Badger Nation's NFL Draft Preview

Will Montee Ball be selected in the first round?

With the first of seven rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft starting tonight, three former Wisconsin players are guaranteed to be selected while many more are hopeful to hear their name called. Badger Nation examines the former Badgers shooting for the NFL.

Since 2000, Wisconsin has had 11 first-round picks in the NFL Draft, the second most in the Big Ten and tied for 11th in the country. With a little luck, the Badgers will add to that total.

After seeing six Badgers drafted by the NFL in last year's draft, pushing their total to 57 selected players since 2000, three Badgers should hear their name called sometime during the three-day event that begins tonight with the first 32 selections.

Last year's senior class, along with underclassman Travis Fredrick, put together solid careers and gave fans some great memories, but that group now turns its attention to a professional career in the NFL.

Badger Nation examines the NFL Draft hopefuls.

Travis Frederick

Rated as one of the top centers in this year's draft, Frederick decided to forgo his final season of eligibility at Wisconsin. Frederick moves well, can pull effectively and get to the second level of the defense. Frederick excels in the run game with his ability to open up holes due to his leg drive and lower body strength. Frederick's versatility will be attractive to NFL scouts with his ability to play the guard and center position, and his high football IQ allows him to know what defenses are presenting him so he can make the correct line calls. He became the first true freshman in school history to start a season-opener on the offensive line when he lined up at center against Northern Illinois.

Although Frederick is talented, he needs to improve in the passing game because he has a tendency to stop his feet in pass blocking. He also needs to be able to learn how to handle the explosive interior lineman when he gets to the NFL. If Frederick can get off the line quickly he'll be able to use his strength to help with the explosive interior lineman. Fredrick should be able to come in and be able to contribute right away at center of guard.

The Baltimore Ravens could be one of the teams to select Frederick considering they lost their starting center due to retirement. Dallas may be interested in Fredrick also because they have a need in the interior. The Bears or Packers could be interested, depending on how the draft falls.

Prediction: Second Round

Montee Ball

One of the most decorated running backs in school history, Ball left UW as a two-time All American, a Doak Walker winner in 2012 and a Heisman finalist in 2011. Deciding to come back for his senior year after he received a third-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee following a record-breaking junior season, Ball believed he could improve his draft grade, which he did. Ball proved to scouts that he was a complete running back with a balanced senior season. The struggles of the offensive line at the beginning of the year taught Ball how to pick up yards when the hole isn't there. Returning for his senior year proved Ball wasn't a product of the system. Ball has tremendous vision, which is a huge asset for him in picking up yards, and showed scouts his speed by running between a 4.46 and a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash at UW's pro day. Ball doesn't go down easily and fights for every single yard. Ball does a good job of taking care of the football (he went 655 carries without losing a fumble) and can be an asset in the passing game (he had 59 career receptions along with six touchdowns).

The biggest concern with Ball is he carried the football 924 times during his college career. Scouts wonder how much tread is left on his tires, so it will be important for him to ease the concerns of scouts that he can still have a productive career. One thing that will help Ball is that most NFL teams are looking to apply a two-back system and Ball will be able to step in right away and share the workload. Ball lacks top speed but makes up for it in other areas with his patience.

Ball will most likely be the second running back drafted behind Alabama's Eddie Lacy. St. Louis, Green Bay and Denver all could consider drafting Ball in the second round. The Rams lost Steven Jackson in free agency and could be looking for a tailback to replace Jackson. The Rams did draft Isaiah Pead in the second round in the 2012 NFL Draft but Pead struggled in his rookie year.

Green Bay has had a running back by committee and Ball may be the solution to the Packers' needs. Ball grew up a fan of the Broncos and even though Willis McGahee had a solid year, he tore his MCL late in the year and is 31. Knowshon Moreno - a former first round pick - has not lived up to expectations and may be running out of opportunities.

Prediction: Second Round

Ricky Wagner

Wagner came into his senior year on the Outland Trophy watch list and was projected to go somewhere in the first two rounds. However Wagner's season didn't go as planned with injuries and not being as dominant as scouts thought, causing his draft stock to slide. Wagner still was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten and, like Fredrick, has strength in the run-block game. Wagner gets off the snap well and uses his hands to drive defensive ends off the ball. Wagner displays good awareness and he doesn't take a play off.

Wagner will have to improve with quicker players at the next level because he plays a bit high at times, needs to improve his pass protection and be more consistent with his hand placement. What hurts Wagner is that this year's offensive tackle draft class is strong. In a year or two, Wagner could be a solid offensive lineman. Wagner has visited the San Diego Chargers and had a private workout for the Tennessee Titans according to league sources. The Dallas Cowboys also could be interested in Wagner.

Prediction: Fourth or Fifth Round

Mike Taylor

Taylor is an instinctive player who finds himself around the football - amassing 378 tackles, 38.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks for the Badgers. Taylor struggled with injuries early in his career, including neck, knee and shoulder surgery, but was able to stay healthy over his two final seasons. Taylor will have to ease scouts minds that he's not injury prone, as he was unable to work out in the offseason after recovering from sports hernia surgery.

Taylor doesn't have great speed, as shown this year where he struggled to contain the running back on wheel routes, but he has enough speed to take advantage of any lanes you give him. He uses his hands well to get off blockers to get into the backfield. As many Badgers fans know, Taylor is a hustle player who doesn't take plays off. Taylor will need to get stronger in order to take on offensive lineman better.

In order for Taylor to make it in the NFL, he'll likely have to start out on special teams, which he's capable of doing. With Taylor's hustle, I could see him starting on a practice squad and work his way up on somebody's active roster.

Prediction: Seventh Round or Free Agent

Shelton Johnson

Johnson has good speed running a 4.4 40-yard dash at Wisconsin's pro day. Johnson didn't see much playing time his first two years at Wisconsin but left the program as a two-year starter. Johnson wasn't a ball hawking safety (only four career interceptions), but he's a smart football player and can quarterback a defense.

Johnson will likely have to impress on special teams in the NFL, much like he did at Wisconsin before becoming a full-time starter. If Johnson continues to develop, he'll have a chance to make a NFL team's active roster in the future.

Prediction: Seventh Round or Free Agent

Devin Smith

Smith played as a true freshman but after an inconsistent sophomore and junior season, Smith started off his senior year playing consistently. It was looking like he was going to have a solid season, but was forced to redshirt after breaking his leg in week two. Smith redshirted and he picked up right where he left off on his way to earning second team All-Big Ten Media in 2012.

Smith led the Badgers last year with four interceptions and had a team-high 13 pass break-ups. One of Smith's concerns is his size and while he isn't afraid to take on wide receivers bigger then him, Smith will need to get stronger and improve his speed after running a slower 40-yard time. If he makes it in the NFL, Smith, did worked out with the Dallas Cowboys in early April, will find his niche as a nickel corner back.

Prediction: Seventh Round or Free Agent

Marcus Cromartie

Cromartie has good NFL bloodlines with his cousin being New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie has worked out with his cousin, along with other NFL players, so he should know what to expect once he arrives at training camp. The question with Cromartie is will he be consistent enough, which was Cromartie's biggest problem at Wisconsin.

Cromartie may have been one of the most talented cornerbacks but never could fully put it together, which resulted in him not getting on the field early in his career. But when Smith was injured in 2011, Cromartie was forced into the starting lineup his redshirt junior year. Cromartie struggled as a junior and was often targeted, but he was able to become a more consistent as a senior. Cromartie only had one interception in his career coming in the Big Ten Championship game against Nebraska, which he took back for a touchdown.

Cromartie was a nice complement to Smith and seemed to progress each week during his senior season. Cromartie has nice size and speed for a cornerback, running between a 4.4 and 4.35 40-yard dash at Wisconsin's pro day. Teams in the NFL are looking for big defensive backs to matchup with bigger wide receivers. If Cromaratie finds the right team, which allows him to develop and refine his skills he could help out an NFL team.

Prediction: Seventh Round or Free Agent

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