If you’re an unorthodox sports fan, you may very well rue the day when Mr. Irrelevant is called and the NFL draft ends.
It’s a fantastically underrated sporting event. For me, a football fan, all I need to consider is the fact that there hasn’t been any football on television in almost five months and won’t be again for about another four.
Dark days are ahead.
Plus, the draft is intriguing for the intersection of the college and pro games it creates. Everyone gets to watch their favorite student-athletes ditch the prefix and step up to the big leagues.
For fans of any college football team, it’s pretty fun to watch NFL squads tell you how good your favorite team was last season. Last year’s conference-winning Wisconsin Badgers were good enough to have six players drafted, with one going in each of the first six rounds and seven more signing professional contracts after the draft had run dry.
So, on first glance, how do the draftees fit into their new homes? Come take a look:
Kevin Zeitler – Cincinnati Bengals
Big kudos to Zeitler for working his way into the first round. He’s a mauler on the field and a nice guy off of it. Considering the Bengals’ long, underachieving history under owner Mike Brown (115 wins, 206 losses since 1991), Zeitler appears to have arrived in Cincinnati at the best possible time.
Cincinnati went 4-12 in 2010 then had a strong draft that propelled the team to a 9-7 finish in 2011. This year, the Bengals are considered to have had another strong draft class for plenty of reasons, even when you don’t include Zeitler.
The 6-foot-4, 315 pounder should also start immediately on an offensive line that wasn’t half bad last season, either. The Bengals finished 26th in the NFL with 3.9 yards per carry (the onus will fall harder on Zeitler to fix that) but were fourth in sacks allowed with 25.
This is a team that will count on plenty of young players for the next few years, and Zeitler should be allocated the necessary time to get into the groove of things along with the rest of them.
Peter Konz – Atlanta Falcons
Konz has a pretty solid gig going in Atlanta. The offense has playmakers all over the place on offense – Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner. All the offense needs now is a sturdy offensive line, and it could transcend any defense put in front of it.
The look of Atlanta’s frontline appears to be far from figured out. Its returning starting center is 35 years old, and the Falcons already have guards who can make the switch to center. Last year, Atlanta finished 21st with a four yards-per-rush average and allowed the seventh highest amount of quarterback hits with 84, so there’s clearly work to be done.
Konz is needed, but where he’ll play isn’t known yet. General manager Thomas Dimitroff has said Konz could play guard or center for the team, so until he becomes seasoned with the pro game, he might have to move around once or twice between the two positions.
Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks
For a quarterback drafted in the third round, Wilson finds himself in a superb position to make an immediate impact. Joining him in the quest to become starting quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson – who, for six years now, has never indicated he can be a game-changer for an offense – and then there’s Matt Flynn.
Everyone thinks Flynn is locked in to start and succeed as an NFL quarterback. He’s certainly had some impressive moments as a backup in Green Bay – ones that even broke franchise records. But I still recall a 7-3 loss to Detroit in 2010 when Flynn played the majority of the game and produced a flaccid 62.5 passer rating. Bright as his future might seem, a verdict has not been reached on him just yet.
But even if Flynn wins the starting job, Wilson’s athleticism, maturity and decision-making should get him on the field, perhaps in wildcat formations.
Nick Toon – New Orleans Saints
Surely, the infancy of Toon’s professional career will take a boost given he will be catching balls thrown by NFL-great Drew Brees, but it’s a bad year to be in New Orleans.
The bounty scandal left head coach Sean Payton with a season-long suspension and general manager Mickey Loomis with an eight-game detention. Penalties have yet to be handed down for the players involved. And don’t expect Roger Goodell to take it easy on them.
It’s good that Brees throws often, but Toon will have to work hard in order to stand out in an offense stockpiled with talent. Even with the loss of Robert Meachem and the 40 receptions he had last year, there’s still Jimmy Graham (99), Darren Sproles (86), Marques Colston (80), Lance Moore (52), Pierre Thomas (50) and Devery Henderson (32) who Brees will probably look for first. Toon’s chances of upward mobility as a rookie on this roster aren’t great, but at least he won’t be counted on for too much early in his career.
Bradie Ewing – Atlanta Falcons
Ewing was effectively tabbed as heir apparent to fullback Ovie Mughelli when the Falcons drafted him in the fifth round.
Mughelli is a 31-year-old with nine professional years under his belt and is coming off a season-ending MCL tear. While he’s still expected to be the No. 1 guy in 2012, Ewing should be next in line to plow the road for Turner, an All-Pro running back. Until then, expect to see Ewing thrive on special teams.
Brad Nortman – Carolina Panthers
I mean, before the draft, the Panthers didn’t have a punter on the team. They need someone to punt. Nortman can do that.
Sounds like a good fit to me.
Elliot is a senior majoring in journalism and philosophy. What do you think about the destinations of these former Badgers? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.