Jared Abbrederis isn't supposed to be here.
Sitting at a Wisconsin spring game during his junior year of high school, Abbrederis was struck by the fact that the players didn't look that much bigger and faster than the athletes he played with and against at Wautoma High in Wautoma, Wis.
From there, Abbrederis finished high school, worked himself into a walk-on role for the Badgers and made the most of opportunities when some of the receivers in front of him went down with injury and opened up snaps for him.
This was a high school quarterback and defensive back. Track, if anything, was Abbrederis' best sport in high school, as he was Gatorade Track Athlete of the Year and BFS Male National Athlete of the Year his senior season. He also wrestled—not exactly the winter sport of choice for most of the wide receivers on the ol' Top 100 recruiting lists.
Nothing about Abbrederis screams "NFL wide receiver." If anything, he's become the paradigm of white-guy wide receiver descriptors like "hardworking" (check out that headline again), "blue-collar," "sneaky athlete," "overachiever" and "moxie."
While many of those are true about him, resorting to only those typical modifiers belies the fact that he is so much more.
Is he "smart"? Does he play smarter than he plays athletic?
Maybe one could say that. It's said about other white receivers all the time, as if there's some magical formula to running routes that only gets taught in AP honors courses. Abbrederis did maintain over a 4.0 GPA in high school and graduate Academic All-Big Ten, so he's not not smart (certainly smart enough to avoid double negatives), but that's not all he is.
He plays awfully smart as well. He drew up the following scenario for me:
"On the mental side, you can set players up with what you do. If I see them messing around—jumping around, pretending to blitz—I'll yell 'chop chop, chop chop' so they think that I think they're blitzing and that I'm going to try and chop them. Then I run right past them."
Stories like that tend to make the rounds, almost like the player in question needs tricks because he lacks talent.
Abbrederis is also hardworking. It's a trait that certainly defines him as much as anything. One doesn't get passed over time and again, written off time and again, ignored time and again like him and then get to where he's gotten without plenty of hard work.
"I think I belong because I've been there before—when I've been the person that's been doubted. My work ethic, what I bring to the team more than just on the field (off the field, in the community). I make plays when the ball is in the air."
It's a work ethic that is going to serve Abbrederis even more when he goes from being a student-athlete to being just an athlete.
"I think the biggest improvement that I can make is having the resources—year-round weight training. I work hard, but the supplements from the meals and having money to buy the right food will help me add weight and add more strength."
Oh, and moxie? He's got that in spades. He just calls it confidence because he's not a sports writer or a 1920s gangster. Abbrederis started harnessing that confidence at the aforementioned spring game before he got to college. Being named All-State (albeit as a quarterback) in football as a senior in high school probably helped. Winning a state championship in the hurdles leant him some panache as well.
Then, he got to the campus in Madison and was a scout-team quarterback, redshirt and walk-on.
Cue the sad trombones.
Well, maybe for you and me, but for Abbrederis, it was just another reason to work even harder. The next year, he was pushed into duty and played in all 13 games as a receiver, starting two. He was Wisconsin's Offensive Player of the Week once, second on the team in touchdown receptions and top-five in both receptions and yards.
He was named to the All-Freshman Big Ten team.
Lesser men would've given up. Plenty have—all around college football, every single year. This isn't a story about how some lackadaisical jerk was given every opportunity because he was taller, naturally faster or somehow stronger even though he'd never seen the inside of a weight room (or a playbook).
No, this is the great American success story—just wrapped up in a slightly smallish wide receiver whom everyone had written off a dozen times because they didn't see what Abbrederis saw: One day, greatness was going to be within reach, and he'd grab it.
Slowly but surely over the years in Madison, he started to garner more attention. Due to some acrobatic catches and the seeming magic with which he got open, Badgers fans started referring to him as "Abbrecadabris" or some other form of his name alluding to the famous magic words.
He ascended from All-Freshman to Honorable Mention All-Conference, to two years first-team All-Big Ten. His senior season, he was also named team captain and put on just about every preseason watch list he qualified for.
None of this success happened under ideal circumstances. Other than one year of the transferred Russell Wilson, Abbrederis played with a lot of quarterbacks whom most college football fans wouldn't recognize. The Badgers also played with four different offenses (according to Abbrederis) and had a head coaching change in there that would make any player have plenty of excuses as to why the success never came.
Not Abbrederis, though...never Abbrederis.
Instead, he persevered and relished going against some of the best defensive backs the Big Ten had to offer. He named former Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby and former Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard (both likely first-round picks this year) as top players he has gone against.
When he got ready for those matchups, he would get excited because he knew those teams would play him one-on-one rather than stick a bunch of coverage over the top, but he also knew he wouldn't win every matchup: "You have to be perfect to win them all, and nobody's perfect. I knew that if he got me once, I would get him later."
One of Abbrederis' favorite plays in college was 75-book, which he ran primarily in his sophomore year with Wilson. In that play, he would be out on the boundary and run a corner route. While discussing the play, he nearly glowed about all of the different ways the play took advantage of single coverage:
"That was our highest success rate man-on-man...every time (the defense is in) man, it should be a completion."
Following his college career, Abbrederis acquitted himself well at the Senior Bowl and then had a solid combine, showcasing the short-area quickness that just about everyone with a pair of eyes already knew he had.
Bleacher Report's scouting report on Abbrederis was prepared by Ryan McCrystal, who came away with a third-round grade on the receiver, concluding:
Abbrederis is limited in his physical tools, which will likely cause some teams to dismiss him due to limited upside. However, it's tough to find another prospect in this class who gets more out of his skill set. Abbrederis' strength is his route running, which gives him the potential to immediately step onto the field as a role player in the offense. He will probably never develop into an elite weapon, but he has the tools to contribute as a second or third option.
I have a similar projection as to where the receiver might go but feel like he's a unique player in a unique class of receivers. While the NFL is certainly looking for size at the position and always likes speed, there's plenty of room for a versatile player who can work himself into separation from a number of receiver positions and put up big numbers both before and after the catch.
Like McCrystal, I'm not sure Abbrederis will ever be a No. 1 receiver at the next level, but he'll be productive and can produce like a fringe No. 1 at times.
The crux of the issue, though, is not the college production or the NFL projection for Abbrederis. Remember, he shouldn't have gotten this far, but he has. He was dominant at the college level not only through sheer will, but also because he's a far better athlete than anyone at that level gave him credit for.
Now, moving onto Sundays, it's sheer insanity to bet against Abbrederis. He's told me that he's "just excited to have the opportunity to chase his dreams." Well, the chase is almost over. Like he's done at every other level, he has his sights set on proving he's worthy of a place among his peers and proving a bunch of people wrong in the process.
Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.