University of Wisconsin juniors Ryan Ramczyk and T.J. Watt deflected nearly every question this week regarding their college football futures.
Both could opt to skip their senior season to enter the NFL, but they insisted their focus remains entirely on the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan. They even declined to say whether they’ve submitted paperwork to the NFL for an evaluation.
Their names, particularly Ramczyk’s, have circulated across mock drafts throughout the latter half of the season, and UW’s two All-Americans don’t want to feed into the hype before finishing off their final game of what has been a special season.
“You can’t look at everything,” Ramczyk said. “You’ll just shut down if you try to take everything in and try to process everything that’s going around. It’s been good for me to just focus on the task at hand.”
Some have projected Ramczyk, UW’s starting left tackle, to be selected in the first round — an opportunity college juniors typically don’t pass up.
It also may be a better year than many for Ramczyk to make the leap. According to ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr., offensive tackle is one of the weakest positions in this draft. Kiper sees Ramczyk as the second-best prospect at the position if Alabama junior Cam Robinson leaves early.
“That’s the one position that’s pretty weak,” Kiper said. “Cam Robinson from Alabama, if he comes out, is probably a mid-first, maybe top 10-15, top 10-12 at best. Ramczyk would be next in line. … He’s a guy that can move you off the ball and in pass protection he’s good, I don’t think he’s great. You saw him late in that game (against Penn State) have a few struggles in pass protection.
“He’s got that late first, early second round possibility, which in this draft, may push him up a bit because there’s not that many. If he’s the second-best offensive tackle, he could go a little higher than that. This is a year where if you’re an offensive tackle, you might think about (coming out early) because of the lack of quality talent at the top of draft at that position.”
The decision may be more difficult for Watt, who many project as a second- or third-round pick. The outside linebacker already has two brothers playing in the NFL — Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and San Diego Chargers fullback Derek Watt. J.J., the 11th overall pick in 2011, left before his senior year at UW.
While the opportunity to be a Day 2 selection may not be as can’t-miss as what Ramczyk is facing, T.J. Watt appears physically ready for the next level.
Still, it isn’t common for UW players to forgo their senior seasons for the NFL. Only eight have made such a leap since 2000, and only three of those — offensive lineman Peter Konz, running back Brian Calhoun and cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu — were selected outside of the first round.
Last year alone, Ohio State had nine players enter the draft early.
Ramczyk and Watt would also be the least experienced Badgers to decide to leave the program early since 2000. Ramczyk, a UW-Stevens Point transfer, is completing his first year of Division I football, while Watt has only played two seasons since switching from tight end to outside linebacker last summer. All eight UW players who left early for the NFL since 2000 played three years of Division I football.
UW coach Paul Chryst said last week a couple players submitted their names to the NFL for an evaluation but wouldn’t confirm the two were Ramczyk and Watt.
Chryst and the rest of the coaching staff, despite the benefit they’d receive from seeing those two returning to school, simply want to help prospects make the most informed decision by Jan. 16, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft.
“We’ve got a couple that should be looking into it,” Chryst said. “You want to help gather information so they can make an informed decision. I think that’s one role in the past I’ve always done and can continue to do. Then if someone has all the information, then they can make a decision that’s best for them.”
Defensive linemen Conor Sheehy and Alec James and running back Dare Ogunbowale missed practice Friday.
Sheehy, who missed the Big Ten Championship Game earlier this month, still has a large cast on his right arm.
Nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, who returned in the regular-season finale against Minnesota after missing five games, now has just a small cast on his right hand.