Author: Ryan Wollersheim
MADISON – The 2021 NFL Draft took place this past weekend: a time when collegiate and professional football fans can come together as the two worlds meet. The 2020 Wisconsin Badger football season was a relatively disappointing one for Badger fans and players alike. But, with new ends comes new beginnings via the draft. Badger fans will have a new crop of players to root for on Sundays after three former Badgers saw their lifelong dreams come true this past weekend when they heard their names called in the 2021 NFL Draft.
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk – Pittsburg Steelers; 5th Round, Pick 156
Redshirt senior defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk was the first Badger off the board in this year’s draft when he was taken in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers (earlier than even Loudermilk himself expected to be selected). This marked the first time in 28 years that a Wisconsin football player was not taken in the first four rounds of the NFL draft!
Loudermilk played in 40 career games for the Badgers with 26 starts at defensive end. He tallied 63 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in his college career. While playing at spots all along the defensive line, Loudermilk was also able to force two fumbles and bat down nine passes with his massive 6-foot-7 frame. Loudermilk served as an anchor on a Badger defense that ranked annually amongst the top in college football during his four seasons of play.
Loudermilk’s versatility allowed him to play at spots on both the interior and edge of the defensive line where he could walk down opposing offensive linemen and knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. These traits were attractive enough for the Steelers to trade away their 2022 fourth-round draft pick to get back into the fifth round of this year’s draft and select Loudermilk with the 156th pick. The Steelers run a 3-4 defensive scheme that utilizes linemen in a similar capacity to how Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard utilized Loudermilk, making the young player a uniquely good fit on his new team.
In Pittsburgh, Loudermilk will link up with former Wisconsin teammate TJ Watt who has established himself as one of the best outside linebackers and pass rushers in the NFL. The Steelers already boast two stud defensive ends in pro-bowler Cameron Heyward and seven-year veteran Stephon Tuitt. Loudermilk will have time to develop and learn behind these two while competing for a rotational role along the Steelers’ defensive line.
CB Rachad Wildgoose – Buffalo Bills; 6th Round, Pick 213
After missing much of this past season due to injury, junior cornerback Rachad Wildgoose surprised many who expected him to go undrafted when he was selected in the sixth round by the Buffalo Bills this past Saturday.
In his 25 games at Wisconsin, Wildgoose showed ability in both coverage – one interception and 14 pass breakups – and as a tackler who regularly sniffed out screens and outside runs on the perimeter – 57 total tackles, 44 solo tackles and five tackles for loss. Wildgoose started in 17 games – 15 at cornerback and two nickelback – in his three seasons with the Badgers.
During his first season in 2018, Wildgoose led the Badgers in pass breakups with seven in just seven starts. In 2019, he continued to impress in coverage with six pass breakups and one interception while also improving in run support as he registered his three first tackles for loss in eight starts. The 5-foot-11 corner also impressed scouts when he ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at Wisconsin’s Pro Day. Although, Wildgoose’s physical style of play and tendency to ride opposing receivers hard off the line of scrimmage led to 13 pass interference and defensive holding penalties in his career.
Wildgoose only appeared in two games in 2020 before suffering a broken scapula that ended his season early and likely damaged his overall draft stock. He does not seem too worried about this injury holding him back at the next level as told reporters that he is fully recovered and “150 percent ready” to play for the Bills.
The Bills secondary is already a highly talented unit with star cornerback Tre’Davious White and a solid starter in Levi Wallace. However, the unit currently lacks depth after the offseason departure of veterans like Josh Norman and EJ Gaines. This should give Wildgoose an opportunity to immediately compete for a backup role at nickel and slot corner while also establishing his value on special teams.
Wildgoose’s aggressive style of play, versatility and ability to get better from year-to-year will make him a natural fit on a Buffalo team and fanbase that pride themselves on a blue-collar work ethic – and if that doesn’t work, his meme-worthy last name should set him up as a fan favorite within the Bills Mafia.
OT/G Cole Van Lanen – Green Bay Packers; 6th Round, Pick 214
For offensive tackle Cole Van Lanen, it would be nearly impossible to find a better landing spot than the NFL team located just 15 minutes away from his former high school in Suamico, Wisconsin. Van Lanen is the first Badger drafted by the Green Bay Packers since the team picked outside linebacker Vince Biegel in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Selected immediately after former teammate Rachad Wildgoose, Van Lanen was the last Badger player selected in this year’s draft.
In his four seasons on the Badgers offensive line, Van Lanen proved himself as a key asset in paving the way for Jonathan Taylor’s historic run at Wisconsin which included consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons in 2018 and 2019. Van Lanen played in 45 games on the Badger’s offensive line with 19 starts at left tackle. In his career, Van Lanen received national acclaim with second-team All-American (CBS Sports) and consensus second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2019. He followed this up with first-team All-Big Ten honors from the conference’s coaches and second-team All-Big Ten honors according to the media. Pro Football Focus also ranked Van Lanen as their highest-graded offensive tackle in 2018 with a 90.4 rating.
Van Lanen should help to shore up a position of need for the Packers. The team lost two key players from the offensive line after center Corey Linsley departed the team in free agency and the team cut fellow Badger alum Rick Wagner in the offseason. Wagner started a total of eleven games at right tackle for the Packers between the regular season and the playoffs. The Packers also drafted former Ohio State offensive center Josh Myers and versatile former Ole Miss offensive lineman Royce Newman in the second and fourth rounds of the 2021 Draft respectively.To fill the void left by Wagner, the Packers chose to go right back to the well of Wisconsin offensive linemen. However, Van Lanen’s relatively short arms and lack of agility are likely to deprive him of any snaps at either offensive tackle spot in the NFL – at least until he further improves as a pass blocker. As a proven run blocker used to clear paths for 2,000-yard rushers, Van Lanen is likely to see early opportunities at the guard position while the team awaits the return of superstar left tackle David Bakhtiari – especially given the guard-tackle versatility of other Packers offensive linemen like Billy Turner and Elgton Jenkins.