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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Zach Baun could go higher than many anticipated before his senior season, as his coverage skills greatly improved

Badger players gear up for the NFL Draft: A look at where top players might land

As per usual, Wisconsin’s football organization is budding with NFL caliber talent, and with the Super Bowl comeback of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs now a distant memory, the NFL Draft is on everyone’s mind. Hoping to replicate the NFL success of past Badgers such as Russel Wilson or JJ Watt, many of Wiscosin’s best players will soon become professionals. Let’s take a look at where these Wisconsin Badgers may land in the NFL draft.  

Jonathan Taylor, Running Back

Over the past three seasons, Jonathan Taylor has acted as the offensive pillar the Badgers. The star running back has broken several impressive records while at Wisconsin, including the FBS record for most rushing yards through his junior year with 6,174, and the most 200-yard rushing games with 12. 

In addition to these impressive feats, JT finished as the number six all time rusher in NCAA history, also finishing within the top ten in Heisman contention in all three of his college seasons. However, with these accomplishments also come areas of concern. Through his three years at Wisconsin Taylor has had a problem holding on to the ball. When compared with the other top running backs entering the 2020 draft — such as Ohio State’s J.K Dobbins or Georgia’s D’Andre Swift — JT has more than double the fumbles committed over the last three years. 

Because Taylor is seen as being careless with the football, he isn’t the top running back of his class. That being said, JT is still very likely to be picked during one of the earlier rounds. Some landing spots for Taylor include the Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens. 

The transition for Taylor to the Colts would be perhaps the most seamless, as both the Badgers and Colts are known for their strong offensive lines. Wisconsin’s offensive line this year was considered one of the best run blocking O-lines in the nation, with stars like Tyler Biadasz and Tyler Beach. As for the Colts, their O-line was ranked third best in the NFL this past season, with Quenton Nelson leading the charge as the number one run-blocking offensive guard over the past two years. 

Taylor would likely be available when the Colts pick at 34 or 44 in the 2nd round, and act as a good fit alongside Jacoby Brisset behind that powerful line. 

Prediction: Indianapolis Colts, pick 44 

Zack Baun, Linebacker

Baun was a dominant part of Wisconsin’s ruthless defense this year, but his success didn’t come easy. A broken foot injury in 2017 cost Baun his entire season and a ton of draft stock. 

However, that changed after his remarkable Senior year at Wisconsin. In 12 games playing for the Badgers, Baun recorded 53 solo tackles, a team leading 12.5 sacks from the edge, and one pick six. These stats should warrant a very early spot in the draft, but due to a stacked defensive class — think Ohio State’s Chase Young and linebackers Isaiah Simmons from Clemson and Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray — Baun will likely fall to the late 2nd or 3rd round. 

A team that may be interested in snagging Baun, the Carolina Panthers. This offseason the Panthers lost one of the best linebackers in the league in Luke Kuechly, who decided to retire after eight strong seasons with the team. Looking to replace Kuechly, the Panthers may select Baun due to his similar features and playing style. 

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Kuechly was 6’3’’ 238 lbs, and Baun is entering the draft at 6’3’’ 235 lbs, almost identical measurements. Kuechly was a dominant off-ball linebacker, a play style Baun will likely transition to when he joins the NFL. Although Baun impressed scouts with his ability to blitz off the edge, he truly excelled when dropping back in pass coverage. This skill was demonstrated by Baun’s two interceptions this season, where he showed great zone coverage instincts and impressive hand-eye coordination. 

Prediction: Carolina Panthers, pick 69

Tyler Biadasz, Offensive Linemen 

Junior Tyler Biadasz will enter the draft as arguably the best center in this year's class. Among his many accomplishments, Biadasz was a unanimous All-American selection in 2019 and honored with the Rimington award for most outstanding center, something never before given to a Wisconsin offensive linemen. His run blocking was also one of the main reasons for running back Jonathan Taylor’s historic three seasons with the Badgers. 

Due to his impressive play, Biadasz will likely warrant an early to middle 2nd round draft pick. Some probable suitors for Biadasz include the New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams. 

The New York Jets offensive line was truly horrendous in 2019. Big free agency signings such as center Ryan Kalil and tackle Kelechi Osemele completely backfired for the Jets, as neither player was able to finish the season with the team. 

In addition, due to an injury bug that plagued the Jets, there were nine different o-line player combinations thrown out on the field throughout the season, thus preventing any consistency. It resulted in newly signed running back Le'veon Bell having his worst statistical season ever, and the Jets finishing dead last in total offense. 

If they choose to draft Biadasz with the 48th pick, the Jets will greatly upgrade their dismal o-line and finally replace longtime Jet, and future hall of fame center Nick Mangold.

Prediction: New York Jets, pick 48 

Quintez Cephus, Wide Receiver 

Cephus was a large part of the Badgers offense in 2019, but just like Baun, he too had a rough start to his college career. Cephus’ first substantial playing time came in 2017, in which he caught 30 passes for 501 yards and six touchdowns before a broken leg terminated his season. 

To make matters worse, in 2018 Cephus was removed from the football team amid allegations of a sexual assault that took place in April that year. Cephus was later acquitted during his trial and was reinstated to Wisconsin to carry out his junior year. 

Cephus put these issues behind him and didn’t disappoint in 2019, catching 59 passes for 901 yards and seven touchdowns. Due to this impressive play, Cephus decided to forgo his senior year at the university and enter the NFL draft. However, as a result of his inconsistent playing time leading up to his dominant Junior year, Cephus is likely to fall to one of the mid/late rounds. 

A possible landing spot for Cephus is the New England Patriots, who will likely be looking to fill their desolate wide receiver position this upcoming draft. The Patriots passing offense struggled last season due to the departure of star tight end Rob Gronkowski, and inconsistent play of wide receivers Mohamad Sanu and N'keal Harry. 

The Pat’s have proven time and again their ability to find diamonds in the rough during later picks of the draft, and Cephus may just as well be the next one they find. 

Prediction: New England Patriots, pick 125

Other notable departing Badgers

Some other notable Wisconsin draft prospects include linebacker Chris Orr and tackle David Moorman. 

Orr had a very impressive 2019 season after finally being given the starting role in his senior year. In 14 games with the Badgers, Orr erupted for 11.5 sacks, 78 total tackles and two forced fumbles. However, Orr’s struggles with covering large zones, and his small build in relation to NFL inside linebackers are the main reasons why he will likely go undrafted. 

Another Badger who will likely not hear his name called in the draft is Offensive Tackle David Moorman. Moorman was a true team player for Wisconsin, as he frequently changed positions on the offensive line and even played tight end when needed. However, his skills are most likely not good enough to transfer to the NFL.

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