The University of Wisconsin football program has had the tradition of churning out two noteworthy NFL positions — offensive line and tight end. Jacob Pedersen has the privilege to continue that lineage from the tight end position, as his skill set transitions nicely to the next level.
The Menominee, MI native was close to hanging up the cleats for good during his redshirt season, but former head coach Bret Bielema talked him out of it and for good reason — he saw the potential Pedersen had. The 6-foot-5 tight end would make Bielema and the rest of Badger nation proud, vaulting himself to the best tight end in program history by finding the end zone the most amount of times ever (17). Not to mention, his 1,394 receiving yards was good enough for 16th all time among receivers.
Along the way, the rest of the conference took note of Pedersen’s talent, as he took home the Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year and earned first-team all-conference honors in 2012. With the well-deserved recognition, it was expected by many that he would thrust himself into the national conversation at the tight end position by year’s end. Yet, his heralded final season in Madison never came to fruition.
The preseason third-team All-America nod by Phil Steele was far off, so too was the first-team All-Big Ten selection by Steele. There’s a lot to be said about the media placing high expectations on young men 18-22 years old, but it was warranted for Pedersen. Simply put, he did not produce in 2013. His 551 receiving yards were up from 355 in 2012, but his three touchdowns were the lowest scoring output since his redshirt freshmen year. All in all, he was still rewarded with an Honorable Mention selection in the conference.
There are a whole host of reasons why Pedersen didn’t perform up to the level he was thought to in 2013, but the emphasis on involving the tight ends does not begin to tell the story. Of the 217 completions last season under the direction of offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, 24 percent of those went to the tight ends. In 2012 under Matt Canada, now with North Carolina State, that number dipped to 18 percent with 219 completions. Finally, in Pedersen’s first season of being a legitimate playmaking threat in 2011 with Russell Wilson under center and Paul Chryst (current University of Pittsburgh head coach) calling the plays, the offense only used 13 percent of their 233 completions on the tight ends.
So what gives? In the lone game of the 2013 season available on Draft Breakdown — against the Iowa Hawkeyes — the tape painted a picture as to why he didn’t put up gaudy numbers. The simple solution to the complex problem was that he was the only other threat in the passing game, besides Jared Abbrederis. Given this, there was a linebacker and nickelback spying him constantly. Sure, he got his touches, but they were mainly on seven-yard curl routes. He doesn’t have the blazing speed either to differentiate himself from opposing defenders, or other tight ends in the class for that matter.
On the flip side, the NFL is going to gush over the fact that he’s an outstanding blocker. On the second play of the game, Pedersen was lined up in the H-back position and looked for a defender on the outside, then cut in to deliver a punishing hit on Christian Kirksey. This allowed James White to cut up field for an additional four yards. Plus, his versatility is a sought-after perk at the next level, as he can line up as a H back, split out wide, or settle in the traditional three-point stance.
Nevertheless, it would be a bargain pick of all bargain picks for general manager Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers if Pedersen was to land within the confines of Lambeau Field. If it does become reality, expect to see it between the fifth and seventh round, the gold mine for the Packers’ scouting department.