Which Wisconsin stars could leave school early and declare for NFL draft?

Wisconsin-Michael Deiter-NFL draft

Wisconsin’s football success has been buoyed by several upperclassmen who will have college eligibility remaining after this season. But based on the way they have played, they’ll have to decide whether to forgo that eligibility and declare early for the NFL draft.

That is nothing new for a program that has produced three early entrants in the past three years, each of whom went on to become a first-round selection: running back Melvin Gordon, linebacker T.J. Watt and offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk.

“I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of guys that you have those discussions,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “Like anything in life, you just want them to have as much good, accurate, proper information. There’s times when I think there’s misinformation. I think we can help them, and then you want the individual to make a good, informed decision.”

Where would this year’s crop of potential early entrants go if they opt to declare for the draft?

Here’s a quick breakdown:

Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards

Edwards’ name has begun to appear on NFL mock draft boards as a first-round pick. And if the feedback he receives suggests he’ll be an early-round selection, it stands to reason that Edwards could declare for the draft.

CBSSports.com writer Chris Trapasso has him going No. 32 overall and describes him as “a heady linebacker with good athletic talent, a polished skill set to beat blocks and the play-recognition ability to flow to the football quickly.” A separate CBSSports.com mock draft lists Edwards as the No. 25 prospect in the draft and the No. 2 inside linebacker behind Georgia’s Roquan Smith.

But it appears that not everyone is sold on Edwards’ high draft value. Luke Easterling of USA Today has him as the No. 108 overall pick (fourth round). WalterFootball.com lists Edwards as the No. 14 inside linebacker and a third- to fifth-round pick:

Edwards has led Wisconsin in tackles the past two seasons and ranks second this season with 75 tackles. He is tied for second with 11 tackles for loss, tied for first with 4 interceptions and is fourth with 7 pass breakups.

Cornerback Nick Nelson

Nelson has made quite an impact in his lone season at Wisconsin. He set the single-season school record with 20 pass breakups and generally has been a pest for opposing quarterbacks.

Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com reported that Nelson had begun telling teammates and people close to him that he would enter the NFL draft. But Nelson denied that report last week via Twitter.

Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com was impressed with Nelson’s season.

“Wisconsin routinely sends defensive players to the NFL, but the Badgers haven’t had a cornerback drafted in the top 100 picks in over a decade,” Brugler wrote. “But Nelson is the reason that streak has a great chance of ending in April.”

Brugler went on to describe Nelson as someone who “stays patient in his stance to minimize wasted steps and stay on top of routes, quickly finding the football and making plays at the catch point. Nelson almost gave up a touchdown to Michigan on a fade route in the end zone, but he had the presence of mind to violently push the mid-air receiver so he came down out of bounds for the incompletion.

“Nelson, who also added a punt return for a touchdown against the Wolverines, is a redshirt junior and expected to test the NFL waters after the season.”

Offensive lineman Michael Deiter

Deiter has started the past 40 games on the offensive line for Wisconsin over the past three seasons. He has demonstrated his versatility by playing center, guard and tackle. The general consensus is that he’ll be better served in the NFL as an interior lineman.

WalterFootball.com lists Deiter as one of the best players in the 2019 NFL Draft. In fact, that website has Deiter going in the first round at No. 13 overall, noting that Deiter is “currently the favorite to be the first center chosen in the 2019 NFL Draft, though he could declare a year earlier.” NFLDraftScout.com lists Deiter as the No. 2 center in the 2019 draft behind LSU’s Will Clapp.

Deiter acknowledged last month that it was a possibility he could declare early. But if he returns, he’ll be a good bet to become a first-round pick in 2019.

As it stands, WalterFootball.com projects Deiter as the No. 6 offensive tackle in the 2018 draft and someone who could be selected between rounds 2-4.

“He has good size with some athleticism, but he might be a better fit at guard in the NFL,” the website wrote. “Deiter is going to need to work on his feet and technique to handle NFL speed rushers. He could stand to play with better leverage in the ground game to get more out of his size and weight. If Deiter were to enter the 2018 NFL Draft, he looks more like a second-day pick rather than a first-rounder.

“The Big Ten Championship Game illustrated that Deiter should return to Madison for 2018. He was not getting a push in the ground game and was reaching after pass-rushers too often. He seemed to be surprised at the speed of Ohio State’s defensive line. Nick Bosa in particular had success going against Deiter.”

Offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel

Benzschawel is another experienced Badgers offensive lineman who could leave school early after a strong junior season. He has started all 13 games at right guard for Wisconsin this season. In total, he has 29 starts at right guard and 6 at right tackle.

WalterFootball.com lists Benzschawel as the No. 10 offensive guard in 2018 and a projected third- or fourth-round NFL draft pick. Meanwhile, ColtsWire.com projected the Indianapolis Colts taking Benzschawel in the third round.

The Sporting News praised Benzschawel’s effort during Wisconsin’s 38-14 victory against Iowa. In particular, it cited the play in which receiver Kendric Pryor scored on a 25-yard end around on the left edge. While redshirt freshman center Tyler Biadasz earned a notable pancake block to spring Pryor, Benzschawel was all the way downfield.

Like Deiter, Benzschawel could have a difficult decision ahead if he believes he’ll be a mid-round selection. He could return for his senior season and improve his draft stock for 2019.

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