The weekend’s 2003 NFL Draft enlisted four Wisconsin Badgers to join football’s most elite professional league. Al Johnson, B.J. Tucker, Brooks Bollinger and Ben Johnson were all selected by NFL teams giving them the opportunity to compete for roster spots before the season begins in late August.
Just one Badger was selected on day one over the first three rounds of the draft. The Dallas Cowboys selected center Al Johnson in the second round with the 38th overall pick. Johnson was a three-year starter at UW and an all-Big Ten honoree the past two seasons.
“I’m happy,” Johnson said. “I am going to play for a coach (Bill Parcells) who has won pretty much everywhere he has been. I am happy to go in the top 40, happy to go play for a proven coach and see what I can do. I’ll try to crack the starting lineup, but more importantly, I’ll be trying to just get my feet wet and learn from the veterans.”
Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Johnson is expected to take over the starting role at center. The Cowboys’ offensive line performed far below expectations last season and was hampered by injuries.
“Our line struggled last season, and that’s a place we’ve put a lot of emphasis on,” Jones said.
“We think we have a chance to be much improved up front this year. [Johnson] gives us a lot of flexibility there on that offensive line,” he added. “Al Johnson is a young player who can play both center or guard.”
Jones must have liked what he saw coming out of Madison as he took cornerback B.J. Tucker as the second Badger selected.
Tucker was selected by Dallas in the sixth round with the 178th pick. As a senior, Tucker had five interceptions and earned a second-team all-Big Ten selection.
Quarterback Brooks Bollinger was also drafted in the sixth round by the New York Jets with the 200th pick. Bollinger left Wisconsin with the most career wins as a starter and as just the seventh Big Ten quarterback to accumulate 30 or more victories during his career.
Bollinger will compete with Vinny Testaverde and Todd Husak for a roster spot behind Jets starting quarterback Chad Pennington. He is the first UW quarterback to be drafted into the NFL since Randy Wright was selected in the sixth round of the 1984 draft.
The final Badger taken in the draft was Ben Johnson, who was selected by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round with the 216th pick. Draft experts had predicted the offensive tackle as a much higher selection, but he fell for unspecified reasons.
Former UW offensive tackle Jason Jowers and defensive lineman Jake Sprague were not selected in the weekend’s draft. However, Jowers and Sprague both have the opportunity to sign on to a team as free agents. Former UW wide receiver Nick Davis signed a similar contract after last season’s draft and found his spot as a punt returner for the Minnesota Vikings.
Although the 2003 draft ended early Sunday evening, it’s not the last of the talk surrounding the Badgers and the National Football League. ESPN.com already projects UW wide receiver Lee Evans as a top-four selection in next year’s draft.