In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 21
2012 NFL Draft picks: 6 – OG Kevin Zeitler (1st round, 27th overall), C Peter Konz (2nd round, 55th overall), QB Russell Wilson (3rd round, 75th overall), WR Nick Toon (4th round, 122nd overall), FB Bradie Ewing (5th round, 157th overall), P Brad Nortman (6th round, 207th overall)
With at least one draft pick each year since 1979, NFL scouts make Madison a regular stop in their travels across the country. Despite not always having elite prep recruits, the Badger program is routinely one of the best in the Big Ten, finding and developing hungry overachievers who love the game of football. Wisconsin, who has produced 10 top-100 picks over the last four years, tied for the Big Ten lead with six players drafted this past April, one in each of the first six rounds.
Wisconsin has three straight years with double-digit victories, including back-to-back 11-win seasons and Rose Bowl appearances the past two years. The Badgers, who haven't lost at home since 2009, enter the 2012 season with a 16-game win streak at Camp Randall Stadium. And Wisconsin should be favored in every game at home this season despite losing half their starters from last year's team that won the first-ever conference title game. However, the Badgers are the favorite to return to the Big Ten Championship Game this fall, especially with Montee Ball, the nation's leading rusher from a year ago, turning down the NFL in order to return for his senior season.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. C Travis Frederick (6-4, 340)*
With Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz gone to the NFL, Frederick (pictured above) is the lone returning member of the Badgers interior offensive line in 2012. And Frederick, who will move from left guard to center as a junior this season, could end up being the best of the three. Despite being only a two-star recruit out of Big Foot high school in Wisconsin, he impressed the Badgers' coaching staff during a summer camp and earned a scholarship offer. Frederick became the first true freshman offensive lineman to start the season opener in school history, starting four games (two at center, two at left guard) in 2009. After redshirting in 2010, he started 13 games as a sophomore last season, 11 games at left guard before moving inside to center for the final two contests, earning Second Team All-Big Ten honors. Frederick has been lauded by the coaching staff for his football IQ and overall intelligence to recognize what the defense is doing and keep the offensive line organized. Up to almost 340-pounds, he has added power and bulk to his frame, but still carries his weight well. Frederick isn't an elite athlete and looks a bit stiff in his hips, but shows enough mobility to get block in space and demolish defenders in his path. Even with Montee Ball on the roster, Frederick might be the most important player on the Badgers' offense this season as he leads an inexperienced offensive line. And although he still has two years of eligibility remaining, he projects as an early round pick with his size, strength and smarts.
2. RB Montee Ball (5-11, 215)
One of the top senior running back prospects in the nation, Ball is coming off one of the most productive seasons in college football history, leading the NCAA in rushing (1,923) and yards from scrimmage (2,229). He also tied Barry Sanders' record with 39 touchdowns last year, needing just 18 scores to break the NCAA career mark. A Missouri-native, Ball was a three star running back recruit out of high school, choosing Wisconsin over Missouri, Kansas and Northwestern. He was a back-up his first two seasons in Madison, combining for 1,387 rushing yards as part of a running back committee approach. Showing up in much better physical shape as a junior, Ball became the full-time starter last season (14 starts) and finished with 1,923 yards and 39 total scores, scoring at least two touchdowns in 13 games last year (NCAA record). He set numerous conference and school records and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, earning First Team All-Big Ten and All-American honors. Ball does a nice job finding the run lanes and attacking the line of scrimmage with good quickness in tight areas, showing the speed to get around the edge. He has good balance and deceiving run power to slip out of tackles, rarely going down easily. Ball has sharp change-of-direction ability to quickly redirect his momentum and the footwork to sidestep defenders, bursting upfield. He is determined and runs with purpose, but also stays patient, following and allowing blocks to develop. Ball benefited from a mauling offensive line last season that returns only two starters and it will be tough for him to match his stats from a last year. He has been in the news this off-season after a May arrest (trespassing) and incident this past July where he was beat up near his off-campus apartment, suffering a concussion. However, neither event should have much effect on his draft standing. With over 600 touches (so far) on his collegiate résumé, Ball has put a lot of tread on his tires and shocked many when he decided to return to school for his senior season. But as long as he stays healthy, he will be one of the highest-rated backs next April and could hear his name in the first few rounds.
3. OT Ricky Wagner (6-6, 320)
A tackle with experience on both the left and right side, Wagner is slated to be the only senior starter on the Badgers' offensive line in 2012. He replaced Gabe Carimi at left tackle last season and will look follow in his footsteps as a first round draft pick next April. A talented basketball player out of high school (received five Division I offers), Wagner was barely a blip on the football recruiting radar after he missed most of his senior year at the prep level due to suspension (alcohol-related offense). However, he always wanted to be a Badger and walked on as a 240-pound tight end, moving to the offensive line during his redshirt year in 2008. After seeing limited time as a freshman back-up, Wagner started 10 games at right tackle as a sophomore in 2010. He replaced Carimi at left tackle last season as a junior and started all 14 games protecting Russell Wilson's blindside, earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors. Wagner has good size and has done a nice job adding nearly 80 pounds to his frame since enrolling in Madison. As a former basketball player, he has okay footwork and overall athleticism, but his lateral shuffle is average-at-best and he has a stiff body, lacking swivel hips to quickly adjust. Wagner needs to clean up his technique, bending too much at the waist and spending too much time with his eyes staring at the ground. He has the upper body strength and aggressive hands to lock onto defenders, flashing the power to redirect in the run game. Wagner needs to clean up his balance and cut down on the mental errors, but has next level talent and right now projects as a top-75 pick with room to move up draft boards with a consistent senior campaign.
4. WR Jared Abbrederis (6-2, 180)*
A former walk-on, Abbrederis holds school-records for kickoff return average (25.8) and punt return average (14.1) and officially signed his scholarship this past January. With Nick Toon now in the NFL, Abbrederis takes over as the No. 1 receiving target for the Badgers' offense and might be the best wideout in the Big Ten. Abbrederis was an All-State performer at the prep ranks in football and track out of Wautoma, Wisconsin, but wasn't considered a top recruit and walked on in Madison. After redshirting in 2009, he started a pair of games as a freshman and finished with 20 catches for 289 yards and three scores. Starting all 14 games in 2011, Abbrederis became the team's primary return man on kickoffs and punts last season as a junior and was the team's second leading receiver, recording 55 receptions for 933 yards and eight touchdowns. He finished second in the conference with 1,999 all-purpose yards, earning All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors. Abbrederis has a good-sized frame with long arms to pluck catches away from his frame, attacking the ball in the air with focus and body control. He has reliable ballskills, making tough catches look easy, but needs to improve his overall ball security. Abbrederis might not time well during the pre-draft process, but his long-striding football speed is evident, especially as a return man, showing excellent toughness as a ballcarrier to stay on his feet through contact. He is still developing as a route runner and lacks elite hips and footwork, but has excellent awareness, always knowing where he is on the field. Still only a redshirt junior, Abbrederis might struggle to match his production from last season with quarterback Russell Wilson now playing on Sundays, but he has the tools to play at the next level.
5. MLB Chris Borland (5-11, 245)*
A do-everything type linebacker, Chris Borland has been incredibly productive since stepping foot onto campus at Wisconsin. Over two seasons, he has combined for 205 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, three interceptions and even a few made extra point kicks. Despite prepping in Buckeye country (an hour outside of Columbus), Borland, a lightly recruited linebacker, grew up a Badger fan and signed with Wisconsin hours after he was offered. He made an immediate impact as a true freshman in 2009, first on special teams and then as a starter, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors with 54 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, five forced fumbles and an interception. Borland played in the first few games of 2010, but a shoulder injury kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the season, forcing him to take a medical redshirt year. He returned last season and started all 14 games at MLB with a team-best 19.0 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles, finishing second on the team with 143 total tackles. Borland earned First Team All-Big Ten honors for his performance in 2011 and enters his junior season on watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Lott Trophy. Generously listed at 5-11, he is undersized and lacks ideal length for the next level, but at 245 pounds, he flashes excellent core strength and tenacity. Borland has a nose for the ball with outstanding awareness and feel for the position, showing natural explosion on contact with the closing burst to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. He doesn't look like much and will get lost in a crowd, but NFL teams will love his ballhawking ability, natural instincts and his old school style at linebacker.
RB James White (5-10, 200)*
TE Jacob Pedersen (6-4, 245)*
TE Brian Wozniak (6-4, 260)*
DE Brendan Kelly (6-6, 255)
DE David Gilbert (6-4, 250)*
DT Ethan Hemer (6-6, 305)*
OLB Mike Taylor (6-2, 225)
CB Devin Smith (5-11, 190)
CB Marcus Cromartie (6-1, 190)
SS Shelton Johnson (6-0, 200)
For all of NFLDraftScout.com's team-by-team previews of the top prospects to watch in the 2012 season in preparation for the 2013 NFL draft, click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire