Wisconsin Badgers: Top 6 Former Badgers in the NFL Right Now
As talk of the NFL combines and player evaluations are abound, there are several Badgers vying to get drafted this spring.
Let's take a look at recent former Badgers who have entered the NFL and found success. At the end of the 2012 season, there were 21 former University of Wisconsin players on NFL rosters.
Some tested well at the combine—JJ Watt—and others were not even invited—Jim Leonhard.
Here are the top six performers so far.
Jonathan Casillas: Honorable Mention
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Though undrafted in 2009, Johnathan Casillas finished his third season as a sometime starter and special teams game-changer for the New Orleans Saints.
His recovery of an onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV at the start of the second half was considered the catalyst to the Saints first-ever Super Bowl victory.
Travis Beckum: Honorable Mention
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While Beckum has only started a handful of games, he has great potential to contribute the Giants' vaunted passing game.
Nevertheless, he has a Super Bowl ring.
6. DeAndre Levy
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Like former UW teammate Travis Beckum and Milwaukee-area player, DeAndre Levy was drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft, but by the Detroit Lions.
Levy is a starter on the Lions' intimidating, young defense. Levy is a hard-nosed, full-effort player who challenges offenses from sideline to sideline.
Levy recorded 109 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception last season and looks to make even more of an impact in the 2012.
5. Owen Daniels
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Tight end Owen Daniels has had a decorated NFL career. He was drafted by the Houston Texans in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft.
In his rookie season, Daniels had 34 receptions for 352 yards and five touchdowns. He was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team as selected by the Pro Football Writers Association.
Daniels finished his rookie (2006) season with 34 receptions for 352 yards with five touchdowns.
Arguably, Daniel's best season was 2008, when he was named to the NFL Pro Bowl. Daniels had 70 receptions and along with his teammate Andre Johnson were the most prolific tight end-wide receiver combination in the NFL.
Daniels has battled injury problems but should be healthy and ready for the start of the 2012 season, his seventh in the league.
4. Lee Evans
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Lee Evans was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the first round in the 2004 NFL draft.
Evans moved into the starting lineup his first season and established himself as the Bills' top receiver in 2006. He set the team record for receiving yards in one quarter (205) and one game (265). He also became the first player in league history to record two 80-plus-yard touchdowns in one quarter.
Evans has been a longtime NFL starting receiver with a couple 1,000-plus receiving yard seasons. In 2012, he will be entering into his ninth NFL season, a rare feat for a wide receiver.
3. Jim Leonhard
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Is there a better inspirational journey than Jim Leonhard's? A small town (Tony, Wisconsin) boy of small stature with a big heart who stars in the Big Ten and the NFL.
A walk-on success story at the UW where he became an All-Big Ten and All-American selection and was signed by Buffalo as an undrafted free agent in 2005.
Leonhard played for Buffalo for three seasons and another with the Baltimore Ravens before Rex Ryan brought him to the New York Jets. He has started at safety for the Jets for the past two seasons before suffering a knee injury towards the end of the regular season this year.
Leonhard remains a key defensive leader on the Jets team as he enters into his eighth season in 2012.
2. JJ Watt
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JJ Watt, from Pewaukee, Wisconsin, was selected as the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Houston Texans.
Watt emerged as one of the finest defensive line players in the NFL in his rookie season. He recorded 56 tackles, five-and-a-half sacks, two fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal.
Watt elevated his game in the playoffs almost single-handedly carrying the Texans to the AFC championship game. He spent the afternoon harassing Baltimore QB Joe Flacco during the entire division series playoff game, ending with two-and-a-half sacks, 12 tackles and three tackles for loss.
His sack and interception return for a touchdown in the previous playoff win against Cincinnati established Watt as an upcoming NFL defensive star on the emerging Texans defense.
1. Joe Thomas
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Joe Thomas, Brookfield, Wisconsin, was selected as the No. 3 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2007 NFL draft.
Thomas became an immediate starter and Pro Bowl left tackle in each of his first five seasons. Thomas' ability to shut down pass-rushers and also run-block make him one of the NFL's top lineman.
Barring injury, Thomas will find himself down the road in Ohio at a place called Canton.