Staying in state: Green Bay takes Badgers' Abbrederis
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--At heart, Jared Abbrederis will always be a walk-on. From the broken femur in high school to the depths of the Wisconsin Badgers depth chart, this is who he is.
An underdog. He channels that attitude. Fifteen minutes after joining his new NFL team, his attention turned to a new depth chart.
“I like having that competition,” Abbrederis said. “Competition brings the best out of you.”
Yes, the walk-on from Wautoma heads to the NFL … 85 miles up the road. Over what he punctuated as a “stressful weekend,” the former Badgers receiver waited, waited—saw 22 wide receivers drafted ahead of him—and then was selected by the hometown Green Bay Packers in the fifth round, 176th overall. He’s the first Green Bay-bound Badger since 2001.
Before Saturday, Ted Thompson had never taken a Badger in nine years as Green Bay’s GM.
In Abbrederis, he knows what he’s getting. That walk-on from Wautoma.
“His first couple of years,” Thompson said, “he did everything but sell hot dogs down there. He did all the returning on kicks and punts, and then you watch him play his junior and senior year and every game they played, the opponents in the Big Ten, quality corners are on him and he still gets open, he still catches the ball and he still runs with it.”
So now, Abbrederis is essentially where he was in 2009. Hitting reset. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound needle in the haystack.
Abbrederis joins one of the league’s most loaded receiving corps, one that now includes Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Myles White, second-rounder Davante Adams and seventh-rounder Jeff Janis. The moment the Packers picked him, those walk-on days replayed in his head.
This a kid who broke his femur as a high school sophomore, was immobilized in a wheelchair for a month and then—only six months after the injury—was competing in a state track meet. He took fourth and fifth in hurdles.
This is a kid who redshirted that 2009 season in Madison and grew into one of the Big Ten’s best playmakers by 2011. Green Bay sees return potential in Abbrederis. As a sophomore, he averaged 24.6 yards on 28 kick returns and 15.8 yards on 20 punt returns. He’ll need to find a niche there first in the pros.
As a receiver in Madison, he excelled with three different quarterbacks. Last fall, Abbrederis finished with 78 receptions for 1,081 yards with seven touchdowns.
On to Green Bay.
“That’s who I rooted for,” Abbrederis said. “I’m excited. I can’t really explain it. Just a lot of emotions.
“Obviously, you have to work for everything in front of you. I’m excited for the opportunity. They’ve got a lot of great wide receivers there right now. I’m just excited to be a part of that group. They do a great job of building up wide receivers.”
When Badgers receivers coach Chris Beatty arrived last year, Abbrederis was established. He noticed something different soon. Through seven-on-seven drills, he’d tell Abbrederis to take a breather, turn his head and the receiver was still running routes. The same approach streamlined through spring ball, midseason, a bowl week, whatever.
Abbrederis always preferred to “earn respect.” It’s clichéd. He knows. But Beatty says Abbrederis plays as if nothing was given to him.
Said Beatty, “It’s like he’s still trying to earn a scholarship all the time.”
Case in point, the game that morphed Abbrederis into a bona fide NFL prospect. Last fall, Abbrederis torched Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby—who went 31st overall to the Denver Broncos—for 207 yards on 10 catches with a touchdown.
Beatty never saw Abbrederis the (literal) walk-on. This was close. From Day 1, Abbrederis had that game marked. He knew Roby would shadow him in man coverage, so Abbrederis prepped his repertoire of routes accordingly.
Wisconsin lost the game. Abbrederis dominated the matchup.
“He’s running double-moves. He’s running comebacks. Slants. He’s running digs. He ran every route on the tree and then some,” Beatty said. “And I think Roby is as good as there was, obviously he’s a first-round pick. But Jared kind of had his way. He kind of earmarked that.
“He had that circled that, ‘Hey, every time I catch it I’m going to help my draft status and maybe lower his.’”
Abbrederis sees no pressure in being the once-a-decade rare, in-state Packer. Again, he reiterated his faith. Let go to God, he said, and there’s no reason to stress.
Very, very soon, he’ll need to bring that walk-on temperament to the weight room at 1265 Lombardi Ave. One reason he fell in the draft was a lack of strength. At the NFL scouting combine, Abbrederis bench-pressed 225 pounds four times—dead last among all 35 wide receivers. Surely, teams fear he can’t beat press coverage.
Abbrederis says he “definitely” must add strength, and Packers receivers coach Edgar Bennett cautioned Abbrederis isn’t a finished product.
Beatty believes Abbrederis projects best in the slot where he wouldn’t see as much press.
“Does he need to get stronger? Sure he does,” Beatty said. “And he knows that. I don’t think there’s any doubt he’ll do what he needs to do to get stronger and be as physical as possible.”
And Thompson, Bennett and Beatty all rave about the walk-on inside Abbrederis. That fire never flamed out.
The last time Abbrederis was at Lambeau Field was the same year he broke his femur. He saw a game with his family. As a fan.
Now, he gets a chance to contribute.
“It’s been a long time of taking off of football,” Abbrederis said. “I’m excited to get back at it.”