Author: Ryan Wollersheim
MADISON – As is the case for many young players in the NFL, they cannot control where they land in this league and whether it’s with a playoff contender. Here, we will look at the rookie seasons of those Badgers’ whose teams didn’t make this year’s playoffs.
Tyler Biadasz – Dallas Cowboys: 4th round, 146th overall pick
Center Tyler Biadasz was drafted as a fourth-rounder into a Dallas Cowboys team that turned out to be desperate for offensive line depth this season. A team that has been known for dominant offensive line play over the years, the Cowboys had to run with a patchwork unit that was riddled with injuries for much of the season. To add insult to all these injuries, the Cowboys lost fellow Badger alum and likely Hall of Fame center Travis Frederick to retirement before the season ever even started. Therefore, Biadasz, a first-team All-American, first-team All-Big Ten and Remington Trophy-winning center in 2019 for the Badgers, was a welcomed life preserver for the Cowboys this season.
Biadasz got his first opportunity to play early in the season for the Cowboys. The center played on over half of the team’s offensive snaps in Week 3 as the team continued to deal with injuries along the line. Biadasz then stepped into his natural role as the team’s center after starter Joe Looney went down with an injury on the first play from scrimmage in Week 4. The rookie finished the rest of the game at center and took over the starting duties at the position as Looney went on injured reserve for the next four weeks. Biadasz switched places with Looney in Week 9 however as the young center went on injured reserve due to a hamstring injury and Looney reprised his role as the starting center for the rest of the season. Biadasz was once again activated in Week 14 and finished his season as the backup center; he also continued to register special teams snaps as he did in all 12 of the games he played for the Cowboys this season. The center finished the season with one sack allowed and four penalties assessed against him.
With star center Travis Frederick retired and starting center Joe Looney coming off his age-30 season, it is likely that Biadasz will continue to figure into the Cowboys offensive line in the years to come where he will have the opportunity to continue to grow and improve off his early experience as a rookie.
Quintez Cephus – Detroit Lions: 5th round, 166th overall pick
Badgers’ wide receiver Quintez Cephus found himself being picked on the third day of the draft by a team with one of the deepest wide receiver rooms in the league. Going into the 2020 season, it was hard to imagine that the young receiver, who was the Badgers’ go-to target in his junior season, would be able to generate many opportunities while surrounded by all the veteran wideouts on the Detroit Lions’ roster. Yet, injuries early in the season to Lions’ star receiver Kenny Golladay gave Cephus an early opportunity to show what he had. As a starter in Week 1, Cephus was targeted 10 times and caught three balls for 43 yards against the Chicago Bears’ stingy defense. He would go on to catch three more passes the next week for 54 yards against many Badger fans’ favorite team, the Green Bay Packers. Cephus would struggle to see much action on the field over the next five games as the return of Golladay made it once again difficult to find playing time outside of special teams reps.
Cephus would once again see offensive snaps starting in Week 9 after a strained hip flexor muscle kept Golladay off the field for the remainder of the season. Cephus then caught at least one pass in every game going forward. This included a 49-yard touchdown over Bears’ pro bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller in Week 13 where Cephus flashed the downfield potential that he so regularly displayed for the Badgers. Cephus also caught one more touchdown pass in Week 17 of the season and finished his rookie season with 20 receptions for 349 yards and two touchdowns.
As a promising young player in his rookie year, Cephus will continue to have the benefit going forward of learning behind long-time wideouts like Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola and Mohamed Sanu until he himself is once again ready to take over the role of a starting wide receiver.
Chris Orr – Carolina Panthers: signed as an UDFA
Linebacker Chris Orr was a fan favorite for Badger fans in his senior season. Known for his hard-nosed play on the field and contagious personality off it, many likely wondered where Orr would end up in his post-collegiate career. Going into the 2020 NFL Draft, Orr’s prospects looked somewhat bleak. After failing to be picked, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Carolina Panthers. As a team captain and second-leading tackler for the Badgers in his 2019 senior season, Orr was likely valued by the Panthers not only for his on the field potential but for his capacity as a leader as well as a player. Orr would go on to be waived and then signed to the Panther’s practice squad prior to the start of the regular season.
Orr got to see his first on-the-field action in Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers after he was signed to the team’s active roster as a COVID-19 elevation. The linebacker played on five defensive and 20 special teams snaps in the game without registering any on-the-field stats. Orr would go on to play one more defensive snap and 30 special teams snap over the course of the next two weeks. He was then once again waived and resigned to the team’s practice squad between Weeks 14 and 15.
The story of Orr’s rookie NFL season is that of many players around the league. Time will only tell where Orr’s NFL career will head going forward as he, like so many players, have to live with the week-to-week uncertainty of life on-and-off the practice squad until they can cement themselves onto a team’s active roster. Orr and his fans can take hope from the careers of other undrafted Badger standouts who eventually became consistent producers in NFL – players like Corey Clement, Alec Ingold, Dare Ogunbowale, Alex Erickson and Orr’s former running mate TJ Edwards. For now, Orr signed a reserve/future contract with the Panthers which ensures him a spot on the team’s offseason roster and another shot at making the active roster going into next season.