For excelling as such a ground-and-pound, blue-collar program over the years, Wisconsin has developed its share of first-round draft picks, including two of the best players in the NFL today, J.J. Watt and Joe Thomas. This year’s class only saw two picks and none in the first round — or the first three rounds, to be precise — but it did feature a second member of the Watt family.
In April’s draft, the Big Ten churned out 47 draft picks through the seven rounds. That still trailed the SEC’s 51, but it beat out every other league and topped the previous year’s total by 12.
Indiana/Maryland/Rutgers draft breakdown, Nebraska draft breakdown
This is the seventh part of a series that takes a look at the Big Ten’s draft picks and how they might fit in early on with their NFL teams.
Today, we continue with the Badgers:
Wisconsin — 2 draft picks
Round 4, Pick 1: Joe Schobert, LB, Cleveland Browns — The Browns, as is their nature these days, had a wildly interesting draft with 14 selections under the new-wave analytical approach. But when they tabbed Schobert for one of them, it was a pick that was universally praised. That’s because Schobert checked so many different boxes at Wisconsin, from pass rusher (9.5 sacks in 2015) to sideline-to-sideline tackler (79 tackles in 2015), a blend of talent and the instincts and effort to go with it all. The knock on him is only that teams had a hard time reading what he would be at the next level. At 6-foot-1 and 244 pounds, he’s on the lighter side as a 3-4 outside linebacker, even though that’s where his range and instincts have the most room to work. The Browns hope it will give them options at all four linebacker spots in their 3-4 base. Outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo both are in prove-it spots this season on a team unafraid of cutting veterans. Inside linebacker and former Iowa Hawkeye Christian Kirksey will likely start but has always shown more traits as a backup, and free-agent signing Demario Davis has just as much to prove after being tossed aside by the Jets. The Browns will take time to experiment with Schobert as part of the prolonged rebuild, and where he develops could help them make decisions on other players.
Round 6, Pick 23: Derek Watt, FB, San Diego Chargers — Fullback selections often turn heads in the NFL Draft, but this one made total sense from the start. One year after trading up to draft Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon in the first round — and then having him sputter to 3.5 yards per carry and no scores behind a disaster of an offensive line — the Chargers tabbed his former lead blocker to help protect for the primary investment. The younger Watt isn’t near the athletic freak J.J. is or was back then — for starters, he’s three inches shorter at 6-foot-2 — so he’ll have to work his way in a much more defined role in order to make it in the league. Translating his ability to offer help in the passing game and on special teams to the NFL will be a crucial step in securing that future, but his job is to create space for what was thought to be one of the more electric backs the NFL Draft has seen in years.
Wisconsin is enduring some turnover, something not completely foreign to the program. Entering the second year under its third coach since 2012, the Badgers will return just 44 percent of its offensive and defensive production, according to SB Nation. That figure places it in the seven least-experienced FCS schools in the nation for 2016, ahead of only Ohio State in the Big Ten.
That change makes it unlikely the Badgers will see a high number of draft picks next year, but it also makes it that much more difficult to forecast. The most highly-touted prospect the program has for the 2017 draft in this early stage is center Dan Voltz, but plenty can change.