Wisconsin Football: Which Former Player Will Have Best NFL Rookie Season?
The Wisconsin Badgers had six players drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft, and another eight players signed free-agent contracts after going undrafted.
Many of the players are in situations to contribute as rookies, and some will even start as rookies. Nick Toon, Russell Wilson, Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler are all in a position to provide a significant impact for their new teams, and in the following slides I will break down who will have the best rookie season.
Undrafted Free Agents
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Patrick Butrym signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have a deep defensive line led by Justin Smith, and it is doubtful that Butrym makes the active roster. Butrym likely ends up on the practice squad, and only receives playing time following an injury.
Louis Nzegwu signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent. Nzegwu faces a similar situation to Butrym as the Falcons have a deep and experienced defensive line. The return of John Abraham forces Nzegwu to the practice squad.
Aaron Henry, an undrafted free agent, signed with the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are deep at the safety position with four free safeties on the roster along with Henry. It is doubtful Henry overtakes incumbent Matt Giordano or former first-round pick Michael Huff and will likely end up on the practice squad.
Antonio Fenelus signed with the Indianapolis Colts after going undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Colts are in rebuilding mode following an awful 2011 season and have holes all over the roster. With nine cornerbacks currently on the roster, Fenelus has his work cut out for him and will probably end up on the practice team.
Josh Oglesby is another undrafted free agent who will almost surely make the practice squad. Oglesby signed with the Redskins after being undrafted in 2012. Oglesby, who does have NFL size, probably won't beat out enough of the nine tackles that the Redskins have to make the active roster. A spot on the practice team is almost assured.
Jake Byrne decided to sign with the New Orleans Saints after the 2012 NFL Draft. The Saints only have four tight ends on the roster. With All-Pro Jimmy Graham entrenched as a starter, Byrne could make the active roster depending on how many tight ends the team carries. Even if he does make the active roster, he probably won't see much playing time.
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Nick Toon was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Toon is sure to make the team as a fourth or fifth receiver and is catching the ball well in minicamp.
However, Toon probably won't see much playing time considering how deep the New Orleans are at wide receiver. He'll likely end up with 10 to 20 catches for around 100 yards and a score. Those numbers aren't impressive, but he will earn some important playing time.
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Selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Bradie Ewing is in a unique position. The Falcons cut Ovie Mughelli, Ewing's main competition for the starting fullback spot, and with Mike Cox on the roster, Ewing is a better player.
As long as he is the starter, Ewing will see action in all 16 games. He'll likely score a touchdown in a goal line situation, and might even catch a few passes out of the backfield seeing as how he's a competent receiver. Ewing will make the All-Rookie team after blocking for Michael Turner in 2012.
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The Carolina Panthers drafted punter Brad Nortman in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Nortman will have to compete with recently signed veteran Nick Harris. Harris is an 11-year veteran, but Nortman should beat him out after performing well in front of the coaches.
Provided that Nortman wins the starting job, he will start all 16 games and put up a decent average of around 40 yards per punt. Nortman also has a shot at making the All-Rookie team.
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Russell Wilson was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
With Matt Flynn and Tavaris Jackson already on the roster, many expected Russell Wilson to be the third-string quarterback going into the season. However, Russell Wilson is impressing during minicamp and will compete for the starting job during training camp.
Wilson probably won't earn the starting job, and will serve as the backup to Matt Flynn. As the backup Wilson won't earn many starts, but he will get valuable playing time in mop-up duty. Expect around 50 attempts for a couple hundred yards and a score or two.
If Wilson does win the starting job, his stats will go up drastically and he will move to the top of this list.
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A second-round pick by the Atlanta Falcons, Peter Konz is definitely going to earn a spot on the Falcons' active roster. During the Falcons' minicamp, Konz was playing at guard as well as center and is expected to challenge for a starting job at RG.
Konz hasn't played right guard since high school, so it isn't guaranteed that he wins the job directly out of camp. However, he will win the job at some point during the season and play at a high level.
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A first-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, Kevin Zeitler is the only Wisconsin rookie that is sure to start from day one. Zeitler will step right into the starting lineup at right guard and become a solid contributor immediately.
The Cincinnati Bengals offense relies primarily on the run, which is exactly where Zeitler excels. A tremendous run-blocker, Zeitler will have the best season out of all of the Wisconsin Badger rookies and is a lock for the All-Rookie team.