly, I learned from it. I can’t speak to whether Manziel is learning from it or not, but for his sake I hope he is. And if he hasn’t yet, I have faith that as he gets older and hopefully wiser that he will.

So is Johnny Manziel just a kid too immature for the fame he has stumbled into? Or is he a metaphor for all of college football and our society in general? We have this very talented 20 year old kid who we should be cherishing for his mesmerizing play on the football field, yet all we ever talk about is him going to courtside basketball games, going to fraternity parties, putting up pictures on instagram or tweeting things he should probably keep to himself. He is making Texas A&M and the NCAA millions of dollars, he helped Kevin Sumlin get a $1 million raise, and Texas A&M is building a new stadium, yet all Manziel has gotten out of the deal is largely unwanted limelight and near constant attacks on the content of his character. Not that he needs the money, but he is clearly a precious product on the field, yet he benefits from his performances much less than those running the show around him. He is such a bright light on the field, yet all the attention he receives off of it threatens to smother that light until it burns out. As a society and as a collective media shouldn’t we at least consider giving him a break?

Maybe it’s not fair to think that someone who has achieved so much at such a young age should even have a chance for, much less deserve, a break like that. But the more I hear about Manziel the more I keep thinking back to Ryan Leaf. Leaf was considered arrogant to a point that people disliked him, he was consistently getting in trouble off the field, and after he retired a complete disappointment he was indicted on burglary and controlled-substance charges in Texas in May of 2009. In March of 2012 he was arrested on burglary, theft and drug charges in his home town of Great Falls, Montana. Then, four days later, he was arrested again on burglary, theft and two counts of criminal possession of dangerous drugs. He was sentenced to seven years in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, but he continued to cause trouble, including threatening a staff member and violating the conditions of his drug treatment placement. He was clearly a very troubled young man, and he never got his life together. As a result, he ended up in jail. Can’t you say similar things about Jamarcus Russell? Or Maurice Clarett?

Yes, they brought this on themselves, and Manziel has brought this on himself as well, but even in spite of all he has accomplished, all the fame he “enjoys” every day, and all the money he could potentially make, I feel bad for him. He clearly doesn’t want all of this attention if you ask me. I think he wants to be a normal college kid, and I think he wants to be able to have fun and play football. But his immense success has taken that away from him, and that’s something that is hard for people to understand. They see him win games and they see him partying and think “wow, that kid has it all” but I think he parties to try to escape his own celebrity, or to at least try to wrangle it.  I think that way because I think that is exactly what I would do if I was in his shoes. The world is obsessed with “Johnny Football” the electrifying athlete who beat Alabama as a freshman, was the 5th player to ever pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in the same season, and the only freshman to ever win the Heisman trophy in the history of the award. But they do not know Johnny Manziel the person, they only know some of the infamous things he has done off the field while he tries to escape or hide from the insatiable demand for updates on his whereabouts or activities from any news outlet you can think of. I would bet you $1,000 that all Manziel wants right now is some time to himself with his friends, with his family, without having to worry about someone taking a picture of him having fun, and without having to worry about being swarmed by strangers trying to catch a glimpse of his greatness. It’s hard to explain, and even harder for a normal person to understand, but I think that sometimes when you want something so bad for so long and you finally stumble into it you realize that it isn’t exactly what you thought it would be and it’s harder to control than you ever could have imagined. I think Manziel is finding that out right now.

It is for that reason that I am hoping and begging all of you to collectively give Manziel a break. Will that actually happen? No, it almost certainly won’t. But amidst all the overzealous analysis of his character without ever having spoken a word to him, amidst all of the criticism of how he carries himself off the field, and amidst all of the constant discussion about him and his future I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least voice my opinion on the matter and say that I am worried about him. I am worried that as the attention he garners from the media continues to intensify it will push him closer and closer to the edge of the cliff, and I don’t know what is waiting for him if he falls off of it. Drugs? Alcoholism? Jail time? Death? I have no idea what it could be, but I know I am not alone in worrying about him now that I have read Thompson’s article, which involves his parents openly agonizing about what will happen to him if he doesn’t mature and if this pressure doesn’t let up. I don’t want to find out what happens to him either, so I am hoping that Manziel finds a way to block out the pressure, live his life, and mature. I’m only 23 years old and I can’t imagine the pressure he is under, and I can see minute similarities between him and myself aside from the major difference in athletic ability and fame. I still have a lot of growing up to do, and so does Manziel, especially because he is three years younger than I am. If I was in his position I would want people to cut me some slack, and even though from a NFL Draft perspective he is raising a lot of red flags, the last thing I am thinking about right now is his NFL Draft stock. I am more worried about him as a person, and if he can’t find a way to cope with all of this pressure I think he is going to crack like Ryan Leaf did, although perhaps not in the same exact manner.

When he officially declares for the NFL Draft we will cross that bridge and discuss his draft stock, but for now I’d rather just appreciate all of the talent he has and marvel at what he can do on the football field. Shouldn’t we enjoy what we have in Manziel before he is gone? And more importantly, shouldn’t we focus on the positives and try to give him the benefit of the doubt for some of his shortcomings? Wouldn’t you want someone, or everyone, to do that for you if you were in his position? Haven’t people given you second chances in life, looked past any of your shortcomings, and given you the benefit of the doubt? I know I have, and I still believe in the golden rule that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. So tell me, are you treating Manziel the way you would want to be treated if you were walking a mile in his shoes? If you aren’t, maybe you should reevaluate how you perceive his situation. Like most things, it’s not as black and white as “he’s a hero” or “he’s a villain.” He is just Johnny Manziel, and he deserves a break.

Wisconsin Badgers Prospect Preview:

Joel Stave, QB, Sophomore- If my opinion means anything, then Joel Stave should be the starting quarterback of the Wisconsin Badgers. He has to have the inside track for the job after the way he played in the spring game, but the new Badgers Head Coach Gary Andersen likes his quarterbacks to be mobile so it’s no sure thing. However, Stave has all the size (6’5”, 219) and arm strength a Badger fan could ask for. His accuracy impressed me as well, but he has room to grow in that area (particularly on deep balls, which he is hit or miss on). On top of that, Stave essentially saved Wisconsin’s season last year by solidifying the quarterback position and giving them a semblance of a passing game, so I trust him to be an effective starter for the full length of a season if he can stay healthy. Stave completed 58.8 % of the 119 passes he threw a year ago and started 6 games. He passed for 1,104 yards, 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in those games. He may not be perfect, but if the Badgers can run the ball effectively they won’t need him to be. I’ll take him over any Badger quarterback I’ve watched since I started watching college football with the obvious exception of Russell Wilson. Now, if Stave can’t stay healthy the Badgers do have a reliable option in Curt Phillips, a 6th year senior, that they can trust to take snaps at quarterback. Still, if I have to choose between Stave and “Curt Tebow” as I took to calling him during some of his late game heroics last year I’ll take Stave and not think twice.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Sophomore- Gordon is a kid that I heard about during the spring game last year and I immediately was intrigued. A 6’1”, 206 pound kid with what I believe is sub 4.5 speed? Sign me up. Gordon was impressive last year and despite being behind both Montee Ball and James White he racked up 621 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns with an INSANE 10 yard per carry average. Not only that, but he added 151 yards and a 21.6 yard average per kick return as well. Gordon is an impressive back with the strength to run through tackles, impressive burst and enough long speed to rip off big chunks of yardage. He’s going to be the next great Wisconsin running back and I’ve been saying it since last August. I still feel the same way, and I can’t wait to watch him split the carries with James White this year.

James White, RB, Senior- White is an interesting player, because as a sophomore he really ran into the “sophomore slump” that talented freshmen run into at times. The 5’10”, 197 pound back ran for “only” 713 yards (5.06 ypc) and 6 touchdowns after rushing for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman. He got back on track as a junior, rushing for 806 yards (6.45 ypc) and 12 touchdowns despite carrying the ball less than he did as a sophomore (125 carries vs 141 carries). He’s Wisconsin’s speed back and he has legitimate sub 4.5 speed, he’s very quick, and he has surprising strength for a smaller back. Not only that, but he’s a reliable and dangerous receiver out of the backfield who figures to be featured more in this role as a senior. I like White, but I can’t quite shake that sophomore slump season from my memory despite the bounce-back year he had last year. I’m still hoping to see that absolutely dynamic freshman again, and I hope he comes back for one last hurrah this season.

Jared Abbrederis, WR, Senior- Abbrederis is a player I’ve been rooting for since he was a freshman. He’s a former walk-on who actually got playing time in one receiver sets over Nick Toon even as a freshman while Toon was a junior. He’s a high effort, high work ethic player who may not be the biggest or the fastest, but he finds a way to get the job done. He’s listed at 6’2”, 188 pounds but I think he will measure in at 6’1” or maybe even 6’0” even. He’s probably going to run in the 4.55 range for his 40 yard dash time so he’s not a burner, but he runs good routes, has good quickness and reliable hands. If he gets drafted I think it will be at the end of the draft, likely in the 6th-7th round range, but it’s entirely possible he ends up signing with a team as an undrafted free agent. Still, Abbrederis has been a reliable receiver for the Badgers since he arrived on campus and he produced 49 receptions, 837 yards and 5 touchdowns last year despite the carousel at quarterback throughout the season.

Kenzel Doe, WR/KR, Junior- Doe was flying under my radar as he only hauled in 16 receptions for 121 yards as a sophomore but I expect his role on the team to increase significantly this year. Doe is a dynamic threat in the slot and as a return man and I expect him to be utilized in a number of ways to take advantage of his speed. Doe is listed at 5’8”, 170 pounds, so he is quite undersized, but he has plenty of speed and quickness to help compensate for that. As a return man he averaged 27.9 yards per kick return and 12.4 yards per punt return, including an 82 yard touchdown against his new Head Coach’s former team Utah State. He had a very good spring game and I fully expect to see him as Wisconsin’s primary slot receiver, kick returner and hopefully punt returner as well. If Stave wins the job I think Doe will easily exceed his 16 receptions and 121 yards as a sophomore.

Jacob Pedersen, TE, Senior- Pedersen isn’t the same prospect that Lance Kendricks was at the position a couple of years ago, but Pedersen is a poor-mans Kendricks to me. He’s not the same athlete, he doesn’t have the same upside, but he is reliable in the pass game and as a run blocker. He’s not going to be a dominant in line blocker at the next level, but as an H-Back type blocker he will be just fine. At 6’4”, 237 pounds he’s not a huge guy but he has enough athleticism for me to think he’s going to get day 3 consideration. He isn’t a flashy player that does anything spectacularly well, but he is solid in all areas.

Ryan Groy, OT/OG, Senior- Groy is a player I was initially worried about sliding outside to tackle, but I think he will be able to hold up alright there as a senior. It’s tough to project how the 6’5”, 318 pounder will do on the blind side since I’ve never seen him play there, but he has enough lateral agility, good enough length and a strong enough anchor for me to think he can handle it. Originally I viewed him as only a guard, but after watching him and taking notes I think he might have a shot at playing tackle at the next level. That is all obviously projection, and I’m certainly not sold on him as a NFL left tackle, but he is carrying a day 2 grade from me into the season without a doubt. I’m excited to see what he can do, because as a guard he showed pretty good hand placement, a good anchor, and was smooth getting to the second level. He doesn’t strike me as a mauler in the run game, and is at his best when he can double team a defender, seal him off, cut him, or combo block and get to the second level. He’s not a great puller, but he looked solid when asked to do it. I think he’s going to be a good ZBS fit at the next level, and could potentially be a very good right tackle in a scheme that uses a lot of those concepts. I can’t wait to see what he can do outside at tackle this year.

Rob Havenstein, OT, Junior- Havenstein was a bit of a problem area for Wisconsin’s line last year but I see potential when I watch him. The most surprising thing about the 6’8”, 342 pound lineman was how quick he was out of his stance as a pass blocker. He gets good depth, is often the first one out of his stance, and doesn’t look like he will struggle with speed off the edge if he can improve his technique over the next two seasons. He has the length, he has the size, he just needs to work on some of his mechanical issues. He ends up on the ground a lot as a result of poor hand placement and I’m not sure if he’s a natural knee bender at this point. He’s obviously huge and is effective when he blocks down on defensive tackles and can wash them out thanks to his size and strength, but he’s not great at getting to the second level. He showed some ability to recover in pass protection which was encouraging, but I’m going to be watching him closely next year to see how he does when he is tested by quality pass rushers.

Kyle Costigan, OG, Junior- It’s official- the Kyle Costigan bandwagon starts behind me. I am driving it and there’s no one that can convince me otherwise. I LOVE this kid’s game. He’s listed at 6’4”, 313 pounds but he moves like he weighs 280. He is such a smooth puller, he is a text book combo blocker, he gets to the 2nd level easily, and he is a very good cut blocker. Not only that, but in the Ohio State game he absolutely held his own in 1 on 1 situations with Johnathan Hankins which is no easy task. He was only a sophomore, but he was awfully impressive to me in the games I watched. He looks like a potential 1st round draft pick if he continues to improve and get stronger. Look out for him.

Dan Voltz, C, Freshman- Voltz is a player I obviously haven’t watched any of yet but the coaches seem to be high on him and he’s being pegged as a potential future 1st rounder following in the steps of Peter Konz (2nd rounder) and Travis Frederick (1st rounder, even if everyone hated the pick). He’s listed at 6’4”, 301 pounds and is supposed to be very smart based on what I’ve read about him. It’s going to be tough to pick up where Frederick left off from a football IQ standpoint but I’m excited to see what he can do as the only underclassman starting on Wisconsin’s offensive line at what some consider the most critical position.

Ethan Hemer, DE/DT, Senior- Hemer is a player I’m excited to watch this year because I think the 3-4 scheme that the Badgers are installing as their new base defense will play to his strong suits. He’s listed at 6’6”, 296 pounds so he is essentially the prototype 3-4 defensive end. Last year he managed 24 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL and 3 pass defections in his first year as a starter. I expect him to be more disruptive this year and I think 3-4 teams are going to be intrigued by him as a possible day 3 selection.

Beau Allen, DT, Senior- Allen is the key cog in Wisconsin’s defense this year because if he can hold up versus double teams in the middle and free up Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong to play clean versus the run then the Badgers will be a much better defense in 2013. Allen certainly has the size to do it as he is listed at 6’3”, 335 and is one of the key players returning on defense. He managed 37 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5 TFL and 2 pass break-ups as a junior and while I think that his statistics might not be the same as a year ago at the end of the season he may have an even bigger impact. He’s going to see a lot of double teams this year and if he can hold up at the point of attack he’s going to be very attractive to a lot of 3-4 teams at the next level.

Brendan Kelly, DE/OLB, Senior- Kelly is a player I’m really rooting for because he has been through so much during his time with the Badgers. He sustained a serious groin injury as a freshman but attempted to play through it before realizing that he had torn four muscles off of his pelvis, and missed the final conference game the Badgers played that season. When he attempted to come back during fall camp the next year he aggravated the injury, leading to additional surgery and time on the sidelines. He had three total surgeries on his groin and he missed time with a hand injury as well. He stayed healthy (as far as I know) last season and the 6’6”, 258 pounder managed 28 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 TFL and 2 pass break-ups on the year. I’m not sure he’s going to be considered before the end of day 3, but the fact that he even has the chance to be drafted after all the injuries he has sustained is impressive. I’m really hoping he has a break-out year this year rotating with Tyler Dippel at outside linebacker.

Chris Borland, ILB, Senior- It’s hard to believe Borland is finally a senior, but it’s happened. It feels to me like he’s been at Wisconsin forever, but now the “short not small” 5’11”, 242 pound linebacker is getting ready to graduate and attempt a jump to the NFL. Borland’s size is going to hurt him in the eyes of evaluators but he’s strong, moves well and is a very good tackler. He has exceeded 100 tackles the last two years, including 104 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL and 6 pass break-ups as a junior. Borland doesn’t excel at shedding blocks and can be engulfed by bigger players at times, but he has a good motor and plays the run well. He’s a good blitzer as well, but I don’t completely trust him in pass coverage. I don’t think he’s a liability there, but I think he still has room to improve that part of his game. He’s not going to be a fit for every defensive scheme in the NFL, and many will doubt that he even has starter upside. I’ve seen him play too much to say he doesn’t, but I don’t think he’s going to be given a starting gig. He’s going to have to make the team as a likely day 3 selection and claw his way to playing time. I think he can do it though, and hopefully I’ll be able to see him show his skills at an All-Star game this winter.

Ethan Armstrong, ILB, Senior- I’m not very familiar with Armstrong’s game as last season was his first as a starter, but the undersized 6’2”, 216 pound linebacker started all 14 games last season and managed 93 tackles, 2 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and an interception. I don’t think he’s the same prospect that Borland is and isn’t nearly as filled out considering he is listed as 3 inches taller than him yet he reportedly weighs 26 pounds less. If he can fill out his frame he might have a NFL future, but there’s no way he can last in the NFL weighing under 220 pounds.

Dezman Southward, FS, Senior- Southward is the only returning starter in Wisconsin’s secondary but from all I’ve read about him he has really taken to his new leadership role as the veteran among the DB’s. The most surprising thing to me about Southward was that he only picked up football as a senior in high school (he previously played basketball) and didn’t even play safety. He has had to start from scratch as far as learning the game and as a fifth year senior he has only been playing the game for 6 years. The 6’2”, 213 pound safety is obviously a good athlete and he is being touted as a potential star this year. In his first season as a starter Southward totaled 69 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception from his free safety position. This year he will be expected to be even better in coverage and help Wisconsin create more turnovers.

Russell Wilson is a very well-rounded quarterback with plenty of upside. The only thing holding him back? His lack of height.

Size: This is Wilson’s most serious issue as a prospect, and it is what will likely hurt his stock more than anything once the season ends and the grueling NFL Draft postseason begins. I would estimate his height to be about 5’10” which is about three or four inches shorter than most teams would prefer at minimum at the quarterback position. Some people will write him off because of his lack of height, but while I acknowledge it will make life significantly harder for him in the NFL I will absolutely not write him off because of it. It will certainly negatively affect his stock though, and anyone would be foolish to argue otherwise.

Arm Strength: Wilson has very good arm strength. He has great zip on passes to all levels and throws a very nice deep ball. He can make every NFL throw thanks to his very good arm strength and this is definitely one of his strongest attributes. He can absolutely rifle throws from the pocket or when he is moving outside of the pocket which makes him very dangerous.

Accuracy: Wilson’s accuracy is also very impressive. He has quality accuracy to all levels of the field whether they are short, medium or deep throws. Wilson knows when to rifle a throw down the seam and when he needs to put some touch on a pass to drop a throw into a hole between the corner and safety on the sideline. He is also very accurate on the run which makes him dangerous on the outside because if the coverage breaks down at all Wilson can find a hole to throw the ball.

Mechanics: Wilson has quality mechanics. His throwing motion is compact and quick, he has good footwork in the pocket as well as plenty of experience dropping back from center. He has good footwork on play action as well. He usually keeps his shoulders square when scrambling outside of the pocket which is critical to throwing accurate passes on the run quickly. Wilson could stand to get out from under center quicker in my opinion, particularly when handing the ball off at times. But that is a pretty ticky-tacky mechanical flaw, and can easily be coached up.

Mobility: Wilson’s mobility is pretty rare for the position because not only can he threaten defenses with his legs because of his great athleticism he has managed to develop into a great passing quarterback with great mobility rather than a great runner that can throw as well. The distinction may not be very obvious, but the ability to scramble and gain yardage with your legs is usually a crutch that prevents athletic quarterbacks from developing into good or great passers. That is certainly not the case for Wilson but that doesn’t mean he can’t rip off big runs when he gets outside of the pocket. Teams have to account for his ability to run and that is so hard to do against Wisconsin thanks to their fantastic running game as well as Wilson’s ability to stretch the field as a passer. His mobility helps him extend plays and makes him a very dangerous passer outside of the pocket.

Pre/Post Snap Reads: Wilson seems to make very good pre and post snap reads based off of what I’ve seen of him. At times at NC State he would force passes into coverage and make poor decisions when he was simply trying to throw his team into the game and keep them competitive. But at Wisconsin he has been terrifyingly efficient now that he has one of the best running games in the country helping him balance out the passing attack. He does a good job of identifying coverages pre-snap and reads defenses well once he drops back to pass. He also does a good job of reading defenses quickly after play action fakes and does a good job of making decisive decisions.

Pocket Poise: I think pocket poise is a very important quality to identify in quarterbacks and I think Wilson has pretty good poise in the pocket, especially for someone with so much athletic ability who can scramble for positive yardage. One of the few weaknesses in his game seems to be when there is pressure around him in the pocket and trash at his feet. I’m not sure why this is, but it certainly limits his ability to find throwing lanes because of his height and he can’t often scramble out of it, so it makes sense that in these situations he would be less effective than others. I think that causes him some discomfort at times, and will result in throws off of his back foot or less accurate passes than when he has a cleaner pocket, when he can side-step the rush to find a throwing lane, or when he can move outside of the pocket where he has clear vision of the field.

Intangibles: Russell Wilson’s intangibles are off the charts as far as I’m concerned because of how significant of a leader he was at NC State and because he has been able to seamlessly transition into a completely different locker room and organization and not only become a quality starter, but become a fantastic player worthy of at least some Heisman consideration as well as the leader of his new team, all in a matter of weeks and months. As I like to say “you can’t coach that” and that is as true about Wilson’s intangibles as it is with anything else. He’s a very hard worker, he’s very poised, he’s intelligent and he is just a natural leader. Yes, I think the Badgers would have been good this year even with a question mark at quarterback, but Wilson has been the guy that has not only made them great, but has made them borderline unstoppable. There is definitely something to be said for that.

Character: Wilson’s character is top notch from what I know of him and he is considered to be a very hard worker, very studious, watches a lot of film and clearly has his head on straight. Drafting him won’t be a risk as far as character is concerned.

Overall: I’m a huge fan of Wilson and even though I expected him to be a terrific quarterback for the University of Wisconsin even I couldn’t have anticipated him being this good this soon. He has absolutely shut up everyone who doubted that he could transition into the Badgers smoothly and he has not only transformed the Badgers into contenders, he has transformed them into a virtual lock for the Rose Bowl as the eventual Big 10 champions. His height is his most significant issue as a prospect, and beyond that he is a very well-rounded prospect that if he was three or four inches taller would warrant serious first or second round consideration in my opinion. He’s got plenty of upside, he just has to prove that he can overcome his lack of ideal (or even average) height. Playing behind Wisconsin’s mammoth offensive line and having this kind of success can’t hurt, and it will be interesting to see how he ultimately translates to the NFL once he gets drafted.

Projection: 3rd-4th round. Wilson has the ability of a 1st or 2nd round selection, but his height will hurt his stock and make people question how well he will transition to the NFL. I think he can make it as a NFL starter, but his height certainly poses a significant barrier between himself and success at the next level. Personally, I’ll be rooting for him. I am really looking forward to seeing him play at the Senior Bowl this year if he elects to go.

I like Nzegwu's upside as a 3-4 OLB, I just hope he isn't pidgeon-holed into a 4-3 DE role because it doesn't maximize his skill set.

Louis Nzegwu, DE, Wisconsin: Nzegwu is very athletic and I think he has all the makings of a quality OLB in a 3-4 defense. He is much more effective in every facet of the game when standing up versus playing with his hand in the dirt like a 4-3 DE. He gets off the ball faster, makes more plays versus the run and applies more pressure to the QB standing up. I hope he gets drafted to play 3-4 OLB, because so many players get drafted to play a position they aren’t a good fit for (like Justin Houston or Jason Babin being drafted to play LB when they are clearly 4-3 DE’s) and they end up being unsuccessful until the scheme changes or until they go to a team that employs them correctly. Anyways, Nzegwu has upside because he has good size, long arms, impressive change of direction speed, good agility and pretty good edge speed to rush the passer. He shows a good swim move to keep blockers from engaging him along with a very impressive shoulder dip to get the edge as a pass rusher. He has impressive hip flexibility and also has a very good motor, as he regularly chases plays down from the backside and gives consistent pursuit from the backside. He is a very reliable tackler and may be one of the best returning tacklers that Wisconsin has on the roster. However, he needs to get stronger at the POA because at times he can be washed out of plays, and needs to get up to 255 or 260 to hold up at the linebacker position he projects to in the NFL. He has the frame for it, but he looks pretty skinny at only about 240 or so right now. He also needs to improve his hand usage so he can shed blocks more effectively, because while he flashes a swim move to keep blockers off of him, he doesn’t do a good job of violently using his hands to disengage once blocked, though to his credit he fights off the block eventually because of his motor. He has upside, and his work ethic and motor make me think he will be a quality player in the NFL, but he has things to work on. I am excited to see how he does without Watt, but with more experience. I like him as a prospect.

 

Fenelus has upside and is one of the best senior cornerbacks in the country. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Antonio Fenelus, CB, Wisconsin: Fenelus has definite upside, that is for sure. He doesn’t have ideal size or speed, but he has solid height and pretty good speed. I am very impressed with his footwork, which seemed to improve as the season progressed. He never wastes steps in transitions even when he gets turned around, and he recovers very quickly when he guesses wrong on a route or isn’t expecting the receiver to break. He did not look like he even knew what a click and close was at the beginning of the year, instead he seemed to try to stop in one step and then lunge back towards the receiver who caught a pass in front of him, but he seemed to be much better about clicking and closing later in the year. I will obviously evaluate this further during his senior year. He also has very fluid hips, a huge plus for a corner. This helps him turn and run with receivers effortlessly, which helps him in both man and zone coverage. He is good in both man and zone coverage, and seems to have good ball skills as he quickly locates the ball in the air and makes a play on it when he can. I don’t think he’s an elite athlete when it comes to straight line speed (probably a 4.5 guy) or leaping ability, but he is a good, fundamentally sound corner who is also a very good tackler for a cornerback. However, I think he might be a bit of a guesser at corner, which is something I’m not wild about. He seems to learn from his mistakes (ie getting burned when he bites on the hitch part of a hitch and go) but he doesn’t seem to be reading and reacting well at times. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but something seems a bit off in that part of his game. Overall I am high on Fenelus as a cornerback prospect, and I’d project him in the 2nd or 3rd round of the Draft today. I am excited to see how he progresses as a senior because he seemed to improve significantly over the course of the year as a junior, which is something NFL Draft talent evaluators love to see.

Aaron Henry, FS, Wisconsin: I think Henry is a pretty good free safety, but I am not convinced he is anything special. He has solid height, pretty good speed, solid burst, pretty good ball skills, he is a solid tackler (inconsistent, but solid overall I would say) and he takes alright angles. He just isn’t special in any one way in my opinion. He doesn’t have elite speed or burst to close, and that limits his potential as a center fielder, and he is just as likely to whiff on a tackle in the open field as he is to wrap them up or lay a nice hit it seems. It’s confusing, and it’s hard to pinpoint just how good (or bad) of a tackler he is. He seems comfortable in zone coverage, but he doesn’t have the speed or quickness to be effective in man coverage in my opinion (at least, not very effective). So he has upside, but unless I see more athleticism and better tackling out of him as a senior I’m not sure he will be anything more than a mid-round pick next year.

 

Smith will be moving into the starting role this year, and while he has playing experience as a nickel back his play as a starter could determine whether Wisconsin's secondary is a relative strength or weakness.

Devin Smith, CB, Wisconsin: Smith has good size and speed, nothing elite but it’s good. He seems to have solid footwork though he didn’t get a ton of playing time in the games that I saw, so it was a bit hard to evaluate. He played a lot of nickel last year, so I would imagine he will step up into the starting role opposite Antonio Fenelus now that Niles Brinkley has graduated. That should offer a lot more looks at him over the course of the year. Right now I would project him as a late round pick because I don’t think he has great hips or footwork, but he does have pretty good ball skills and he is a good tackler, and willingly supports the run. I’m not sure how much upside he has yet, but he is worth watching next year to see how he adjusts to a significant increase in playing time.

David Gilbert, DE, Wisconsin: Gilbert has upside because of his combination of size and speed, but right now that is all he is: potential. He is strong for his size (about 6’3”, 240 pounds) and has good edge speed, but he doesn’t get off the snap consistently well (I wonder if he might be like Fenelus and get a better jump on the snap when he is standing up, though there isn’t a lot of film of him to study that, but it may well be the case) with his hand in the dirt and that limits his potential as an edge rusher obviously. He doesn’t shed blocks well and despite his relative strength for his size he doesn’t get off blocks well and is not a good run defender as he struggles to hold the POS and he doesn’t compensate for it with quickness to avoid blocks like Nzegwu does. Obviously Gilbert is only a junior this year, and he should get a lot of playing time opposite Nzegwu if he locks down the starting job, so it will be interesting to see how much PT he gets and what he manages to do with it. For his sake I hope he has gotten stronger and improved his hand usage, because the DE spot opposite Nzegwu could make or break Wisconsin’s pass rush this year.

Patrick Butrym, DT, Wisconsin: Butrym didn’t really stick out to me in a positive way. He didn’t look great versus the run, but didn’t get pushed off the ball, he was often in a stalemate which speaks to his strength and leverage. However, he rarely gets off the blocks (whether one on one or if he is doubled) to make a play on the ball carrier versus the run. He applied a bit of pressure in the games I saw, but the pressure he applied was a result of effort, not of quality technique and hand usage in my opinion. And when he got to the QB he tried to arm tackle instead of wrapping him up (he couldn’t get close enough to him to wrap up) and three times he let a QB he had his hands on get away, which is not any stat a defensive lineman wants to accumulate. As of right now I think he is a 6th or 7th rounder if not a UDFA, but he still has another year to prove his worth. It will be interesting to see how he does with another year of experience under his belt, but I’m not expecting him to be anything special.

Hopefully you enjoyed the read on all of these Wisconsin prospects! I’m still working my way through film, so keep checking in for team reports or individual pre-season scouting reports until football gets here! Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Wisconsin Film Post:

Here are my thoughts on all of Wisconsin’s prospects. Obviously as a senior Russell Wilson would constitute an offensive prospect, but I obviously couldn’t watch film of him on Wisconsin from 2010 because he was on NC State at the time. I have high expectations for Wilson and the rest of Wisconsin’s team next year, and if you want to read about the impact I think Wilson will have on Wisconsin feel free to read it here. Otherwise, enjoy the read for these prospects! I watched a ton of film for these, so they should be pretty thorough.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin: Ball was obviously extremely effective for Wisconsin last year and he should be the featured back in their offense next year and figures to continue his incredible success that he experienced after John Clay’s injury last season. Ball is a power back in a similar mold to Clay, just without the same mammoth size. He has a similar running style though he isn’t as likely to run over defenders as Clay was. He can run through contact and break arm tackles, but I haven’t seen him bowl defenders over like everyone saw Clay do on a regular basis in the games I watched, though they were from earlier in the season. He seems to have about 4.55 speed to me, which is solid for a power back, but like Clay I don’t think he has much in the way of burst and quickness. He seems to run at more or less one speed on toss or stretch plays, not showing much of a higher gear when he has time to accelerate. He doesn’t quite have the speed to get the edge, but he is a very effective between the tackles runner. Shows the willingness to put his head down and get the tough yards, and showed good vision to find cut-back lanes, etc. He consistently falls forward also which illustrates his impressive leg drive. He also flashed ability in pass protection as he picked up blitzes with effective blocks multiple times while I was watching him. He also demonstrated pretty soft hands out of the backfield. Overall I like Ball as a prospect, but I’m not sure he’s much more than a mid-round guy at this point.

 

I think James White is one of the most talented players Wisconsin has had in years, and is poised to be one of the best players in the Big-10 in the next year or two.

James White, RB, Wisconsin: First things first, White is very fast. He definitely has the speed to get the edge and demonstrated impressive quickness every time I saw him get the ball. He shows pretty good vision though a couple times he missed cut-back lanes when running between the tackles. Those were in the earlier games though, and he seemed to get better and better as the season progressed. When he is in the open field he has a great feel as a runner and is so quick and fast that it is hard to get him down one on one, especially if he can get you off balance with a cut/spin move. He has good hands out of the backfield and should be utilized as a receiver more this year because of his speed and potential to get sizeable gains on screen passes. He also flashes some ability as a pass blocker, utilizing a couple cut blocks to take out blitzing players. He did miss an assignment or two when he was in, so he still needs to improve in this area. He reminds me a lot of Warrick Dunn in terms of his size, quickness, speed, hands and at times his vision. We’ll see if that comparison holds any water as we all watch him this season, but the similarities are uncanny to me at this point. I know White is only a freshman, but he has 1st round written all over him when he eventually leaves in my opinion.

Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin: I have to say I was impressed by Toon. I had seen him play before obviously, since my freshman year actually, and I knew he had a tendency to drop catchable balls at times. That’s usually a red flag for me, because it’s pretty natural to expect a wide receiver to catch the ball when he’s thrown to, or else what’s the point? So I was skeptical about Toon. But after I was able to watch him and specifically pay attention to him and see what he had to offer I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. He has good size at 6’2”, 215 pounds and you can tell he is strong. He is effective running after the catch and gets tough yards even in the face of contact. He is also quite fast. He has a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.52, but I think he might be closer to 4.48, or at least it looks that way on film. But even more importantly, he has very impressive acceleration and burst which helps him create significant separation. At times his burst looks elite, and while I’m not sure if it is, it is definitely noticeable and noteworthy. He is a good route runner for this reason, and I’m not sure anyone in the country runs a better corner route than he does.

He also shows the ability to come down with tough catches, such as balls away from his body or passes in traffic with defenders draped over him. He has good hands and good potential to make tough catches, his problem is with more routine passes. I think it has more to do with lapses in concentration (not paying attention to the ball or trying to turn and run too quickly before the ball is secure) than it does with his actual ability to catch the ball. If he focused intently on the routine passes on curls and quick slant routes he would be able to catch them easily, just like he catches tougher balls. His hands aren’t elite, but they aren’t bad enough that he should drop those catchable balls by any means. So, needless to say, I like Toon’s upside. He isn’t a great run blocker, and doesn’t give a ton of effort in that phase of the game, but he isn’t a liability either. I’ve heard he’s a confident, bordering on cocky guy, but that’s nothing new for the receiver position. I can’t wait to see how he does this season, because if he can get on the same page with Russell Wilson he could absolutely blow his career season averages out of the water. To do that, though, he will need to improve his concentration on routine passes. Let’s hope he does, because I love watching him run routes.

Josh Oglesby, OT, Wisconsin: There isn’t much to say about Oglseby other than he clearly disappointed this past season. He got replaced by Ricky Wagner, an offensive tackle I am very high on that is expected to start at LT, and didn’t see much playing time after that. The RT position may be up in the air for Wisconsin so perhaps he will have a shot at regaining his starting spot, but he has very slow feet and is not fundamentally sound, leading to him reaching and losing his balance when blocking, severely limiting his effectiveness. He also doesn’t have the lateral agility or the quick feet to mirror speed rushers which presents a problem when he faces smaller, quicker defenders. I would be surprised if he turned out to be the starter, and even though he has great size I don’t think he will stick in the NFL. He strikes me as a potential CFL player because his size will do more for him at that level of competition.

 

Wagner has NFL upside as a LT in my opinion, and I was very impressed with him even when he had just been inserted into the lineup at RT.

Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin: Wagner should be the man to replace Carimi at LT and he is only a junior so he definitely has upside. I was very impressed with his lateral agility, his sound fundamentals, his quick feet and his good hand placement. He doesn’t lean or reach when blocking, he bends at the knees, not at the waist, and he has the athletic ability to get out in front of screens or to cut block defenders effectively. He is very athletic, moves to the second level well, and has good awareness to boot. On top of that he can recover quickly whether he is surprised by a blitzer or if he gets bull-rushed, and he has a strong anchor that he can use to stop the bull rush. He has the total package and I think he might actually have more upside than Carimi as a pass blocker because he will be able to handle speed better than Carimi did. I think Wagner has LT written all over him and may even keep the LT label once he starts getting NFL consideration. I am very much looking forward to seeing him play this season, and I think he will surprise a lot of people once he faces some pass rushers at LT. He should be able to handle whatever the Big-10 can throw at him. There was a rumor going around Wisconsin that he was playing so well that the coaching staff considered moving him to LT last year, even with Carimi firmly entrenched at the position. That speaks volumes about his upside in my opinion. I can’t wait to watch him play more this season as a junior.

Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin: Zeitler is a pretty good guard, but I’m not sure he will go before the 3rd round at this point. He has pretty good size and shows some ability as a drive blocker, has pretty solid leg drive usually, and is an effective combo blocker who has the athleticism to get to the second level. He is a solid puller, but not spectacular and at times will struggle to sustain when blocking on the move. He is athletic enough to cut block effectively which he does well, and he also has a good enough first step to down block effectively, where he gets a good push. He will lean at times I noticed, but overall seems to have solid balance. He can anchor as a pass rusher and seems to be fundamentally sound overall as far as hand placement, etc. I don’t think he’s an elite guard, but he looks like a reliable NFL starter to me, similar to Moffitt in that regard.

Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin: Konz was very impressive when I watched him. He will be a junior in 2011 so he has definite upside. He is big and strong enough that he can block a defensive tackle one on one which is a very valuable trait for a center to have. He isn’t a dominant drive blocker but he can drive DT’s one on one at times which is almost like having a third guard on the line instead of a smaller pivot who can’t handle a defensive tackle one on one. It’s a huge advantage for your offensive line, which is one reason I’m high on Konz and another reason why I think he will be in high demand when he enters the NFL Draft this year or next. He is a good athlete and pulls well and he blocks effectively on the move, consistently engaging linebackers on the second level and taking them out of the play. He also has an impressive first step which enables him to snap and step smoothly, and that enables him to down block or wall-off defensive tackles to create seams in the middle of the offensive line with relative ease. He has good feet and strength which helps as well. He will lean into his blocks at times though which leads to balance issues, so he spends some time on the ground which I’m not wild about. He has pretty good awareness but I’m not sure how good his intangibles are, I haven’t seen enough of him to know how much he makes line calls before the snap, etc. He has a lot of upside, but he still has things to improve on. I think he is the 2nd best prospect on Wisconsin’s offensive line behind Wagner.

 

Wisconsin fans, Pedersen is going to be the guy who replaces Kendricks as the next dynamic TE at Wisconsin. Get excited. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Jacob Pedersen, TE, Wisconsin: I was very pleased with myself for uncovering Pedersen when watching film. His stat line may not blow you away (8 receptions, 132 yards (16.5 yards per reception) and 2 TD’s) but they are pretty impressive for a #3 TE who was playing behind a 2nd round pick who was a very good receiving TE and arguably their best big play receiver in Lance Kendricks. I was not particularly taken with Jake Byrne, a TE who will be a senior in 2011, though he is a pretty good blocker. I expected them to have a receiving TE to help replace Kendricks, and that is where Pedersen comes in. He is fast, similar to Kendricks I would say, has good size, hands and has some quickness to create separation and shows the ability to run effective routes. I don’t think he will be the primary blocking TE like Kendricks was regularly for the Badgers, but should have a similar role to what Kendricks had as a junior with Garrett Graham as the primary TE. He should provide some ability to stretch the field just like Kendricks did and hopefully his hands will be just as reliable.

Thanks for reading, and the defensive post should be up later today!

–Tom

By deciding to attend Wisconsin for his senior season Russell Wilson has given Wisconsin's offense the potential to be one of the best in the country.

Russell Wilson, the former NC State quarterback, has announced (according to ESPN) that he will transfer to Wisconsin this upcoming season. He will be eligible immediately in 2011 and should give Wisconsin a dynamic talent at quarterback that they haven’t had at the position in years. Normally the Badgers have an average quarterback who avoids mistakes and usually hands the ball off to a talented stable of running backs and executes play-action fakes once the running game is working. However, Wilson has the ability to take over the game with his arm, plus he has enough mobility to extend plays and gain yards with his legs. When he suits up in Badger colors in week one of the college football season he will be the most talented quarterback to start a game for the Badgers since I started watching college football when Brooks Bollinger was Wisconsin’s starter, and Wilson puts Bollinger to shame.

Wilson might be a smaller quarterback at only 5’11”, 206 pounds (I would actually be surprised if he wasn’t 5’10”) he definitely has an arm. He doesn’t have elite arm strength, but he has good arm strength and accuracy and when his talented arm is combined with his athletic ability it forms a potent combination that should benefit Wisconsin’s offense immediately as soon as he is comfortable. Take a look at some of the numbers Wilson has put up at NC State, a program that is far from a national power and is not nearly as well stocked with talent as Wisconsin regularly is. As a freshman Wilson was 150/275 (54.5% completion) for 1,955 yards and an incredible 17 touchdowns and only ONE interception. As a freshman starter. As a sophomore he was 224/378 (59.3% completion), 3027 yards, 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Then last season as a junior he passed for 3,563 yards while completing 308 out of an incredible 527 pass attempts (58.4% completion). He finished the season with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, a very good year by any standard but remarkably it was his least efficient season of his career.

Now, some might criticize his height, or say that his stats won’t translate to the Big-10, or say that he won’t be comfortable enough at Wisconsin to give them a realistic chance at a second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl. I say that is all BS. Wilson’s freshman season at a wayward NC State program when he threw 17 touchdowns and only 1 interception proves what he can do even without a lot of talent around him. The year before he arrived at NC State the team was 5-7. His freshman year they were 6-7, losing a seventh time to Rutgers in their bowl game at the end of the season (before which they won four consecutive games in order to be bowl eligible). Then last year the turnaround had been completed as the team finished 9-4 and defeated #22 ranked West Virginia 23-7 in their bowl game.

I'm sure Montee Ball and James White will be celebrating now that they won't be facing as many 8 man boxes from opposing defenses.

Wilson has proven that he can step in and make an immediate impact, and I expect him to do just that at Wisconsin in 2011. He has a lot of talent and should give Wisconsin’s passing game a significant boost, one that they haven’t seen in probably a decade and may not see for another decade after this season. One thing you have to consider is the dramatic disparity between NC State’s supporting cast and Wisconsin’s supporting cast. NC State might have better receivers which helped Wilson produce a lot of yardage through the air, but comparing the Wolfpack’s running game to Wisconsin is quite alarming:
NC State- 2008: 442 attempts, 1,601 yards rushing (3.6 yard per carry average), 14 touchdowns
Wisconsin- 2008: 567 attempts, 2,745 yards rushing (4.8 yard per carry average), 31 touchdowns
NC State- 2009: 419 attempts, 1,451 yards rushing (3.5 yard per carry average), 15 touchdowns
Wisconsin- 2009: 581 attempts, 2,650 yards rushing (4.6 yard per carry average), 33 touchdowns
NC State- 2010: 461 attempts, 1,603 yards rushing (3.5 yard per carry average), 17 touchdowns
Wisconsin- 2010: 584 attempts, 3,194 yards rushing (5.5 yard per carry average), 48 touchdowns

Here are the averages for the two teams over the last three years:

NC State: 440.66 attempts, 1551.66 yards rushing (3.52 yard per carry average), 15.33 touchdowns
Wisconsin: 577.33 attempts, 2863 yards rushing (4.96 yard per carry average), 37.3 touchdowns

Just take in those numbers for a bit. Wisconsin, on average, rushes 137 more times a season, produces 1,312 more rushing yards (at a rate of 1.44 yards per carry better than NC State) and averages a whopping 22 more touchdowns per season on the ground. Yet, despite the pressure that was on Wilson to throw the ball even 250 times as a freshman, he still produced incredible numbers through the air. In two seasons as a starter for Wisconsin Scott Tolzien only threw the ball 594 times (328 as a junior, 266 as a senior), while Wilson threw 527 passes last season alone!

My point is, the burden of the offense is going to be on Wisconsin’s running game as it always is. However, instead of a game manager at quarterback (no offense to the last decade of Wisconsin quarterbacks) they will have a dynamic player at the position who can carve up defenses through the air at an alarming rate even without a running game that EVER averaged more than 3.6 yards per carry for an entire season. Not only that, but Wilson is a scrambling quarterback and he himself produced 1,089 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons at NC State. That is an average of 363 yards per season. I won’t even bother subtracting 363 yards from all of the season averages for NC State, but on average without Wilson they would be averaging about 1,200 yards per season and 11 or so touchdowns, a pathetic total. Now, imagine Wisconsin’s rushing numbers with a quarterback who can stretch the field vertically with his arm and his legs.

I don't think anyone stands to benefit more individually from Wilson's presence on offense than senior receiver Nick Toon.

The point of all of this statistical analysis is to show the impact Wilson was able to have without a running game. With a running game as dominant as Wisconsin’s he isn’t going to face a lot of intricate coverages meant to stop the passing game. If defenses try to take away the pass against Wisconsin (I’m not sure anyone has ever considered such a thing) then Wisconsin’s running game is going to demolish you for 60 straight minutes and control the clock with ease. But now if you try to stack the box against the Badgers you will be facing a quarterback with 8,545 career passing yards, 76 career touchdowns (with only 26 interceptions) and 1,089 career rushing yards and 17 more touchdowns. So, fair warning to all the team’s on Wisconsin’s schedule this season: Their offense just got even more dangerous.

Now, while the upside for Wilson’s addition to Wisconsin’s offense is very high, we can’t expect him to step in and throw 40 touchdowns and 4 interceptions this year like this is a NCAA video game on the easiest setting. There are going to be growing pains the first few weeks as Wilson continues to adjust to Wisconsin’s largely ball-control offense versus the wide open passing attack he played in at NC State. However, with four weeks to work out the kinks before they play Nebraska at home I think Wilson and the Badgers will be able to get on the same page. Therefore, even if he has a rough couple of games at the beginning of the season, I expect Wilson to hit his stride and show the world what he could have done at NC State if he had a running game.

Sorry about the length of this post. I started doing some research and it just led to more and more things I wanted to look into and compare and contrast. Wilson has a lot of ability and I can’t wait to watch him carve teams up on play action for the Badgers this year. I look forward to seeing at least two of these games in person this season and as usual, thanks for reading.

–Tom