When it was first announced that Caleb Williams was picking between LSU, USC and the University of Wisconsin, the rumor was that he was thinking about Wisconsin because they have a good history of developing NFL players.
Obviously, Williams decided to attend USC in the end, where he could be coached by Lincoln Riley, who has coached NFL quarterbacks like Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield.
Still, Williams was right about Wisconsin’s track history of turning out NFL caliber athletes. In 2021, the Badgers had several alumni tearing up the gridiron on a weekly basis.
Here’s our top 10 ranking of former Badgers who are currently on NFL teams.
10. T.J. Edwards — Linebacker — Philadelphia Eagles
T.J. Edwards turned in a pretty good season overall for the Eagles. He played in every game of the season, recorded 64 solo tackles and had one sack to go along with it. Edwards isn’t a top-tier linebacker in the NFL, but his intelligence makes him a useful asset on any defense.
9. J.J. Watt — Defensive End — Arizona Cardinals
I still think Watt will return to his old, dominant ways someday soon. He was plagued with the injury bug this season, only playing in seven games. In those games, he did get a sack, a forced fumble and 10 solo tackles though.
Sure, this isn’t the J.J. Watt we’re used to seeing for the Badgers and Texans, but if he can find a way to stay healthy next season I expect his numbers to bring him back into the conversation for top 10 defensive ends in the NFL.
8. Quintez Cephus — Wide Receiver — Detroit Lions
Sure, the Lions were not really watchable this year, but Cephus is a bright spot for them in the future. Going into the draft in 2019, I loved the talent Cephus displayed in Madison. I thought he was one of the most underrated receivers in college football, and still think he’s one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL.
Cephus was hurt this past season, only playing in five games. But in those games, he tallied over 200 yards and brought in two touchdowns. This pick is probably biased because he was a beast my freshman year of college, but I really like what Cephus does when he’s on the field — he just has to stay healthy.
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7. Ryan Ramczyk — Offensive Tackle — New Orleans Saints
Ramczyk went into this season expecting to be one of the top five best linemen in the league. In the end, he only played in 10 games last year due to injury, but in those games, he only allowed two sacks and didn’t commit a single penalty.
Ramczyk is a truly elite lineman in the NFL, and when healthy he could be the best player on this list. Hopefully he, like many other former Badgers we’ve discussed, can stay on the field in 2022.
6. Tyler Biadasz — Center — Dallas Cowboys
After a rookie season in which Biadasz only started four games for the Cowboys, he had an extremely surprising turnaround in season two. He started every game this past season and allowed zero sacks while committing 11 penalties. Eleven penalties isn’t a great number, but it isn’t a terrible one either.
Biadasz is already starting to establish himself as one of the best interior linemen in the NFL, and the discipline should improve as he starts more games. Expect him to be a better-known name in 2022.
5. Melvin Gordon — Running Back — Denver Broncos
As we enter the top five of this list, now would be a good time to remind you that Wisconsin is the running back university, and Melvin Gordon is one of the most celebrated running backs in Wisconsin history.
This year, Gordon played in 16 games for Denver, recording over 900 yards and eight touchdowns. He was a sign of stability for a team that felt like they were always changing identities.
Though his numbers aren’t anything spectacular, if you put him behind an offensive line that’s more capable, I am willing to bet he jumps back into the conversation for elite running backs in the NFL. I’m curious to see what he decides to do in free agency this offseason.
4. Kevin Zeitler — Offensive Guard — Baltimore Ravens
Okay, I’m a sucker for offensive linemen. I mean, can you blame me? Wisconsin has so many great linemen in the NFL — how could I not put three of them on this list?
Zeitler’s a journeyman who has been a top-tier lineman for the Bengals, Browns, Giants and now the Ravens. This past season, Zeitler played every game for Baltimore and allowed only one sack while committing seven penalties. The Raven’s offense is extremely run-heavy, and having a great lineman-like Zeitler on your squad is a very valuable asset.
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3. Russell Wilson — Quarterback — Seattle Seahawks
This was the first real “down year” for the Seahawks with Wilson under center. The Hawks as a team went 7–10 and finished last in the NFC West.
There are a lot of problems with that team, and they play the toughest division in football. At the end of the day, their lack of success was not Wilson’s fault. He was injured for a good portion of the season, missing four games. But when he was on the field he tallied about 3100 yards, with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions.
This was by no means Wilson’s greatest year, but I still believe he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and will be back with vengeance next year.
2. T.J. Watt — Outside Linebacker — Pittsburgh Steelers
There’s really not a whole lot to say about T.J. Watt that hasn’t been said already. He’s probably going to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, and deservedly so.
He led the NFL in sacks, solo tackles and was fifth in the league in forced fumbles. Watt is only 27 years old and has a good four more years of his prime left in him. He’s already one of Wisconsin’s all-time greats and has the ability to be an all-time great LB in the NFL.
1. Jonathan Taylor — Running Back — Indianapolis Colts
It feels like yesterday when Jonathan Taylor was running all over the Michigan Wolverines in Camp Randall Stadium. Everyone who attended Wisconsin from 2017 to 2019 knew Taylor was going to be great in the NFL, but I don’t think we knew he was going to be this great.
Taylor carried the Colts in his second season as a professional, tallying 1800 yards, 18 touchdowns and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. He probably won’t win MVP this year (thanks, Aaron Rodgers), but he is definitely in the running for offensive player of the year.
Assuming he doesn’t have any career-ending injuries or something of the sort, Taylor might be the next best running back in the league for years to come.