He’s from Wisconsin, and his first name is Vince. Just for those reasons, Vince Biegel’s Packers career is off to a good start.
Green Bay drafted the Badgers outside linebacker in the fourth round Saturday, with the 108th overall pick, adding a household name – and a highly accomplished college player – to its defense, which desperately needed pass rushing help.
"This is every Wisconsin kid's dream," said Biegel, who grew up on a cranberry marsh in Wisconsin Rapids. "I dreamed about being a Wisconsin Badger first, and I dreamed of one day playing in the NFL. If you look at pictures of me growing up, I was always in green and gold. I was wearing cheeseheads."
With the selection of Biegel, the Packers addressed a need at outside linebacker – they lost Julius Peppers and Datone Jones in free agency – with an instinctive, hardworking and productive pass rusher who was a fan favorite at Wisconsin and will no doubt be a popular player in Green Bay. Biegel has good size (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) and speed (4.67 seconds in the 40-yard dash), with the ability to play the run and cover opposing tight ends, as well as get after the quarterback.
Biegel’s Badgers teammate, fellow linebacker and first-round pick T.J. Watt, got more headlines and attention, especially after his breakout 2016 season and in the lead-up to the NFL Draft. But Biegel – for his passion, relentlessness, electric energy and distinctive hairstyle (aka a mullet with a ‘W’ shaved into it) – turned heads, as well. The two-time All-Big Ten second-team honoree started 36 games at Wisconsin, notching 15 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss. He had strong 2014 and 2015 seasons (15.5 sacks, 30.5 tackles for loss), before a foot injury hindered him in 2016.
While never the best player on Wisconsin’s defense, Biegel became its most visible and vocal leader and was consistently dependable when healthy. The former farmhand has talked openly about how his blue-collar roots have helped him on the football field, which surely will endear him to Packers fans.
With the 108th pick in the 2017 #NFLDraft, the #Packers select Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel!
Welcome home, @VinceBiegel #PackersDraft pic.twitter.com/FIixTzQA0m — Green Bay Packers (@packers) April 29, 2017
Green Bay passed on taking Watt in the first round, deciding to trade the No. 29 pick to the Cleveland Browns for the first choice of the second round plus a fourth-rounder (No. 108 overall, which was also the first pick of Day 3 and used on Biegel). Watt, the younger brother of star defensive lineman J.J. Watt, went No. 30 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While Watt started for only one season at linebacker – and it was unquestionably a fantastic season – Biegel was a three-year starter who some draft evaluators consider a more complete, well-rounded and experienced defender. Biegel’s 40-yard dash time was also slightly faster than that of Watt (4.69).
Packers personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith spoke to the media on Saturday and compared Biegel to Watt. "I think he had his own identity," Highsmith said. "He made a name for himself. He's played a lot of football at Wisconsin."
With the first selection in the second round, No. 33 overall, Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson drafted Washington cornerback Kevin King. The Packers had the second-worst pass defense in the NFL last season, with a defensive backfield that fluctuated between injured, inept and ineffective. Even if cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins – the team’s top two draft picks in 2015 – bounce back next year, the concussion-related release of veteran Sam Shields in the offseason meant the Packers had a hole to fill in their secondary.
Already Green Bay’s tallest defensive back, King (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) has the size and athleticism (4.43-second 40-yard dash, 39.5-inch vertical jump) to become a No. 1 cornerback. He also has the versatility to play multiple positions, from outside corner to the slot to safety, and was a two-time All-Pac 12 honorable mention selection.
He’ll need to prove he can be more physical and aggressive as a tackler, as well as show that his length is an asset and not a liability against quicker, shiftier receivers. King has impressive ball skills, with five interceptions over the past two seasons, including this incredible one-handed pick in the end zone against Arizona State, which was one of the best plays in college football last season.
With their own second-round pick, the Packers drafted N.C. State safety Josh Jones at No. 61. Though they have two established starters at the position in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett, Jones helps to replace utility man Micah Hyde, who departed in free agency. Jones could even be an upgrade over the invaluable Hyde, given his speed (4.41-second 40) and playmaking ability (eight interceptions over the past three years).
Thompson’s first two draft picks clearly demonstrated his desire to bolster Green Bay’s secondary, and his third-round choice suggested a larger goal of simply making the defense faster. At No. 93 overall, the Packers took Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams, who ran a swift 4.87-second 40 at 6-foot-3 ½ and 305 pounds. Adams adds depth to the defensive line and his quickness complements power players like Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, last season’s first-round pick.
After the Packers’ season ended with a 44-21 blowout against the offensively explosive Atlanta Falcons, it appears their aim is to inject athleticism and improve the defense.
For a decade, Badgers fans mused that Thompson preferred not to draft Wisconsin players. That changed in 2014 when the general manager selected wide receiver Jared Abbrederis in the fourth round, his first Badger pick. Abbrederis, who battled multiple injuries over three seasons, was eventually released.
But at the time, head coach Mike McCarthy was happy about getting a Wisconsinite, saying, "It’s nice to come up here and say, ‘About time we finally drafted one.' There’s been a number (of Badgers players) over the years we felt we were going to draft. It’s great. I just want him to be treated like everybody else, not feel the pressure obviously in this state."
Time will tell if Biegel feels any of that pressure, though he certainly seems to have the personality to deal with being a mulleted state hero. It also helps that former Wisconsin tight end – and Milwaukee native – Lance Kendricks was signed this offseason, giving the Packers two Badgers on their roster.
And having the same first name as Green Bay’s legendary coach Lombardi doesn’t hurt.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.