The wait for a Badger to be selected in the 2021 NFL draft is over.
The Pittsburgh Steelers moved up in the fifth round Saturday to select defensive tackle Isaiahh Loudermilk, taking him significantly higher than his projections. Loudermilk was the 156th overall pick in the draft and the first Badger.
“I know traditionally it is a great defense. I just can’t wait to be part of such a historically great defense and a historically great team,” Loudermilk told reporters.
He’ll join former University of Wisconsin great T.J. Watt in the Steelers’ front, and have the opportunity to learn from new teammate Cameron Heyward, a two-time first-team All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler at defensive end.
“I want to be able to come in and really be a sponge,” Loudermilk said. “I can play with someone who I’ve been watching for a while.”
Loudermilk played significant snaps every year he was at UW, amassing 40 career appearances and 63 total tackles. He had 11½ tackles for loss and 7½ sacks for the Badgers. He also had nine passes defended and two forced fumbles.
A number of projections, including those from ESPN and NFL.com, had Loudermilk as a seventh-round selection or a priority free agent. Loudermilk said he didn’t pay attention to the rankings and had good conversations with Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin in the pre-draft process, so he knew there was interest in the Steel City.
His height (6-6⅜) and long arms could help him be a pest to quarterbacks, batting balls down at the line.
"He can make a spin, he can stunt, they game him a little bit, he can work inside and he can be disruptive with that height, that wingspan," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "With that length, that's a factor ... he doesn't have to beat the center, guard, but you can at least bat down passes ... those passing lanes will be disrupted by Isaiahh Loudermilk.
"He made his presence felt in a number of games for the Badgers.”
After participating in UW’s pro day at about 260 pounds, Loudermilk said Saturday he’s closer to 280 now, but feels like it’s healthier weight. He figures to be a rotational piece on the Steelers' defensive line right away, backing up Heyward and fellow end Stephon Tuitt.
Loudermilk got experience playing in different areas of the line with the Badgers, and said that’s something the Steelers’ front office has discussed with him.
“I feel like that’s what helped me at Wisconsin,” he said, “I was able to move along the line, inside, outside, five-tech.”
Looking back at the best Badgers rookies of the Super Bowl era
Jonathan Taylor, 2020
Drafted: Second round, ninth pick (41st overall), Indianapolis Colts
Stats: 15 games played, 13 starts; 232 carries, 1,169 yards, 11 TDs; 36 catches, 299 yards, 1 TD.
The two-time Doak Walker Award winner moved into the Colts’ starting role early in the season and finished with the third-most rushing yards in the league.
Michael Deiter, 2019
Drafted: Third round, 14th pick (78th overall), Miami Dolphins
Stats: 16 games played, 15 starts; aided a passing game that ranked 12th in the league in passing yards
Deiter earned a starting role in training camp and showed position flexibility by playing both guard spots.
Ryan Ramczyk, 2017
Drafted: First round, 32nd pick (32nd overall), New Orleans Saints
Stats: Started all 16 games; aided an offense that scored the fourth-most points and gained the second-most yards in the league.
Ramczyk started the first four games at left tackle before becoming the Saints’ starting right tackle and earned PFWA All-Rookie honors.
T.J. Watt, 2017
Drafted: First round, 30th pick (30th overall), Pittsburgh Steelers
Stats: 15 games played, 15 starts; 54 combined tackles, 10 for loss, seven sacks; one interception and one forced fumble.
Watt played 77% of the Steelers’ defensive snaps and 34% of the special teams snaps as a rookie, and was named to the 2017 NFL All-Rookie Team.
Joe Schobert, 2016
Drafted: Fourth round, first pick (99th overall), Cleveland Browns
Stats: 16 games played, four starts; 28 combined tackles, ½ sack, one pass defended
Schobert was in a rotation at inside linebacker for the Browns throughout the year, but proved to be a valuable special teams player, playing 64% of those plays.
Melvin Gordon, 2015
Drafted: First round, 15th pick (15th overall), San Diego Chargers
Stats: 14 games played, 12 starts; 184 carries, 641 yards; 33 catches, 192 yards.
Splitting time with Danny Woodhead in the backfield, Gordon showed his explosiveness between the tackles. He struggled with fumbles, putting the ball on the ground six times.
Chris Borland, 2014
Drafted: Third round, 13th pick (77th overall), San Francisco 49ers
Stats: 14 games played, eight starts; 107 total tackles, 12 for loss, one sack; five passed defended, two interceptions and one fumble recovery
Borland moved into a starting role midway through the season and made the most of his chance. He won defensive rookie of the month in November. He retired after his rookie season.
Travis Frederick, 2013
Drafted: First round, 31st pick (31st overall), Dallas Cowboys
Stats: 16 starts; aided an offense that scored the fifth-most points in the league and had the third-most passing touchdowns
Frederick played every snap of the Cowboys season on offense as a rookie, earning second-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press.
Russell Wilson, 2012
Drafted: Third round, 12th pick (75th overall), Seattle Seahawks
Stats: 16 starts; Completed 64.1% of his passes for 3,118 yards; Threw 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions
Wilson beat out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job, then led the Seahawks to an 11-5 record en route to earning a spot in the Pro Bowl.
J.J. Watt, 2011
Drafted: First round, 11th pick (11th overall), Houston Texans
Stats: 16 starts; 56 total tackles, 13 for loss, 5½ sacks, 19 QB hits; Four passes defended, two fumble recoveries
It took a few weeks for Watt to get adjusted to the NFL, but he found his footing and tallied 10 of his TFLs in the second half of the season. He had 3½ sacks in two playoff games.
DeAndre Levy, 2009
Drafted: Third round, 12th pick (76th overall), Detroit Lions
Stats: 16 games played, 10 starts; 85 combined tackles, seven for loss, one interception, five passes defended, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries
Levy played his way into the starting lineup in the first month of the season, showing solid pass coverage skills and strong tackling.
Joe Thomas, 2007
Drafted: First round, third pick (third overall), Cleveland Browns
Stats: 16 starts; aided an offense that ranked eighth in the NFL in both points scored and total yardage
Thomas was even better than Cleveland could’ve expected, locking down their left tackle position and starting a streak of 10,363 consecutive snaps played, which is considered to be the NFL record.
Owen Daniels, 2006
Drafted: Fourth round, first pick (98th overall), Houston Texans
Stats: 14 games played, 12 starts; 34 catches, 352 yards, five touchdowns
Daniels became the starter after about a month and finished the season tied for sixth-most touchdowns among tight ends in the league.
Erasmus James, 2005
Drafted: First round, 18th pick (18th overall), Minnesota Vikings
Stats: 15 games played, 9 starts; 28 total tackles, six for loss, four sacks; two passes defended, one forced fumble
James’ rookie season was his best in the NFL as injury issues plagued the rest of his career. After a sluggish start to the season, he helped the Vikings win six games in a row between weeks 9 and 14.
Lee Evans, 2004
Drafted: First round, 13th pick (13th overall), Buffalo Bills
Stats: 16 games, 11 starts; 48 catches, 843 yards, nine touchdowns; five rushes, 85 yards; 17.5 yards per touch average
Evans set the Bills rookie record for receiving touchdowns, a record that still stands, and helped the Bills go 9-7, their first winning record in four seasons.
Michael Bennett, 2001
Drafted: First round, 27th pick (27th overall), Minnesota Vikings
Stats: 13 games played, 13 starts; 172 rushes, 682 yards, two touchdowns; 29 catches, 226 yards, one touchdown
Bennett became the starter after the sudden retirement of Robert Smith but battled a midseason injury which cost him three games. His best performance was a home game against the Titans, tallying 113 yards and two scores.
Chris Chambers, 2001
Drafted: Second round, 21st pick (52nd overall), Miami Dolphins
Stats: 16 games played, seven starts; 48 catches, 883 yards, seven touchdowns; 36 kick returns, 811 yards
Despite not becoming a regular starter until December, Chambers posted three games of at least 100 receiving yards and three games with multiple touchdowns.
Ron Dayne, 2000
Drafted: First round, 11th pick (11th overall), New York Giants
Stats: 16 games played, four starts; 228 carries, 770 yards, five touchdowns; 3 catches, 11 yards
While splitting time in the backfield with Tiki Barber, the Heisman Trophy winner was a significant piece of an offense that led the Giants to the Super Bowl.
Troy Vincent, 1992
Drafted: First round, seventh pick (seventh overall), Miami Dolphins
Stats: 15 games played, 14 starts; 77 tackles; two interceptions, two fumbles recovered, one fumble forced
Vincent earned a starting role for coach Don Shula after just one week and he showed his skills both in coverage and as a tackler.
Nate Odomes, 1987
Drafted: Second round, first pick (29th overall), Buffalo Bills
Stats: 12 games played, 12 starts; 42 tackles, two fumbles recovered, one fumble forced
Odomes took a few weeks to move into the starting lineup, but started the final nine games and became a dependable cornerback for the Bills.
Al Toon, 1985
Drafted: First round, 10th pick (10th overall), New York Jets
Stats: 15 games played, eight starts; 46 catches, 662 yards, three touchdowns
With a 156-yard performance in Week 9 serving as his coming-out party, Toon was a consistent play-maker down the stretch for a Jets team that went 11-5.
Tim Krumrie, 1983
Drafted: 10th round, 25th pick (276th overall), Cincinnati Bengals
Stats: 16 games played, two starts; 53 tackles, 1½ sacks, one fumble recovery
Krumrie immediately proved his worth on the defensive line, helping the Bengals turn around a 1-6 start to finish 7-9.
Ray Snell, 1980
Drafted: First round, 22nd pick (22nd overall), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stats: 13 games played, 11 starts; aided a passing game that ranked 10th in the league in passing yards
Snell moved into the starting lineup in Week 3 and played multiple positions on the offensive line for the Bucs, who went 2-10-1.
Mike Webster, 1974
Drafted: Fifth round, 21st pick (125th overall), Pittsburgh Steelers
Stats: 14 games played, one start; aided an offense that ranked sixth in total points scored and eighth in yards gained
Webster was a rotational player in his rookie season, helping the Steelers win the Super Bowl and preparing himself for a Hall of Fame career.