Kiper likes the Badgers’ O-Line; Rivals compiles top recruiting teams

It’s been a slow couple of weeks for Badgers news, but a few things caught my attention this morning when perusing my usual sites at work (haha, just kidding Boss).

First, Mel Kiper, hate him or love him, released his first 2012 top-5 lists for juniors and seniors by position (an ESPN Insider membership is required to view each). Obviously, Kiper’s lists are based on the players’ NFL potential, not overall ability at the college level. Still, it’s worth mentioning that Kiper ranked five Badgers — two juniors and three seniors — in the top five at their respective positions and classes. I’ve listed them after the jump.

  • Bradie Ewing is the No. 2 senior fullback
  • Kevin Zeitler is the No. 1 senior offensive guard
  • Philip Welch is the No. 4 senior kicker
  • Ricky Wagner is the No. 4 junior tackle
  • Peter Konz is the No. 1 junior center

Perhaps unsurprisingly, four of the five players spend their time on the field blocking, something the Badgers traditionally do better than almost any other team in college football. Kiper sums it up when writing about the Badgers’ center, saying, “Wisconsin continues to seemingly engineer offensive lineman, and Konz is another good one.”

All three offensive lineman on Kiper’s lists were honorable mention all-conference performers last season, so their inclusion isn’t shocking. However, his mentions of Ewing and Welch surprised me a bit. Ewing is extremely tough and has been a great Badger, but at 6-feet and 234 pounds, is he big enough to lead block at an NFL level? Kiper seems to think so, calling Ewing “a key reason” for the Wisconsin’s recent success in the running game.

Welch is a different story, because although there’s no doubt he has a strong enough leg to kick at the NFL level (he converted a 57-yarder against Fresno State in 2009 and nailed several from 55-60 yards in the 2011 spring game), he’ll have to have a strong senior year to convince me (and many other Badger fans, no doubt) the inconsistency problems that plagued his first two seasons with the Badgers are completely gone. Although Welch was perfect from within 40 yards in the 2010 regular season, his miss from 39 yards in the Rose Bowl ended up being the difference between a Badger win and Badger loss.

It’s also worth mentioning the omission of Montee Ball on Kiper’s lists of the top junior running backs. Ball lacks the breakaway speed of fellow juniors Trent Richardson and LaMichael James, but he did average more than six yards per carry in 2010 and rush for nearly 1,000 yards despite playing only sparingly during the first half of the season.

The other bit of information was in regard to Rivals.com’s evaluation of the top recruiting teams during the last 10 years. While Wisconsin did not crack the top 25 (they came in at No. 36), they had the fifth best winning percentage during that period among teams outside the top 25. Only Boise State, TCU, Utah and West Virginia were better on that list. Wisconsin’s winning percentage during those 10 years (.709) is the 14th best overall and is higher than all but nine of the schools listed in the top 25.

These numbers reflect what Badger apologists have been saying for years: just because Wisconsin doesn’t recruit big time talent doesn’t mean it isn’t an elite program.

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