Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Football: Wisconsin makes noise in NFL Draft

Bortolini, Allen drafted, others sign in three-day event
Soren Goldsmith
Badger Herald archival photo of the UW football team. November 29, 2023.

April 25, former University of Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams was selected No. 1 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears — kicking off a three-day event held in Detroit, Michigan. The highly anticipated move sees the Bears pick up their quarterback for the future after moving on from Justin Fields this past offseason.

This year’s draft also marked only the fourth time in the modern draft era, since 1967, that three quarterbacks were selected with the first three picks, the most recent being in 2021. Fans across the league are hoping that this year’s group, including Williams, Louisiana State University’s Jayden Daniels and University of North Carolina’s Drake Maye adjust better to life in the NFL than the 2021 trio did.

A string of poor performances from Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence saw them pick up Mac Jones this offseason and the same could be said for the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson, who recently announced his move to Denver. The third overall pick in 2021, Trey Lance, was traded by San Francisco and now sits behind superstar Dak Prescott in Dallas.


This season, three former members of the University of Wisconsin football team were invited to the pre-draft Combine — including offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini, running back Braelon Allen and linebacker Maema Njongmeta. All three athletes were scouted extensively at the Combine, enough for Bortolini and Allen to both receive phone calls from NFL teams.

Bortolini, a Kewaunee native ranked at No. 117 in overall rankings and No. 5 out of all the centers available, was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth round with the 117th pick. Besides his draft analysis being right on the money, Bortolini joins a young squad led by last year’s fourth overall pick Anthony Richardson and UW legend Jonathan Taylor.

Bortolini was listed by ESPN as a center, but he had experience playing all along the offensive line during his time at UW. He was also the fourth center selected, one ahead of his No. 5 positional ranking.

Allen also went in the fourth round to the New York Jets with the 134th pick of the draft. The Fond du Lac native was ranked by ESPN as the 142nd best prospect, but the Jets saw in him what Badger fans have seen in him during his three years at UW.

The Jets made seven selections in this year’s draft, including Penn State’s offensive tackle Olu Fashanu and Western Kentucky’s wide receiver Malachi Corley. Jets fans can be excited that Allen heads to New York to compliment fellow running back Breece Hall and former Green Bay icons in Aaron Rodgers and Allen Lazard.

As exciting as draft weekend is, it’s not the only time NFL squads can bolster their rosters with promising rookies. As soon as the draft ended, the undrafted free agency period began. NFL draft analyst Chad Reuter compiled a list of the top undrafted free agents following the draft — including four former Badgers.

Quarterback Tanner Mordecai, tight end Hayden Rucci, Njongmeta and long snapper Peter Bowden were all ranked among the top prospects to not hear their names called in Detroit, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get a shot at the NFL.

Mordecai and the UW football program announced on social media that he would be signing a deal with the San Francisco 49ers and fighting for a spot on the roster that currently boasts Brock Purdy, Joshua Dobbs and Brandon Allen.

Mordecai had a phenomenal UW Pro Day — recording 40-yard dash times and vertical jumps that would’ve bested any quarterback at the Combine and will continue to prove himself in San Francisco.

Rucci followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps in signing an NFL contract. Rucci’s grandfather, Thomas Gilburg, won a national championship with Syracuse before playing for four years for the Baltimore Colts. Rucci’s father, Todd, played for eight seasons in New England, eventually being named to the All-1990s team.

Rucci announced via social media that he would be signing a contract with the Miami Dolphins, led by all-star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and breakout star De’Von Achane. He spent four years playing for UW after redshirting his first season — leading the Badgers’ tight ends in receptions and receiving yards last season.

Njongmeta wasn’t selected on draft weekend, but still did enough to earn his spot on an NFL roster, signing with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent. He joins former Badger Kendric Pryor on the squad and will continue to display his strengths to UW and Bengals fans alike.

The final Badger on Reuter’s shortlist is Bowden, a long snapper from San Diego, California. After redshirting his first year at UW and playing for four years, Bowden will be staying in Wisconsin after signing with the Green Bay Packers. A special teams specialist, Bowden strengthens a Packers lineup that upset the Dallas Cowboys in last year’s playoffs.

Even after the draft and after free agency, there are still pathways for prospective NFL players to get their shot at the big league.

First reported by NFL analyst Ryan Fowler, former Badger cornerback Travian Blaylock was invited to participate in the Chicago Bears’ minicamp, a three-day training session for rookies that gives them a chance to work with teammates and learn the team’s playbook.

Following this year’s draft period, UW fans could see a flood of former Badgers joining NFL rosters in the near future. After storied college careers, this unit is sure to do all they can to realize their dream of playing at the highest level.

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