When the New Orleans Saints selected Jason Jefferson with the 193rd pick in the NFL Draft Sunday, the 6-foot-1, 306-pound defensive tackle became the fourth former University of Wisconsin defensive lineman to hear his name called during the annual draft weekend.
The Saints, though, do not feel they picked up the Badgers’ leftovers.
“There was really not a whole lot of players that were higher than this guy on the board,” said Rick Reiprish, the Saints’ director of college scouting, in a press conference following the draft. “He was really pretty highly rated by us.”
Jefferson was probably the least well-know of the Badgers’ senior front four, so it was not surprising for his selection to close the curtain on a bit of UW history.
Prior to Sunday, the Badgers had never seen more than one defensive lineman selected in a given draft during the Barry Alvarez era. Defensive end Erasmus James was the only one selected on day one this year, as the Minnesota Vikings made him the No. 18 overall pick in the first round Saturday. But defensive end Jonathan Welsh (Indianapolis Colts), taken in the fifth round, No. 148 overall; defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne (Oakland Raiders), selected with the first pick of the sixth round, No. 175; and Jefferson made it four NFL-bound 2004 starters on the defensive line.
“We had a lot of exposure to [Jefferson], obviously going to Wisconsin with all of the players they had up there,” Reiprish said. “Our coaches really liked this guy. He’s really a big motor guy, a try-hard guy, gives you a lot of effort.”
“I visited with them out at the combine,” Jefferson said of his pre-draft contact with the Saints. “We had a pretty good meeting, but I didn’t think that they would pick me up. But I’m excited that they did.”
Jefferson will compete for a roster spot at New Orleans with the hopes of working into the defensive tackle rotation this fall.
“They told me they like my size, they like my quickness,” Jefferson said. “So they just told me to come in, work hard, and do what I do.”
Jefferson earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a senior, after enjoying his best season as a Badger. He had just 25 tackles as part of a star-studded defense, but he enjoyed career highs with five tackles for loss and three sacks.
“We like what we’ve seen in the kid,” Reiprish said. “He gives you a lot of athletic ability at that position, more so than just being a big guy on the inside. He can run and chase the ball fairly well. He gives a combination of athletic ability and some effort.”
“I’m just going to go in and do what I’ve always done,” Jefferson said, when asked what his expectations were. “Work hard and whatever happens, happens. Give it my best and whatever goes from there goes.”
Jefferson was the sixth of seven Badgers drafted in the two-day event. In addition to the four defensive linemen, cornerback Scott Starks (third round, No. 87 overall to Jacksonville), guard Dan Buenning (fourth round, No. 110 to Tampa Bay) and tailback Anthony Davis (seventh round, No. 243 to Indianapolis) were selected.
The seven draftees tied UW for the third most in the NCAA with Virginia, trailing only Florida State (9) and Oklahoma (11), and was tied for the second most in the Alvarez era. The Badgers also had seven draft picks in 1995 and had eight in 2001.
In addition, six players have signed undrafted free agent contracts: long snapper Matt Katula (Baltimore), guard Jonathan Clinkscale (Tampa Bay), safety/punt returner Jim Leonhard (Buffalo), offensive tackles Mike Lorenz (New England) and Morgan Davis (Pittsburgh) and receiver Darrin Charles (Chicago).
Several other former Badgers could still sign undrafted free agent contracts including tight end Tony Paciotti, defensive tackle Kalvin Barrett and defensive lineman Darius Jones.