Size again on the side of Wisconsin prospects at the NFL combine
INDIANAPOLIS - The Wisconsin Badgers have a long tradition of molding mammoth, physical football players for the NFL.
That will likely continue this year, thanks to the four Badgers at this week’s NFL scouting combine: tight end Jake Ferguson, offensive lineman Logan Bruss, linebacker Jack Sanborn and linebacker Leo Chenal.
Here's a look at each prospect:
Jake Ferguson, tight end
The Madison native stated confidently at the combine, “I can be one of the top guys.” As he meets with teams formally and informally, he’ll look to prove it with intelligence he credits to Wisconsin’s football program.
“Starting at the Senior Bowl, I saw a lot of our plays that we run at Wisconsin, they looked very familiar to me,” Ferguson said. “So it felt pretty easy to pick up. A lot of it was just like we were running at Wisconsin … it might be the same call. It might be one letter off. But a lot of it is very similar.”
Billed as more of a pass-catching tight end, the 6-foot-5 Ferguson (who said he’s comfortable playing around his present weight of 250) wants to show teams his speed can be an asset to his game and a tool in the offensive playbook. He also wants to show his speed doesn’t negate his ability in the blocking scheme.
“I think it all ties together," Ferguson said. "When I say good, clean weight, that’s talking about strength, low body-fat percentage. And that kinda plays in to speed.”
Logan Bruss, offensive line
Another in a long list of the school’s offensive line prospects, the Kimberly High School graduate started 35 of 42 games over the last four seasons, most of them at right tackle.
Bruss did start six games at right guard and since the season ended has been working on playing guard, tackle and center. At 6-5 and 309 pounds, he is probably better built for playing inside because he has below-average arm length (33 1/8) for a tackle but large, strong hands (10 3/4) that suit close contact in the middle.
Like most Badgers offensive linemen, he can move and wouldn’t have a problem playing in a scheme that runs both inside and outside zones. He has had a lot of quality linemen to show him the right way to play the position, including NFL starters David Edwards and Tyler Biadasz.
“That the cool thing about playing O-line at Wisconsin, the older guys are going to pass it on to the younger guys,” Bruss said.
After missing the Badgers’ bowl game due to a foot injury, he’ll need to show scouts he has fully recovered. He could be a third-day draft selection.
Jack Sanborn, linebacker
Sanborn’s hopes of being drafted rely significantly on knowledge gained from Badgers offensive line coach Bob Bostad, who spent five seasons coaching inside linebackers.
“Coach Bostad is a great coach cause he’s got that experience that goes with it too, knowing the offense and knowing how the offense is gonna attack us,” Sanborn said.
During a week of combine meetings that stressed mental acumen, Sanborn (6-1, 239) was able to showcase his grasp of defense from an offensive perspective.
“(Bostad) was able to teach us about pass block and how the O-line’s gonna slide and how they might turn to this and where’s the center. And I thought we were very knowledgeable on that. And in terms of the run game too, just able to explain to us exactly how the offense was gonna block it up.”
Wherever Sanborn lands this spring, he’ll bring a mindset shaped by his time in Madison.
“Just the mentality and just the mindset of being at Wisconsin," he said. "It’s not super glamorous all the time but we pride ourselves on working hard and being smart and being tough and being athletic and the mindset that you kinda have there at Wisconsin I think translates to the NFL.”
Leo Chenal, linebacker
A Butkus Award finalist and second-team all-American as a junior, Chenal chose to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
Any team looking for a fierce tackler and accomplished blitzer will value Chenal, who led the Badgers with 114 tackles, including 17½ for loss, and finished second in sacks with eight. But since the Badgers didn’t ask a lot of him in coverage, teams are going to want to see his testing numbers.
The 6-2 Chenal played at 260 pounds last year, but said he is down 10 pounds and plans on playing at 250 in the NFL. Trimming down may allow for him to test better in the combine running drills.
Asked what he expected to run, Chenal said, “I think people are projecting me at 4.7 (seconds). All right, I guess we’ll just have to see.”
Considered a hard-hitter and fierce competitor, Chenal is built more like a traditional middle linebacker, not like some of the lighter three-down linebackers NFL teams often prefer. One area in which he will impress scouts is his strength.
He doesn’t plan on doing the bench press at the combine but he will do it at Wisconsin’s pro day Wednesday in Madison. He said his trainers didn’t want him wearing himself out on the bench before he had to run in front of scouts.
"It was kind of a dream of me doing the bench here,” Chenal said. “It was something that was really hard for me to say no to."
Asked how many reps he was capable of, Chenal said, “I was hoping for 42 just to get the linebacker record but you know, I don't know what's realistic. Maybe 40 would be cool.”
Eastern Kentucky defensive tackle Justin Ernest owns the all-time combine bench-press record with 51 reps (225 pounds) in 1999. Terna Nande of Miami (Ohio) set the record for linebackers with 41 in 2006.