No position group on the University of Wisconsin football team lost more talent than its offensive line.
Four quality starters left this offseason, and three are set to be selected in this week’s NFL Draft, which runs Thursday-Saturday in Nashville.
Guards Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel and tackle David Edwards started a combined 134 games for the Badgers over the past four years, and by week’s end they could prove to make up the most impressive draft class of offensive linemen at a program renowned for churning out NFL-caliber players at the position.
“I think they’re in that second-, third-round discussion,” ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper said in February. “I think all those kids are going to go high. Wisconsin’s offensive line history speaks for itself.”
That history, as rich as it is, hasn’t included what Kiper and others believe could be possible over the next two days.
The Badgers have never placed three offensive linemen in the first three rounds of the same draft. While odds remain quite high that at least one slips into Day 3 (Rounds 4-7), Deiter, Benzschawel and Edwards will almost certainly become the first trio of UW offensive linemen to be drafted in the same year since 2011.
Their path to this point became a joint effort this winter. All three, as well as former UW inside linebacker T.J. Edwards, trained together at Proactive Sports Performance in Santa Ana, Calif.
The shared experience didn’t only present a more comfortable environment when preparing for the NFL Combine in February and UW’s Pro Day in March. It also provided them with familiar camaraderie away from the gym and practice field — whether that came from savoring a 33-ounce “Chef’s Cut” ribeye at Mastro’s Steakhouse or making fun of Benzschawel’s poor golf game.
“He can’t hit the ball off the ground,” Deiter said. “He just tops it every time. It was really bad.”
The New York Giants, who could use more help along the offensive line, appear to have taken a greater interest in the trio than anyone.
The nation's best running back recently joined the Badgers' track and field team, per a UW official, and is set to run in the 4X100-meter relay at the Penn Relays later this week.
Their offensive line coach, Hal Hunter, led the group’s on-field drills at UW’s Pro Day. The Giants also conducted a knowledge-based evaluation with David Edwards following those workouts and later brought Deiter to New York for a visit.
“They’ll teach you something, get you on the board,” David Edwards said. “Then they’ll ask you to basically teach it back, and sometimes explain your offensive scheme in some fashion.”
David Edwards’ draft stock is perhaps the most volatile heading into this week. He played 10 games last season while battling through a debilitating shoulder injury and said in December that he put some things on tape that “make me sick.”
He returned to UW after his sophomore year in 2017 despite receiving a second-round grade from the NFL College Advisory Committee and opted to skip his senior season despite the injury.
“I was surprised he came out,” Kiper said. “I thought he would go back for another year. He didn’t. You look at where he is when he’s physically at 100 percent, you say, ‘OK, you look like a potential first-, second-round pick.’”
Edwards said in March that he never saw the advisory committee’s grade this time around, but based on what he’s heard, he expected to be a Day 2 selection.
Some more recent mock drafts slot him more towards the later rounds, however, and the final version of Kiper’s top 300 released this week ranks him No. 173 overall — equivalent to a fifth-round pick.
Nothing’s certain come draft day. Deiter and Benzschawel may also need to sit through hours of draft coverage Friday or Saturday before hearing their names called.
“Second, third day — I’ve heard it all,” Benzschawel said.
All three, however, have the experience and talent to make an NFL roster and immediately help out a new team.
As someone with an up-close view from their first days at UW until the latter stages of the pre-draft process, T.J. Edwards knows the capability of each one.
“I think they’re all kind of the same but they all have their own strengths,” he said. “Dave is just so big and his arms are so long that he’s able to kind of stay square on you, and he’s hard to beat around the edge. Deiter and Beau I’ve gone against for four years, five years now. Beau, you really feel his true power when he hits you, and Deiter is more of a technically sound guy.
“They’re special, and I think each one of them is different in their own way. I think that’s why we’ve had success for such a long time. It’s really impressive.”