The National Football League’s 2021-2022 campaign is a few games in and it has us thinking about Badgers in the league.
Seventeen franchises have former Wisconsin Badgers on their active rosters, totaling 24 players. Through the beginning of the season, many of these players have made a noticeable difference for their teams and have represented the University of Wisconsin very well.
Starting off with Super Bowl XLVIII champion and the lone quarterback of the group, Russell Wilson — who played for UW in 2011 — has been off to a hot start with the Seattle Seahawks.
In Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts, Wilson went 18-23 for 254 yards and four touchdowns in a 28-16 win. He followed this up with 343 yards on 22-31 passing and two touchdowns in a close overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans. Through two games, Wilson has not turned the ball over and has been very efficient while racking up six touchdowns.
As usual, the running back position is well represented for Wisconsin in the NFL. This year, James White (2010-2013) and Melvin Gordon (2011-2014) and Jonathan Taylor (2017-2019) have all had prominent roles in their respective team’s offenses.
As a pass catching threat out of the backfield for the New England Patriots, White has 94 receiving yards on 12 catches through two games and 32 yards on nine rushing attempts over that same span. He also rushed for a touchdown against the New York Jets in the Patriots’ 25-6 win.
Gordon and the Denver Broncos are 2-0 and he has been featured as the team’s lead running back. In Week 1, he rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries, averaging just over nine yards per carry. Gordon followed this up with 31 yards on 13 attempts in a Week 2 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He also has 55 receiving yards on five catches.
Taylor, the most recent draft pick of the three, is looking to follow up a very strong rookie campaign in which he rushed for 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns on 232 carries, adding 299 receiving yards. Through two games he has rushed for 107 yards on 32 carries and has 62 receiving yards on seven catches.
The offensive line is another position group where Wisconsin excels in producing NFL talent. This season, there are six starting offensive linemen who played their college football in Madison — Kevin Zeitler (2008-2011), Tyler Biadasz (2016-2019), David Edwards (2015-2018), Rob Havenstein (2010-2014), Michael Deiter (2014-2018) and Ryan Ramczyk (2015-2016).
The lone starting wide receiver representing the Badgers in the NFL is Quintez Cephus (2016-2017, 2019), who is an early breakout candidate for the Detroit Lions. Two games in, he has caught two touchdowns and put up 75 yards on seven receptions. Cephus has already matched his touchdown total from all of last season.
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On the defensive side of the ball, star linebacker TJ Watt (2013-2016) made a strong impact on the field with the Pittsburgh Steelers after signing a contract extension that made him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL.
After two weeks of play, Watt has six tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Watt’s brother, JJ Watt (2008-2010), is in his first year with the Arizona Cardinals after spending ten seasons with the Houston Texans. He has one tackle through two games.
Joining TJ Watt on the Steelers is fellow linebacker Joe Schobert (2012-2015). Schobert is a former walk-on for the Badgers who eventually earned a scholarship in Madison. He has 15 tackles and two passes deflected so far this season.
Rounding out the core of former Badgers contributing to their current NFL teams are linebackers Andrew Van Ginkel (2017-2018), Zack Baun (2015-2019) and TJ Edwards (2014-2018), along with defensive tackle Isaiahh Loudermilk (2016-2020).
Van Ginkel has nine total tackles and has started both games for the Miami Dolphins. Baun has 12 tackles in two games, starting one of them for the New Orleans Saints, while TJ Edwards has recorded 11 tackles in two starts for the Philadelphia Eagles. Loudermilk has one total tackle in a small sample size of playing time in his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Early on into the season these former Badgers are making an impact at the highest level. With a long season ahead, all eyes will be on the Wisconsin alumnus on Sundays.