NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
This year’s Rose Bowl between the Stanford Cardinal and the Wisconsin Badgers presents some interesting matchups involving NFL Draft prospects, most notably when Wisconsin has possession of the football. The Badgers will attempt to establish the ground game early, with running back Montee Ball operating behind offensive linemen Ricky Wagner and Travis Frederick. Stanford’s linebackers, Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov, also project as first or second-day picks.
Additionally, the Cardinal have some offensive talent of their own, most notably tight end Zach Ertz, a first or second-round pick, and running back Stepfan Taylor, a likely mid-round selection who may be able to sneak into the second day. Read on for more information regarding the Rose Bowl’s top prospects.
RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (5’11″, 215) (#5 Running Back)
Versatile back whose rushing talents are arguably overshadowed by his value as a receiver and skill as a pass protector. Was named to the 2012 All-PAC 12 Second Team. Smooth runner with a compact build; lacks an elite initial burst. Typically chooses rushing lanes effectively; projects as a third or fourth-round pick.
TE Zach Ertz, Stanford* (6’6″, 250) (#2 Tight End)
The second-best tight end in the class behind Notre Dame star Tyler Eifert. Has lined up as a wide receiver as well as inline; typically he can be found in the slot. Decent wall-off blocker. Able to find soft spots in zone coverage. Will likely interest NFL teams in the second round for his combination of size and athleticism.
OB Chase Thomas, Stanford (6’4″, 250) (#8 Outside Linebacker)
Projects as an outside linebacker in either the 3-4 or 4-3 (preferably the former.) Typically used as an edge rusher from either side of Stanford’s 3-4 alignment; active hand use allows him to shed blocks in both facets of the game. Size, production, and accolades will earn him a spot in the late first or early second round.
IB Shayne Skov, Stanford (6’3″, 240) (#6 Inside Linebacker)
Projects as either a middle linebacker (4-3) or weak inside linebacker (3-4) at the next level. Reliable tackler with some blitzing ability. Lacks elite athleticism; looks like a 4.7 player on tape. Missed most of the 2011 season after tearing his ACL; was arrested for DUI in the spring. Should be drafted in the third round or so this April.
RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin (5’11″, 215) (#6 Running Back)
Ball isn’t exactly the prospect his rushing production at Wisconsin would indicate; however, he does have the versatile skillset which is conducive to a starting role at the next level. Ball is incredibly efficient in short yardage situations, has experience as a blocker and receiver, and chooses his rushing lanes effectively.
OT Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin (6’6″, 320) (#13 Offensive Tackle)
Wagner’s stock has slipped this year, but nonetheless he remains an early-to-mid round option in this year’s draft. He plays left tackle at Wisconsin, but will most likely be asked to shift to the right side upon reaching the NFL. He is a big, aggressive, technically sound tackle with outstanding production as a run blocker.
Massive offensive lineman who is surprisingly efficient at executing zone-blocking assignments. Media selection for the All-Big Ten First Team this season after shifting from offensive guard to center; however, projects best to the guard spot at the next level. Would likely be a second or third-round pick if he left school early.
IB Chris Borland, Wisconsin* (5’11″, 240)
Borland likely won’t declare for the draft this year, but he is projected as one of the top inside linebackers in next year’s class. His tenacity in pursuit and athleticism earned him 95 tackles, ten tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks this season, good for an All-Big Ten First Team nomination by the conference’s coaches.
CB Devin Smith, Wisconsin (5’11″, 185)
Smith usurped fellow Badgers cornerback Marcus Cromartie in terms of draft position this season; Smith’s 56 tackles and four interceptions helped him earn a spot on the media’s All-Big Ten Second Team. He was also named to the Academic All-Big Ten team in 2009, 2010, and 2012. Smith suffered a season-ending foot injury in the second game of his 2011 season.