Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli will be one of the first Badgers taken in the 2018 NFL draft.

Wisconsin mailbag: Which Badgers are NFL draft picks, chances of Ohio State flipping QB Graham Mertz, hope for next hoops season

Jesse Temple

Have Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Wisconsin mailbag to talk all things Badgers. This week, we discuss which Wisconsin players will be NFL draft picks, whether Ohio State can flip quarterback commit Graham Mertz, Greg Gard’s job security, Andy Van Vliet’s fall from grace and two excruciating Badgers football losses.


Question 1

Answer: Wisconsin has had at least one player selected in the NFL draft every year since 1978, and that streak will certainly continue in 2018. The two players who will be taken highest should be cornerback Nick Nelson and tight end Troy Fumagalli.

CBSSports.com lists Nelson as the No. 12 cornerback in the draft and the No. 92 player overall. Fumagalli is listed as the No. 5 tight end and the No. 124 player overall. WalterFootball.com has Nelson going in the second round at No. 55 overall to the Carolina Panthers, with Fumagalli in the third round at No. 83 to the Baltimore Ravens.

Most of Wisconsin’s other draft-eligible players are likely to be either late-round picks or free agent pickups. Safety Natrell Jamerson enhanced his draft stock by earning defensive MVP honors of the East-West Shrine Game. Inside linebacker Jack Cichy would have been a no-doubter draft pick had he not suffered a torn right ACL in fall camp. Now, he may have to go the free-agent route. Defensive ends Alec James and Conor Sheehy, outside linebackers Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs, cornerback Derrick Tindal and fullback Austin Ramesh all should have a chance to earn their way onto a team.

We’ve seen before that the free-agent route can actually work out quite well for former Wisconsin players. Chris Maragos and Corey Clement weren’t drafted. Both players will represent the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl this season, although Maragos underwent season-ending right knee surgery this fall.

Question 2

Answer: I’d have to imagine it will be tough for Wisconsin’s basketball team to land point guard Tyger Campbell in the 2018 recruiting class for two reasons: how late the Badgers were in offering him a scholarship and how many other teams are after him.

Campbell is a 6-foot, 165-pound senior at La Lumiere prep school in La Porte, Ind. He is a 4-star prospect who is rated as the No. 2 player in Indiana and the No. 12 point guard in the country. He also has 18 scholarship offers, including from Purdue, Maryland, Illinois, Iowa, Marquette, Ole Miss, Tennessee, UCLA and Virginia Tech.

Campbell originally committed to DePaul in May but re-opened his recruitment in September. He initially was a member of the 2019 recruiting class but reclassified as a 2018 prospect. Obviously, Wisconsin coaches believe he could be a difference-maker in the Badgers’ backcourt. But with one more available scholarship in the 2018 class, Wisconsin could really use some frontcourt help.

At this stage of the recruiting process, it could be difficult to find someone capable of being an immediate impact player. But coaches will continue to monitor players such as forward Drew Peterson (Libertyville, Ill.), as well as prep school prospects and potential graduate transfer options in a few months.

Question 3

Answer: I’ve written this before, but I’m surprised that there has been so much discussion about Greg Gard’s job security as Wisconsin’s basketball coach. He led the Badgers to Sweet 16 appearances in each of his first two seasons, and he certainly isn’t a worse coach now than he was before. Wisconsin lost four veteran starters off the team last season. Unlike in years past, however, the Badgers didn’t have a ton of experienced players waiting in the wings.

Throw in injuries to two of Wisconsin’s top four guards with Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice, and it was an almost impossible task for the Badgers to maintain the same level of consistency as they have in previous seasons.

I believe this is more of an aberration and that Wisconsin will have a great opportunity to be a Top-25 program again next season. Assuming Ethan Happ returns for his senior season, the Badgers will have every contributor back other than former walk-on Aaron Moesch. There will still be issues with the frontcourt unless Wisconsin lands a graduate transfer. But Alex Illikainen has shown some flashes recently, and Nate Reuvers will be a more physical, confident player. Plus, you can’t put a value on the experience all these young players are gaining. Reuvers, Brad Davison and Aleem Ford are all freshmen playing major minutes.

If Wisconsin is hovering around the .500 mark at this time next season, then perhaps there is more cause for concern. But things can change quickly in recruiting, and with in-state prospects such as Nobal Days in the 2019 class and Jalen Johnson in the 2020 class still interested in Wisconsin, that’s a good sign.

Question 4

Answer: I spoke to Graham Mertz and his father last Tuesday — one day before he received the Ohio State offer — and they could not have been more complimentary of Wisconsin’s program. Both of them reaffirmed Graham’s commitment to the Badgers. Of course, things can change over the next 11 months before the early signing period arrives. But right now, he seems pretty set on Wisconsin, so I’d put the chances of him flipping to Ohio State at very low.

“He’s fully committed to Wisconsin,” Graham’s father, Ron Mertz, told me. “It’s flattering to see all the other attention. There’s definitely kind of a sense that Wisconsin was here first, it feels right in my gut and that’s where he’s going to be. But any 17-year-old kid has to find some satisfaction in the attention of others. I’m sure he’s enjoyed that. I try to keep him grounded.”

Added Graham: “It’s different with Wisconsin. It’s a family there. It’s kind of hard to say no to family. Right now I’m just sticking with Wisconsin, sticking with my gut, and that’s where I want to be.”

As Ron Mertz mentioned, there is something to be said for Wisconsin identifying Graham’s talent early and the relationships that already have been built with the Badgers’ coaching staff. Graham committed to Wisconsin when he had only three scholarship offers from Kansas, Wisconsin and Minnesota. He has since earned offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Ole Miss and Missouri.

If Graham Mertz signs with Wisconsin, he’ll be one of the highest-ranked quarterbacks the program has had in the online recruiting ranking era. Mertz is a 4-star prospect and the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the 2019 class. He is good enough that he could be a real difference-maker for Wisconsin, and his skill set is well suited for the Badgers’ pro-style offense. We’ll see what he ultimately decides, but this is definitely something Wisconsin fans will monitor in the coming year.

You can read the entire story I wrote about Mertz last week here.

Question 5

Answer: Greg Gard has shuffled his starting lineup several times this season, but his most recent change of inserting Nate Reuvers instead of Aleem Ford could be the last big move we see this season. Even though Reuvers’ offensive game needs to grow, he has shown a special ability to impact the game defensively. He recorded a ridiculous 5 blocks in 16 minutes against Illinois on Friday night, including 4 in the second half. Gard could not have been more pleased with Reuvers and said he hadn’t coached any player that had come along so far in such a short period of time.

Ford provides some nice scoring pop off the bench, which Wisconsin desperately needs when it goes to its second unit. He is one of the team’s best 3-point shooters and has connected on 27 of 59 attempts this season (45.8 percent).

The rest of the lineup isn’t likely to change, as long as Brad Davison is healthy enough to continue playing with his injured left shoulder. Davison and Brevin Pritzl are the obvious starters in the backcourt right now. Reuvers, Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson fill out the starting five. Given that we don’t know when or if point guard D’Mitrik Trice will return this season, expect those five to log heavy minutes the rest of the way.

Question 6

Answer: It is telling that Greg Gard emptied nearly his entire bench against Purdue and Illinois, and forward Andy Van Vliet never even took off his warmups. That’s a pretty good indicator of where things stand with him. While Badgers fans have been intrigued by his scoring ability, he hasn’t consistently demonstrated the physicality and attitude necessary to be on the floor.

So, what would it take for Van Vliet to earn another chance this season? I’d have to guess foul trouble or injuries to every other available big man, including Ethan Happ, Nate Reuvers, Alex Illikainen and Charlie Thomas. Even then, Gard might find other players to fill in the gaps. That’s how far Van Vliet has fallen this season.

“There’s certain things within the game that are non-negotiables in this program that physically he’s still working on,” Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft told me last month about Van Vliet. “But sometimes you don’t always have to have the biggest, strongest stature to go out there and do the things we need you to do. He’s working every day with the scout team or with Coach Gard at those little things because it clearly isn’t shooting wide-open 3s. He’s pretty good at that.

“That’s not the thing that’s holding him back from playing more minutes. It’s some of those little things that kind of have been pillars of this program. The physicality at which we need to play at in this league against the best teams, you need to be ready to go to war, and he’s still working on some of those things.”

Question 7

Answer: Any head coach has to have some type of short list for when an assistant coaching position opens up. Paul Chryst has developed relationships across the sport, and I imagine we’ll find out soon who he’s decided to hire for the outside linebacker vacancy left by Tim Tibesar. For what it’s worth, the deadline to apply for the position was last Friday, and the anticipated start date is Wednesday, Jan. 24. National Signing Day is Feb. 7. But it’s more important that Chryst has someone in place by the time spring practice begins in March.

Question 8

Answer: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there won’t be any retroactive officiating changes made on either of those plays. Having said that, Wisconsin was absolutely robbed on both occasions. Joel Stave’s knee was clearly down in that 2013 game at Arizona State, and referees let the clock run out without any hustle to re-set the ball. I don’t know if Wisconsin would have made a 32-yard field goal in the waning seconds, but the Badgers at least deserved the opportunity to try. Arizona State won the game 32-30.

And yes, Jazz Peavy had four steps and a knee down in the end zone against Northwestern in 2015 on what should have been a 1-yard touchdown catch in the last 30 seconds. Instead, it was overturned and Wisconsin lost 13-7.

While the calls were terrible, it’s worth pointing out that victories in those games probably wouldn’t have drastically changed much about Wisconsin’s season. Wisconsin went 9-4 in 2013 and finished 6-2 in the Leaders Division — two games behind Ohio State. Wisconsin lost at Ohio State two weeks after the Arizona State defeat. And in 2015, a victory against Northwestern would have put Wisconsin at 7-1 in the Big Ten West. Iowa finished 8-0 and knocked off Wisconsin 10-6 in Camp Randall Stadium seven weeks before the Northwestern game.

Wisconsin closed the season 10-3, and Stave got the last laugh after all, leading the Badgers to a Holiday Bowl victory against USC despite suffering a broken nose in the fourth quarter. Not a bad way to end a college career.

Have a question about Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10Badgers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Wisconsin mailbags here.