For the third year in a row, a University of Wisconsin offensive lineman was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. On Thursday night, it was Travis Frederick’s turn to carry on the Badgers’ strong tradition of NFL-ready linemen.
The Dallas Cowboys took Frederick with the 31st pick, making him the first center chosen in the draft. Dallas traded down from the 18th pick in a deal with the San Francisco 49ers. Many pundits projected Frederick as a second- or third-round pick, but his ability to play multiple positions on the line clearly appealed to Dallas.
Even Frederick sounded surprised he went so high Thursday.
“I didn’t really expect to be drafted in the first round, really,” Frederick told Dallas/Fort Worth radio station 105.3 The Fan. “I thought I was more of a second round kind of guy. The Cowboys, when they traded down, I thought that might be an option for me. They had shown some pretty good interest in me. … I knew they needed a little help solidifying up the middle.”
Frederick started 31 games at Wisconsin, with 18 coming at center and 13 at left guard. He could replace Phil Costa as the Cowboys’ starting center or play either guard position.
“I think I play both (positions) about the same,” Frederick said. “With today’s NFL rosters being so small, it’s definitely helpful to have a guy that can play both.”
Frederick said he considered himself to be a good run blocker, particularly in 1-on-1 situations. He added his football IQ also allowed him to pick things up quickly and that he hoped to make an immediate impact.
The 6-foot-3, 312-pound Frederick was thought to have lost out on a first-round opportunity following a subpar performance at the NFL Combine in February. Frederick ran a 5.56 40-yard dash — a time so poor that it was going to make him the slowest center drafted in 20 years. Still, Frederick’s intelligence and sheer girth appeared to make up for his shortcomings in the 40. At Wisconsin, he double majored in computer science and computer engineering and anchored one of the top lines in college football.
During his pro day in March, Frederick bypassed running another 40 and instead opted to focus more on positional work.
“I caught quite a bit of heat for that,” Frederick said of his 40 time. “I think it’s important for some positions and some players. I think I could have run faster than that if I ran it again. But not a whole lot faster. I really am not a straight-line fast kind of guy. I think that I’m a quick guy that gets off the ball quickly and can get my hands in on guys very quickly. I think I play very well around the line of scrimmage and even pulling out to the outside a little bit.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of situations where a center is going to run 40 yards down the field. I don’t know that’s a great barometer for a center. I think the way that I play and my film really shows what my strengths are.”
Frederick joins offensive linemen Gabe Carimi and Kevin Zeitler as first-round picks from Wisconsin in the last three years. Carimi went No. 29 to Chicago in 2011, while Zeitler was taken at No. 27 by Cincinnati last year. Former Wisconsin center Peter Konz, whom Frederick replaced on the line last season, went 55th to Atlanta a year ago as well.
Oddly enough, the last center drafted by Dallas was Wisconsin’s Bill Nagy, in the seventh round of the 2011 draft. Nagy played four games with the Cowboys that season before suffering a fractured ankle and being released.
Frederick becomes the first center to be selected in the first round since Florida’s Mike Pouncey went No. 15 to the Miami Dolphins in the 2011 draft. He is the first center taken by the Cowboys in the first round since 1979.
Frederick, a Sharon, Wis., native, had one more year of eligibility remaining at Wisconsin but opted to forgo his senior season for the draft. The move certainly has paid off.
“I think it’s going to be a great fit down there in Dallas,” Frederick said. “I’m excited for a chance to get down there. I think it’s a great team that’s just sitting and waiting, and it’s going to really jump up here and have a great shot to compete for a Super Bowl championship.”