Bret Bielema has taken Wisconsin football to new heights ever since he became the head coach in 2006.
Under his leadership, 16 Badger players have had their name called on draft day. The total of number of draftees will increase this weekend, with center Peter Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler projected as early-round selections.
Thanks to Wisconsin’s recent success, which includes back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances, top talent will continue to flock to Madison every spring. This will make UW a pipeline of NFL talent for years to come.
Here are seven current Badgers that have the most potential at the next level.
Montee Ball played better than any running back in the country last season. Ball ran for 1,923 yards and scored an NCAA-record 39 TDs.
Unfortunately for opposing defensive coordinators, Ball decided to return to Madison for his senior year after learning that the NFL draft advisory board projected him as a third-round pick.
He will ultimately benefit from this decision.
New offensive coordinator Matt Canada will use a pro-style offense in 2012, which will allow Ball to showcase his skills as both a runner and receiver.
Ball plans to bulk up in the offseason to prepare for the professional ranks. With some added weight, he will find a home on an NFL team as a leaner, faster version of Michael Turner.
Ricky Wagner will be the latest Badger offensive tackle to play on Sundays. He started all 14 games at left tackle in 2011 and will anchor the blind side again this year.
With his 6’ 6”, 322-pound frame, Wagner fits the mold of a typical NFL offensive tackle. He played both tackle positions at Wisconsin, which will increase his chances of earning a roster spot in the pros.
Wagner chose to return to Madison for his senior season after the NFL draft advisory board listed him as a third-round pick. If he has another strong year, he will be the first tackle selected in the 2013 draft.
Mike Taylor returns to anchor a star-studded Badger D that finished 15th nationally in total defense last year.
Taylor is Wisconsin’s most experienced linebacker, starting 33 games over the past three seasons, and his nose for the ball will earn him a spot on an NFL roster.
Taylor led the Big Ten in tackles last season with 150. He also has excellent coverage skills, having recorded five interceptions thus far in his career.
Despite his breakout season last year, Taylor is not considered one of the top linebackers in some 2013 NFL draft publications. However, if he enjoys another monster season, he will end up as a high draft pick next April.
Travis Frederick is Wisconsin’s most versatile lineman. He started 11 games at left guard in 2011 and also played center when Peter Konz was sidelined with injury.
He will be the starting center in 2012.
At 6’4” and 328 pounds, Frederick has the size to play anywhere on the offensive line. This type of flexibility will make him an asset to any NFL team.
With two more years of eligibility in the Badger system, Frederick will likely develop into a first-round pick by the time the 2014 NFL draft rolls around.
Chris Borland was the best middle linebacker in the Big Ten in 2011. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in both the coaches and media polls.
His excellence against the run will earn him a spot on an NFL roster. Borland recorded 140 tackles in his first season as a starter. He also finished third in the Big Ten in tackles for loss.
Borland has two years of eligibility remaining. As long as he continues to rack up tackles, he should erase any concerns that scouts have about his 5’11” frame.
Jacob Pedersen was a key component for Wisconsin's offense in 2011. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the conference media after doing a little bit of everything for the Badgers last season.
His versatility will draw plenty of attention from NFL scouts. Pedersen excels as a run-blocker, helping UW running backs run for 5.4 yards per carry. He also emerged as a weapon in the red zone, catching eight TD passes.
In addition, Pedersen plays special teams for the Badgers, recording two tackles in the Big Ten Championship Game.
His ability to play multiple positions will make him a high draft pick in either the 2013 or 2014 draft. At 6’4” and 242 pounds, Pedersen could make an NFL roster as a tight end, fullback or H-back.
He hasn’t even taken a snap at Wisconsin yet, but Danny O’Brien will establish himself as the starting QB in fall camp. He has the prototypical build for an NFL QB, standing 6' 3" and weighing 215 pounds.
He also has next-level talent to go along with it.
O’Brien threw for over 2,400 yards as a redshirt freshman in a pro-style offense. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada will install a similar attack this season. This should allow O’Brien to regain the form that made him the ACC Rookie of the year in 2010.
Since he graduated from Maryland in three years, O'Brien will have two seasons in Madison to prepare for the NFL, and will not be required to sit out a year.
If he can pick up the new offensive system, he will end up as a first-round pick in 2014.