2019 NFL Draft: Wisconsin boasts unsung defenders and a trio of NFL-ready blockers
Nose tackle Olive Sagapolu's width will benefit linebacker T.J. Edwards, and Wisconsin's offensive line will dominate
Wisconsin's in good hands with head coach Paul Chryst calling the shots. The program's increased its win total in each of the last three seasons and quietly went 13-1 last year, a dazzling campaign that featured a cherry-on-top victory against Miami in the Orange Bowl.
Not only are the Badgers perennially among the most underrated teams in the nation, they've had eight players selected in the past two drafts after just four were picked in 2015 and 2016 combined.
Their most dynamic player, Johnathan Taylor, the latest in an epic lineage of ridiculously productive backs in Wisconsin's history, isn't draft-eligible until 2020, but Chryst's club boasts a small group of high-caliber prospects who can enter the 2019 Draft.
T.J. Edwards, LB
Edwards doesn't look like a modern-day linebacker. He's got a thick frame and never spent time as a safety in college. I don't see him running 4.50 at the 2019 combine. Interestingly, despite all that, he's a tremendous coverage defender with some of the quickest play-recognition skills I've ever scouted.
In 2017, the relatively stocky Edwards defended seven passes and had four picks ... a year after he knocked down two throws and had three interceptions for the Badgers.
Beyond that, Edwards is comfortable when a blocker approaches. He plays with the power and mature stack-and-shed skills needed to remove offensive linemen en route to the ball-carrier. Of course, the veteran linebacker -- already with 40 games of experience under his belt -- could stand to get faster to boost his draft stock. I love his game coming into the 2018 season and think he'll likely go somewhere on Day Two but will outplay his draft position in the NFL.
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David Edwards, OT
As a former tight end, Edwards has the inherent athleticism the NFL rightfully loves, and the ease at which he moves his 6-foot-7, 305-pound frame is captivating. In the run game, he's a springy plow on combo blocks and when he's asked to punish in man-on-man situations.
Edwards engages with noticeable aggression, and while that tendency can appear to a bit much at times, he's rarely caught off balance when opening rushing lanes.
On outside runs, he's fast to lead the way. Beyond his plus movement skills, an impossible-to-miss strength of Edwards' game is his awareness. He's unfazed by stunts or delayed blitzes from second- or-third-level defenders -- an indicator he's been coached well and an aspect of his game that speaks to his 26 games of experience at Wisconsin.
He needs to scale back his desire to lunge in pass protection, a blip on his resume that pops up on occasion, and more weight would likely allow him to anchor more effectively against bull-rushes. Also, his kick-slide needs to be quicker and get more depth. Right now, Edwards is a lock to go early on Day Two, but a rise into Round 1 would not be shocking whatsoever.
Beau Benzschawel, OL
Like his neighbor on the Badgers right side, Benzschawel's athleticism -- especially his lateral movement -- will draw the eyes of pro scouts and GMs.
Listed at 6-6 and 317 pounds, he's a sizable guard with almost unfair foot quickness. Ironically, Benzschawel's speed hinders his productivity at times. He can get to the second level or approach his second block in a combo too soon, which leads to him frantically looking for what appears to be his assignment.
With 36 games of experience -- including 30 straight starts at right guard -- Benzschawel is superbly aware of just about everything defensive coordinators throw at Wisconsin's line. Also, his coaches ask a lot of him, and much more often than not, the veteran interior lineman executes difficult blocks.
As for the negatives, he plays high at times in pass protection. With another offseason to get stronger before the upcoming campaign and bend at the knees more consistently, Beauschawel should make a large stride in that vital area of his game.
Michael Deiter, OL
Deiter has been Mr. Versatility for the Badgers since he stepped onto the field in Madison. He manned the center and guard positions before a stint as Wisconsin's left tackle in 2017.
Now he's set to return to the left guard spot. Of course, his coaches had to sign off on the move, but Deiter apparently was told by NFL scouts to "go back and play guard" when he thought about testing the draft waters in 2018.
Deiter is a similar prospect to Edwards, but his 2017 film made it clear he wasn't as athletically gifted as his fellow tackle. Deiter works swiftly to the second level and is proficient in a variety of blocks. With no outside help on the edge, he was susceptible to counter moves and speed from smaller rushers.
At guard, he can attack in a phone booth more often, yet he does need to play with a more tenacious demeanor in those one-on-one situations, and at 6-6, making a concerted effort to play lower will help him to not get out-leveraged by squatty defensive tackles.
Olive Sagapolu, NT
At 6-2 and 346, Sagapolu is built like a bull, and he doesn't move like he's close to 350 pounds. While not very efficient with his hand usage, he routinely tries to deploy some type of block-dispatching move on offensive linemen.
When given a room inside, Sagapolu can explode through it fast enough to immediately disrupt the opposition's backfield.
The overwhelming majority of defensive linemen lean heavily on strength and/or sheer quickness early in their collegiate careers and later develop the ability to utilize their hands to collapse the pocket. Sagapolu's a fascinating case study because he's gone about it the opposite way. Considering his size, believe it or not, I'd like to see Wisconsin's nose tackle win more frequently with low center of gravity and bull-rushing power in 2018.
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