Badgers Watt, Ramczyk taken in first round

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Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, April 28, 2017

MADISON--And then there were three.

Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt joined his brothers, J.J. and Derek, in the National Football League on Thursday night.

Watt, who blossomed into a playmaking outside linebacker in his first season as a starter, was taken in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 30 pick.

J.J. Watt was taken No. 11 overall by Houston in 2011. Derek Watt was taken in the sixth round, No. 198 overall, by San Diego last year.

Green Bay had the opportunity to select Watt with the No. 29 pick but traded out of the first round with Cleveland. The Packers have the first pick of the second round on Friday.

Watt, 6-foot-4 and 252 pounds, started out at tight end at UW. But after suffering two knee injuries, he moved to outside linebacker in 2015.

After a quiet first season on defense, Watt emerged as playmaker in 2016. He led UW in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (15) and finished third in tackles (63) and was a first-team all-Big Ten pick.

Watt was the sixth Big Ten player selected and the first of two UW players taken in the first round.

Offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk was selected by the New Orleans Saints at No. 32, the final pick of the first round.

The last time two UW players were selected in the first round was 2011. Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi joined J.J. Watt at No. 29 overall to Chicago.

The first offensive tackle taken Thursday was Garrett Bolles of Utah, who went No. 20 to Denver.

“He is the most athletic of all the offensive linemen,” Mayock said.

Stanford coach David Shaw, speaking on the NFL Network, wasn’t surprised to see Bolles taken before any of the other tackles.

“The job at offensive tackle in the NFL is to block freaks,” Shaw said during the NFL Network’s telecast. “It is your job to keep you quarterback clean and this guy is a freak athlete. He is long. He is athletic.

“He is fast. He is explosive. And he is nasty.”

Ramczyk, 6-5 and 309 pounds, eschewed a scholarship offer from Pittsburgh as a senior at Stevens Point High School.

He chose instead to stay close to home and briefly attended Division II Winona State. He never played football there, however, and attended Madison Area Technical College for one semester and then Mid-State Technical College in Stevens Point for a semester.

That year away from the field pondering a career as a welder made Ramczyk realize he missed football.

He played two seasons at Division III UW-Stevens Point, transferred to UW, sat out the 2015 season and then proved to be one of the best left tackles in the country in 2016.

“It’s been an incredible experience,” Ramczyk told the NFL Network before the draft. “It’s been a ton of fun. I enjoyed my time at both Stevens Point and Wisconsin.”

His selection was praised by Mayock and Shaw.

“Zach Strief, their right tackle, is 34 years old,” Mayock said, referring to the Saints’ current No. 1 right tackle. “So he could step in (from) Day 1, play right tackle.

“He is a technician, even though he is only a one-year starter at Wisconsin. He faced big-time opposition.

“So at the end of the day, he is a Day 1 starter on the right side—and Drew Brees is a happy guy.”

Shaw, who was impressed by Ramczyk’s performance in UW’s loss to Michigan, added: “This kid’s going to play for a long time.”

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