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NFL Draft preview: Predicting Badger landing spots

As the NFL Draft nears, select Badger standouts await their fate.

With the 2023 NFL Draft starting tonight, a handful of Wisconsin Badgers eagerly anticipate their name being called on draft night. Exactly when that happens, however, remains to be seen. Here’s a look at where the top departing Badgers may land. 

Joe Tippmann, Center

Tippmann headlines this list as arguably the most appealing Wisconsin prospect entering the draft. The towering interior lineman acted as a pillar of the Badgers’ offensive line for the past two seasons and is viewed by many scouts as one of the best centers in this year’s draft.

As a highly sought-after recruit rated four stars by 247Sports, Tippmann came to Wisconsin with an embellished trophy case. While playing for Bishop Dwenger High School, the Fort Wayne native was named Indiana’s Mr. Football and conference MVP, an incredible feat for an offensive lineman. 

Following a redshirt freshman year and injury-riddled sophomore season, Tippmann cemented himself on the Badgers’ front line in 2021. Over the last two seasons, he’s started all but one game at center, a position he’d never played before joining the Badgers.

Tippmann is a relentless blocker who overpowers defensive linemen with his elite strength and blazing speed. He displayed his freak athleticism and football knowledge on pulls and cutoffs throughout the season, creating open running lanes while serving as the lead blocker for running back Braelon Allen. A fast learner and versatile prospect, Tippman is primed to slot into any pro scheme as a day one starter.

Like all raw prospects, Tippmann isn’t perfect. At 6-foot-6, he is two inches taller than the average NFL center. Tippman’s height puts him at a disadvantage against shorter, quicker rushers who are able to wrap under his hands and drive him back on first contact to win the leverage battle. 

Tippmann’s six holding penalties in 2022 may also be cause for concern, suggesting he loses discipline once beaten.

Regardless, Tippmann should warrant a second or third round selection in this year’s draft. Several teams that may be interested in his talents are the New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills.

Mitch Morse currently mans the center position for the Bills, but the veteran has a contract that expires in 2024 and a long history with concussions. Following quarterback Josh Allen’s expressed desire to run the ball less as his career progresses, Buffalo could look to strengthen their pass protection for the foreseeable future. The Bills have already done their due diligence on Tippmann, inviting the center to their facility on a top-30 visit.

Prediction: Buffalo Bills, pick 59 

Keeanu Benton, Defensive Tackle

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In the case of Tippmann and Benton — the defensive tackle who lined up across him in practice daily — iron truly does sharpen iron.

Benton excelled as a multisport athlete in high school, earning a three star recruit rating by 247Sports for football and all-state honors in wrestling. Despite dropping the latter sport in college, his wrestling skills transitioned seamlessly to the gridiron.

Wisconsin handed Benton an immediate role on the defensive line when he arrived in 2019. Though Benton played13 games as a freshman, it wasn’t until his senior year that the imposing tackle dominated at his position, amassing 25 tackles, 28 total pressures and six sacks in 2022.

First characterized as a run-stuffing defensive tackle, Benton sharpened his game to become a well-rounded pass rusher as well. His wrestling background allows him to drive centers back through outstanding hand placement and power, while his lower body strength lets him cover ground quickly for a 315-pound lineman.

Similar to Tippmann, Benton’s height may pose issues at the next level. At 6-foot-4, Benton’s upright playstyle allows offensive linemen to get under his pads and drive him to the ground to win leverage.

Benton dazzled scouts at the Senior Bowl in February and could be selected as early as the second or third round. Teams that could look to acquire him include the New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers and Detroit Lions.

The Lions used a second-round pick on defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike two years ago, though his nagging back injuries raise cause for concern. Head coach Dan Campbell routinely preaches grit and toughness on the football field — traits Benton perfectly encapsulates.

Prediction: Detroit Lions, pick 55

Nick Herbig, Outside Linebacker

Herbig follows in the footsteps of fellow NFL-caliber linebackers from Wisconsin, including T.J. Watt, Andrew Van Ginkel, Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn. The four star high school recruit lived up to his rating, leading the stout Badgers defense while starting all but one game over his three-year collegiate career.

As a stand-up rusher in Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense, Herbig led the Badgers in sacks each of the past two seasons with nine in 2021 and 11 in 2022. He additionally recorded 30 tackles and 34 total pressures this past season, earning a consensus spot on the first team 2022 All-Big Ten lineup.

Herbig possesses a wide array of pass rushing moves that allow him to terrorize his opponent’s backfield. His quickness off the ball, fluid motion and understanding of rush angles let him frequently squeeze past blockers around the edge. Additionally, training alongside older brother Nate — an offensive guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers — has prepared Herbig for the grueling demands of the NFL.

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But what Herbig brings in speed, he lacks in size. To find consistent edge rushing success in the NFL, Herbig will likely have to bulk up and add significant lower body strength. Teams are viewing him as a situational pass rusher — not an every-down player — due to his inexperience in pass coverage.

Despite an explosive pass rushing arsenal, Herbig’s flaws will likely drop him to the third round. The Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs could all use a player with his abilities.

Following the release of defensive end Frank Clark, the Chiefs will likely take a speedy edge rusher in this year’s draft. Though recent free agent signing Charles Omenihu currently holds the starting position, Herbig would serve as a third-down contributor to apply added pressure.

Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs, pick 95

Other notable departing Badgers

Offensive lineman Tyler Beach and safety John Torchio will also try their hand at the NFL.

Beach started the past three seasons on the offensive line for the Badgers, hopping between both tackle spots and left guard. While he excels blocking the run, the versatile lineman struggles against speed rushers in pass protection and lacks the athletic upside NFL teams are looking for in the draft. 

Torchio showcased his strong hands and keen ability to track the football the past two seasons, amassing eight interceptions and holding opposing quarterbacks to a sub-60 rating when targeted. However, his subpar tackling and one-dimensional play might deter potential draft suitors. 

Though Beach and Torchio likely won’t hear their names called in the draft, teams could take a chance on them in the ensuing days. And, as linebacker Jack Sanborn proved last year with the Chicago Bears, undrafted Badgers routinely make an immediate impact in the NFL. 

Prediction: Undrafted free agents

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