The 2020 NFL Draft came and passed this weekend — albeit under undeniably bizarre circumstances. The coronavirus pandemic forced the draft to be conducted virtually, which meant commissioner Roger Goodell was announcing selections in casual sweaters, in his basement, rather than in a suit on a stage.
Thursday’s first round unfortunately did not feature any former Wisconsin Badgers, however four of Coach Paul Chryst’s players heard their names called on Friday and Saturday, with a fifth signing as an undrafted free agent. If their playing days at Camp Randall are any indication, these five Badgers will be having profound impacts on their respective NFL rosters for years to come.
Jonathan Taylor | RB | Indianapolis Colts | 2nd round, 41st overall
Taylor’s astounding dominance over three seasons in the Wisconsin program — highlighted by 6,581 total scrimmage yards, 55 touchdowns, and two Doak Walker Awards as the best running back in college football — cemented his status as a Badger legend and a first-round NFL talent. But, the 2020 class’s excess of talent, particularly at the wide receiver position, left little room for running backs in the first round, as only one was selected by the Chiefs with the round’s final pick. By trading up to the 41st pick, though, the Colts ended Taylor’s wait early on night two.
The Colts current running backs, Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, have performed well over the first few years with the team, but Jonathan Taylor has the skillset and durability to become Indy’s feature back. Mack’s frequent injuries and looming free agency may open the door for Taylor should the Wisconsin star excel with whatever opportunity he gets as a rookie. Taylor will enjoy a formidable offensive line in Indianapolis, and if he resolves his fumbling issues, is fully capable of becoming the NFL’s next star running back.
Zack Baun | LB | New Orleans Saints | 3rd round, 74th overall
Baun was nearing the end of an unremarkable career at Wisconsin before blossoming into a star pass rusher as a senior in 2019. Much like Jonathan Taylor, Baun’s numbers, most notably his 12.5 sacks in 2019, suggested that he’d be selected early in the draft. A diluted drug sample at the Draft Combine, however, which Baun attributed to over-hydrating, alarmed NFL scouts to some degree and could have been part of his slide on draft night.
Baun boasts the athleticism and versatility to nicely complement any NFL defense, and he’ll have the chance to carve out a role for himself with the Saints. New Orleans’s defensive edge is loaded with the talented Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and Trey Hendrickson, but Baun, who’ll likely convert to a defensive end in the Saints’s 4-3 scheme, has potential to be a valuable component of their defensive rotation.
Tyler Biadasz | C | Dallas Cowboys | 4th round, 146th overall
Winner of 2019’s Rimington Trophy, awarded to college football’s best center, Biadasz has proven his ability to command a dominant offensive line. Biadasz, along with his fellow line-mates, enabled the Badgers to operate a very run-heavy offense, opening lanes for Jonathan Taylor to dash through each Saturday. Remarkably, Biadasz was recruited to Wisconsin as a defensive lineman, but since joining the team, has started every game at center. Questions linger regarding Biadasz’s health, due to his missing the Combine while recovering from shoulder surgery, but the center-needy Cowboys were willing to trade up and draft him.
Dallas’s Travis Frederick — also a Wisconsin alum — had been considered football’s best center for several years, but health issues unrelated to football forced him to retire a month ago. Luckily, Dallas now has Biadasz, who appears primed to become the next Badger center to anchor the Cowboys’s line.
Quintez Cephus | WR | Detroit Lions | 5th round, 166th overall
Recording 901 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019, Cephus put his off-the-field issues behind him and made himself an NFL pick. Speed is not Cephus’s biggest strength as a receiver, although his physicality, size, and sure hands were enough to convince NFL scouts to look past his 4.73 second 40 yard dash. Cephus has also proven his worth in the most critical games, tallying 114 and 122 yards against Minnesota and Ohio State, respectively. The Lions already enjoy impressive depth at wide receiver, rostering Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., and Danny Amendola to name a few. Cephus will undoubtedly get plenty of opportunities to perform at an NFL level, and if he impresses, may find himself right in the thick of Detroit’s wide receiver depth chart.
Chris Orr | LB | Carolina Panthers | UDFA
Going undrafted was surely disappointing for a competitor like Orr, especially considering his strong final season as a Wisconsin Badger, though out of the thirty-two NFL linebacker corps, Carolina’s may be the most favorable for a player of Orr’s caliber. For the first time in several years, the Panthers have a sizable void at linebacker, with Luke Kuechly’s retirement coinciding with Thomas Davis Sr.’s departure. Granted, Orr will face plenty of competition in training camp, whenever that may occur, but if he continues to improve upon the potential he flashed at Wisconsin, he may earn a roster spot and a role alongside Shaq Thompson in the Carolina defense.