The 2021 NFL draft may be the quietest one in years for University of Wisconsin players.
The Badgers only have a handful of players likely to make an NFL roster from the class that declared this year and it’s difficult to say any are sure-fire locks to be drafted at all. UW has had at least two players drafted each year since 1994.
UW’s group of draft-eligible players has skills that would help an NFL team, but each has areas of concern that could have teams opting to pursue them as undrafted free agents. UW had 10 players participate in its pro day in early March, but a look through NFL draft analysts’ thoughts on the class shows only five have legitimate shots at hearing their name called this weekend.
Safety Eric Burrell, defensive end Isaiah Loudermilk, fullback Mason Stokke, offensive lineman Cole Van Lanen and cornerback Rachad Wildgoose will all but assuredly be waiting until Saturday’s later rounds for their chance to be selected.
“For all of these guys, you just want it to be where they can get in a good position and get an opportunity,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “Hopefully we’ve got a number of guys that can land a spot.”
Eric Burrell: Burrell’s football IQ is his best asset, and teams that ask safeties to adjust their coverages pre-snap will likely want to see what he can do on the pro level. He’s had meetings with about 20 teams in the pre-draft process.
He ran a 4.64-second 40 at pro day and showed good athleticism with a 35½-inch vertical leap, but he doesn’t have much ball-hawking on tape to show teams. He’s also a willing special teams player, which adds to his value.
“High school, I started off on special teams. College, I started off on special teams, that’s how you work your way up,” Burrell said. “I pride myself in special teams … so I’m excited for that.”
If he’s drafted, it’ll likely be in the seventh round by a team that doesn’t want to risk losing him to another team as an undrafted free agent.
“He knows where he thrives as a football player, the physical aspect of being able to throw his body around and track the football,” UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. “That is a skill in itself that not everybody has.”
Isaiahh Loudermilk: Loudermilk’s size alone at 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds is rare for an NFL defensive lineman. In UW’s 3-4 scheme, he was charged with eating blocks and making plays in the run game. That’s likely his best fit in the pros as well, as he doesn’t have the girth and strength of a 4-3 tackle or the speed of a 4-3 end.
Loudermilk was a consistent presence for the defensive line the past two seasons after recovering from an elbow injury that sidelined him early in his career.
Analysts from NFL.com and The Draft Network see him being an undrafted free agent, but there’s a possibility of sneaking into the later parts of the seventh round.
Mason Stokke: After converting from linebacker, Stokke took steps each season as a fullback to add elements to his game. He showed the complete package last season, running the ball well in short-yardage situations, displaying good vision as a blocker and capable hands as a receiver.
The issue Stokke faces in going pro is not many teams use fullbacks in the NFL, and the ones that do all have a steady starter under contract. He’ll have to earn his roster spot through special teams and his draft prospects are in the seventh round.
Cole Van Lanen: After playing starter’s snaps for three seasons, Van Lanen’s pro prospects rest on him making a position change. The consensus among draftniks is Van Lanen will need to move to guard for a shot in the NFL, as he doesn’t have the arm length or strength to play in space as a tackle.
Van Lanen’s quick first step and power as a blocker fit nicely at guard, but the draft class is deep with guards.
“Cole’s a guy that football’s important to him,” Chryst said. “He’s a smart football player.”
He’s a mid-to-late seventh-round pick according to four major draft projections.
Rachad Wildgoose: Wildgoose is in a different situation than the rest of the Badgers’ draft-eligible prospects. A shoulder injury ended his 2020 season after two games, and he only played in 25 games over three seasons for UW. A lack of game tape against top receivers hampers teams’ ability to evaluate him.
Wildgoose has questioned that criticism, posting on Twitter last week, “They watch my Freshman film and judge me from it (shrugging emjoi) IM A WHOLE DIFFERENT BEAST!”
His potential and ability to play both outside and nickel cornerback make him intriguing to NFL teams, but he has to eliminate the flags he drew in college. If drafted, it’ll be a late Day 3 flier by a team that values his versatility.
Check out the State Journal's complete coverage of Barry Alvarez's retirement announcement
The Wisconsin State Journal is providing our readers with comprehensive coverage of Barry Alvarez's retirement from his position as athletic director at the University of Wisconsin.
From a look back at Alvarez's football coaching days and the changes the department has made since he came to Madison in 1990, to an examination of what lies ahead in the university's search for a successor, we have you covered with all the latest updates and in-depth analysis of this landmark moment in Badgers history.
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The University of Wisconsin is looking for a proven leader and decision-maker to succeed Barry Alvarez as its athletic director.
The coach-turned-athletic director turned around the fortunes of the football team and solidified the bottom line.
Replacing Barry Alvarez as the University of Wisconsin’s athletic director will be both a tremendous opportunity and challenge.
Barry Alvarez disclosed that a search committee to find the next athletic director will be led by Athletic Board chair Pete Miller.
Barry Alvarez, 74, will finish his term leading the UW athletic program this summer after a 17-year stretch in the seat during which the department's budget nearly doubled.
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"For Wisconsin football and Wisconsin athletics in general, he's put the ‘W’ on the map.”
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Watch as UW celebrates Alvarez's 31-year Badgers career with "Thanks Coach! Celebrating Three Decades of Excellence" at 12:30 p.m. at the Kohl Center.
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