Packers: Vince Biegel the latest in long line of Badgers to play for Green Bay
GREEN BAY — As Mike McCarthy watched the Wisconsin-LSU game at Lambeau Field last fall, he found himself root-root-rooting for pseudo-home team. And yes, the Green Bay Packers head coach might’ve seen a guy or two he wanted for his own.
“You always watch the Wisconsin players. Let’s face it,” McCarthy said following last weekend’s NFL draft, during which the Packers took 10 players — including one, fourth-round linebacker Vince Biegel, from UW. “The LSU-Wisconsin game, personally it was the first time I was to a live college football game, in 20-plus years. What an incredible environment.
“So yes, you root for the Badgers. And it’s great that Vince is now a Green Bay Packer.”
Biegel and all of the Packers’ rookies — the 10 draft picks, 15 or so undrafted free agents and about two dozen tryout players — reported to Lambeau Field Thursday for the start of the team’s annual post-draft rookie orientation camp. Biegel isn’t the only one with Wisconsin ties — UW-Oshkosh cornerback Cameron Brown is one of the tryout players — and when the full team begins practicing together, Biegel will join veteran tight end Lance Kendricks, who signed as a free agent in March after spending his first six NFL seasons with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams.
Assuming Biegel and Kendricks are in the lineup for the Packers’ Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Seattle Seahawks, they will become the 41st and 42nd ex-Badgers to play for the Packers since 1921. Only Notre Dame (52) and Minnesota (44) have produced more Packers than UW, although that statistic is certainly skewed by the territorial nature of player acquisition in the old days of the NFL.
Meanwhile, Biegel became the 39th former Badger to be drafted by the Packers — again, a number inflated by how regional the NFL once was. Starting with Ed Jankowski, the ninth overall pick in 1937, 30 UW players were drafted by the Packers over a 30-year span.
But since the common draft began in 1967, the Packers have selected only nine ex-Badgers, and in the 25 years since the historic franchise’s renaissance began under Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf in 1992, the Packers have picked only four former Badgers: Offensive tackle Mark Tauscher (seventh round, 2000), guard Bill Ferrario (fourth round, 2001); wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (fifth round, 2014) and Biegel.
Interestingly, UW’s Barry Alvarez-led football turnaround spans roughly the same period, and starting in 1992, a remarkable 93 Badgers have been taken in the NFL Draft, including three — outside linebacker T.J. Watt (first round, Pittsburgh); left tackle Ryan Ramczyk (first round, Denver) and Biegel — this year. Of those 93, 17 have been first-round picks, starting with cornerback Troy Vincent in 1992.
Of course, it was Wolf’s decision to select Florida State cornerback Terrell Buckley with the fifth overall pick that year — leaving Vincent, who’d finish his 15-year NFL career with five Pro Bowl and three all-pro selections, to be taken by the Miami Dolphins two picks later — that led some UW fans and alumni to think that perhaps the Packers shied away from the state university on draft day.
During the second round of the 2001 draft, the Packers took Texas A&M wide receiver Robert Ferguson over UW’s Chris Chambers, who, like Vincent, went to the Dolphins and had a far more productive career.
“You know, it’s weird. When I was at the University of Miami, we never had any players with the Dolphins. People would say, ‘How come the Dolphins don’t take any Miami players?’” said Packers senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith, a former star running back for the Hurricanes who played six NFL seasons with three teams — none of them the Dolphins.
“It’s just one of those things. I’m sure if (Houston Texans defensive end) J.J. Watt was there at a certain time, we would have taken him. It’s just how it falls in the draft sometimes. Some things you can’t help.”
By the same token, general manager Ted Thompson explained that while he doesn’t intentionally avoid picking UW players in the draft, he also didn’t pick Biegel because he was a Badger.
“He is what he is — he’s a leader and a very articulate, very bright young man. And he happens to be a local guy and happens to be from Wisconsin,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t done because we were like, ‘We can get a Badger on our team.’ That’s not the reason we did that. We did that because he’s going to help the Green Bay Packers win games.”
That said, familiarity certainly didn’t hurt Biegel’s cause. He recalled seeing Thompson at the Badgers’ practices multiple times during his UW career, and noted that Thompson — a former NFL linebacker and special teams player — often took a special interest in the linebackers during those visits.
“(It would be) just a random Tuesday practice or random Wednesday practice, (and) Ted would be there watching myself, guys like Joe Schobert, Chris Borland, obviously T.J. Watt,” Biegel said. “Now that I’m looking back at it, it really kind of makes sense how everything played out.”
According to the Packers’ official all-time roster, in the past 50 years, 17 former Badgers have seen action in at least one game of regular-season action for the Packers: center Ken Bowman (1964-’73); defensive tackle Jim DeLisle (1971); defensive back Steve Wagner (1976-’79); running back Ken Starch (1976); quarterback Randy Wright (1984-’88); safety Ken Stills (1985-’89); running back Gary Ellerson (1985-’86); nose tackle Mark Shumate (1985); safety David Greenwood (1986); defensive back Von Mansfield (1987); linebacker Jim Melka (1987); defensive end Don Davey (1991-’94); center Jeff Dellenbach (1996-’98); Tauscher (2000-’10); quarterback Scott Tolzien (2013-’15); Ferrario (2002); and Abbrederis (2015). (Mansfield and Melka were among the Packers’ 1987 replacement players.)
Soon, Biegel and Kendricks will get their chance to add their names to the list.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing for the Packers. I never knew if it was possible,” Kendricks said when he signed in March. “Actually, when I was a free agent a couple of years ago, I spoke to my agent and I said, ‘Hey, if the Packers did have an opening, that’s definitely a team that I would be interested in looking at.’ The way everything works, it doesn’t always pan out how you want. I ended up just staying with St. Louis.
“And then, I just feel like this all happened for a reason. And I’m glad it panned out this way.”