This year’s 2021 Wisconsin Badgers football team is loaded with talent. From top to bottom, at nearly every position, there are players who could potentially make the leap to the National Football League after their time in Madison is done. As the season begins, here are some players to keep an eye out for as potential NFL stars after college.

Offense

Graham Mertz — A former four-star recruit and high school All-American, Mertz has all of the talent in the world. Since early in his Badger career, he has shown brief glimpses of this talent. Last season, in his first game as a starting quarterback, Mertz went 20 for 21 for five touchdowns in the season opener, and the hype seemed to be real.

But, just hours after the game ended, Mertz tested positive for COVID-19, which threw a major wrench into his season. The offense was never right last year as Mertz could not regain his week-one form. Going into the 2021 season, the excitement for Mertz is on another level. He will hope to impress not just Badger fans, but NFL scouts as well as he will try to make the jump to professional football after his senior season.

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Jake Ferguson — A preseason All-American, Ferguson is arguably the most talented and accomplished tight end in college football this year. He has played in 34 career games at Wisconsin and has compiled more than 1,000 receiving yards during his time in Madison.

Ferguson is known for his soft hands and ability to find the weak spot in defensive coverages. His athleticism does not necessarily jump off the screen, but his blocking ability mixed with his stellar numbers catching the football will almost certainly translate to an NFL opportunity after this season is over.

Logan Brown — Brown is one of the highest-rated recruits in the history of Wisconsin football. The former five-star prospect from the class of 2019 has the potential to continue Wisconsin’s reputation as a prolific NFL draft machine. While Brown has yet to have much of an opportunity in Madison, he will almost certainly play a much bigger role this season than he has in the last two. Keep an eye out for the six-foot-six redshirt sophomore to contribute heavily on Wisconsin’s experienced offensive line.

Nolan Rucci — Like Brown, Rucci is a former five-star offensive lineman who committed to Wisconsin as a part of the class of 2020. He is the younger brother of the current Badger tight end and fullback Hayden Rucci. The six-foot-eight and a nearly 300-pound mountain of a man’s athleticism is off the charts.

Rucci arguably has the best shot at a professional career of anyone on this Badger team based on his measurements and reputation. While he most likely will not see much playing time this year as a freshman, Rucci’s future at Wisconsin is extremely bright.

Defense

Jack Sanborn — Sanborn is one of the most accomplished linebackers in the history of Wisconsin football. The senior from Deer Park, Illinois has appeared in 32 games for the Badgers and has amassed 139 career tackles. Sanborn is on the preseason watchlist for nearly every major defensive award this season, and he will be the undisputed leader of what should be another stout Wisconsin defense. Sanborn will make his money in the NFL based on his reputation as a leader and strong tackler. He is one of the best defensive players in college football, and he has the ability to take over games like he did in last season’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl, a game in which he won most valuable player.

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Caesar Williams — Williams has become the most dependable cornerback Wisconsin has going into this season. The senior will draw each team’s top wide receiver this year and will hopefully continue to shut them down as he has done in the 35 games he has already played at Wisconsin. While the measurements and stats are not necessarily that impressive, Williams has developed into a true lockdown corner in his first three years in Madison. The development Williams has shown since his redshirt season makes him an interesting NFL prospect going into this season.

Braelon Allen — Allen is a freak of an athlete, it’s as simple as that. Once a member of the class of 2022, Allen reclassified a year earlier and is now a member of this year’s team. While recruited as a linebacker, it is rumored he will now start the season playing on the offensive side of the ball as a running back. Whatever Allen ends up playing, he will bring unbelievable athleticism to the Badgers. Allen squats more than 600 pounds and power cleans more than 400 pounds as a 17 year old. He is a freak of an athlete, which makes him extremely likely to go pro.

Special Teams

Andy Vujnovich — If there is any talk of freakish athletes on this Wisconsin team, it would be a mistake to not mention the Badgers’ senior punter. The Dubuque transfer became a reliable punter in his first season in Madison, averaging nearly 42 yards per kick with a long of 60. But, what makes Vujnovich different from the rest is his unbelievable strength and athleticism. An article by The Athletic Ink titled “Bruce Feldman’s 2021 College Football Freaks List” sums up Vujnovich best as “A jacked 6-3, 230-pound dude who averaged 41.6 yards per punt in 2020, he’s here due to some crazy measurables: a 35-inch vert; a pro agility time quicker than most defensive backs (4.00 seconds); a 10-yard split of 1.54, and he benches 395.” Vujnovich’s insane strength and athleticism is the biggest reason for his pro potential.