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MADISON - As expected, day three of the NFL Draft was a good day for former Wisconsin Badgers as they chase their NFL dreams. After two former Badgers were taken in the third round, an additional three players were drafted during the final four rounds of the draft.
Tailback James White was the first Badgers player to hear his name on the last day, going to the New England Patriots with the 130th pick in the fourth round. After a slow start to the draft for the running back position, White became the 13th overall tailback selected in the draft.
"I was surprised," White said about being drafted by the Patriots via conference call. "I'm just excited though, sitting here with my family all smiles, just hoping I would get an opportunity to play in the National Football League."
White couldn't have asked for a better first opportunity. The Patriots lost running back LeGarrette Blount in free agency but like Wisconsin, New England enjoys rotating multiple backs throughout a game. Stevan Ridley led New England with 178 carries and Shane Vereen was the fourth on the team in highest carries with 44. With New England sharing the wealth amongst the running back group, White should be able to fit right in.
With the NFL becoming a pass happy league, the value of running backs has been lowered, as teams now are looking for tailbacks that can run the ball effectively and have the versatility to catch the ball out of the backfield. White entered his senior season with 32 receptions but became an integral part of the Badgers passing game, finishing the season with 39 receptions.
"(Offensive coordinator) Andy Ludwig was a guy that wanted to heavily involve the running back in the passing game and it was something I liked to do," said White. "I just wanted to take the opportunity and run with it."
Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis had a little bit of a longer wait then he expected, but it was worth it for his final destination, as Abbrederis was selected in the fifth round – No.176 overall – by the Green Bay Packers. The second wide receiver selected by the Packers, Abbrederis became the first Badger drafted by Green Bay since offensive lineman Bill Ferrario was picked in the fourth round in 2001. Abbrederis will also join a familiar face in Green Bay with quarterback Scott Tolzien.
"It's crazy right now," said Abbrederis. "Being able to have my dream come true and play with the Packers, my childhood team."
This year's wide receiver class was deep in talent and there were slight concerns about Abbrederis' concussion history, which hurt his draft placement, but the 6-1, 190-pounder will fit in nicely as a slot receiver. Even though Micah Hyde handles the return duties last year, Abbrederis could fill in if needed. Over his career at Wisconsin, Abbrederis developed not only into a reliable route runner and one of the greatest receivers in Wisconsin history. If Abbrederis can stay healthy and continue to improve, he could become a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers down the road.
Although Abbrederis does need to add more weight and improve against bigger corners, him most likely playing in the slot for the Packers should help him get off the line on a consistent basis. This year could serve as a learning year for Abbrederis due to the depth the Packers have at wide receiver, but he can easily develop into a reliable target for the Packers.
Beau Allen wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in February, but was able to help himself at Wisconsin's pro day by benching 30 reps along with doing well in different agility drills. That success landed him with the Philadelphia Eagles, who took him with the 224th pick in the seventh round.
Allen did a great job this year of occupying space and allowing the Wisconsin linebackers to create plays. With Allen switching from defensive tackle to nose tackle prior to 2013, it will allow him to enter Eagles camp with a good understanding of what his responsibilities are at the position. Allen does need to improve in engaging blockers and improve his hand use to try and disengage blockers, but his size and run-stopping ability should give him opportunities against a NFC East division full of strong running backs.
Allen became the 23rd Badger defensive lineman drafted all time and he also joins safety Chris Maragos with the Eagles.
Jacob Pedersen and Ryan Groy were both expecting to hear their names during the draft but both ended up signing free agent deals. Pedersen, along with fellow Badgers tight end Brian Wozniak and former quarterback Danny O'Brien, signed rookie free agent contracts with the Atlanta Falcons.
With Tony Gonzalez retiring from the Falcons, both Pedersen and Wozniak have good chances of making Atlanta's roster or the practice squad. Although Pedersen was a productive player for Wisconsin, teams were concerned with his lack of speed. While he's not a great athlete, he does do a good job of catching the football with his hands and does find ways of getting open with not having elite speed.
Groy signed with the Chicago Bears and while he has the versatility on the offensive line and is an effective run blocker, he needs to learn how to play with better leverage.