Badgers in the NFL Draft: Q&A with Alex Erickson

Alex Erickson caught 77 passes as a senior at Wisconsin -- one shy of the school single-season record.

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Alex Erickson is looking to become the latest former Wisconsin Badgers walk-on to make it to the NFL.

If he can, Erickson will have beaten the odds again. Besides being a walk-on from a small town (Darlington, Wis.) and having played intramural football his freshman year, Erickson wasn’t invited to any of the postseason collegiate all-star games and did not receive an invitation to the NFL Combine.

This despite emerging as Wisconsin’s top receiver the past two seasons (some might say only receiver for much of that time). After catching nine passes for 127 yards as a sophomore, Erickson had 55 receptions for 772 yards and three touchdowns as a junior in 2014. He finished off his time as a Badger with 77 catches — one shy of the single-season school record — for 978 yards and three TDs.

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In this Q&A, Erickson describes when he knew he had a chance to play professionally, the training he’s been undergoing, what NFL teams are saying to him about being drafted, his wide receiver to look out for this year for Wisconsin and much more.

I hope to follow up with Erickson after the draft, but until then here’s our Q&A:

Q: The staying around for a sixth year at Wisconsin thing — was it something you really were exploring, were you ready to leave anyway or did you think it wasn’t going to happen anyway?

A: The coaches were looking into it. I knew it wasn’t going to happen just because that’s the rule. Eventually it got back to them that it didn’t get approved

Q: Part of the reason I ask is your path. There’s been a lot of walk-ons at Wisconsin but I’m not sure any of them played only intramural football as a freshman. Could you have even imagined that one day you’d be trying out for NFL while playing intramurals? Was it ever in the back of  your mind?

A: At that time, no. But then when I got going and started figuring it out and catching on and kept getting better every single day, as the years went by just seeing constant improvement and before you know it you’re an all-conference wide receiver. I always had the belief in myself, but at the time you can’t really look forward to, yeah I’ll be in intramurals and a regular student then I’ll join the team and then I’m going to be in the NFL. So it’s something you don’t really think about at the time. But after going and developing and started making the plays, by my junior year I started realizing I might at least have a shot at the next level if I keep going.

Q: I was going to ask when you realized you thought you might have a chance at the NFL but it sounds like when your production picked up.

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A: Yeah, I think production picked up, confidence grew and the game really started to slow down my junior year and I was able to . . . being able to read defenses, I knew what the DBs were trying to do and I had a plan in my mind and able to go execute it. That’s when I really started realizing I’m able to do these things and set the defenders up and pick my spots. So I really gained a lot of confidence and I still needed to continue to grow and have a good senior year. But that junior year I started to realize I was going to have a chance to keep pursuing this game.

Q: What’s it been like since January, was it all-out training for Pro Day?

A: After I didn’t get the combine or any of the all-star games, my focus was on Pro Day. Not that I wasn’t going to be at Pro Day, but it was just my one opportunity to get in front of the scouts other than my film and show them I’m faster than they think I am, and quick enough, jump high enough, strong enough, all that stuff — check all those boxes — so when they go back to their GMs they don’t have to worry about the speed or anything, that’s not a question anymore. Everything is based off the film. Your film is your resume, they say, and I want everything to based off my film because that’s the type of football player I am. That’s who I am, what that film shows.

Q: Did you feel you had to be as close to perfect as you could be at Pro Day because that was your one chance to be in the spotlight?

A: Yeah, I felt I went out there and put numbers that I set. I had goals that I was trying to hit and after I was training for eight weeks I was able to hit those marks. It was a lot on that one day because I hadn’t had that opportunity. But also you have that juice, that desire you get before a game. So I was ready to perform. I had a great trainer throughout my eight weeks and I knew I was going to be able to perform well and I’m happy that I came out and showed up.

Q: Did you meet your goals or was it mixed?

A: I knew my shuttles, my pro agility and my 3-cone drill were going to be as good as anybody out there because my side-to-side quickness has always been natural. Straight-line speed, when I was training I was hitting high 4.4s, so that’s what I thought I’d be around. The vertical, I knew I’d be right around 35, so I was happy with that. Broad jump, I knew I’d just be under 10 feet. I was getting consistent with the numbers I was getting in training. I was just hoping I’d get a little extra juice with the adrenaline with all the scouts watching.

Q: Did you get any immediate feedback from teams?

A: You talk with some of them and they say we got you as a draftable grade, and some don’t realty say a lot. They don’t really show a lot of their cards. In their eyes, if they are trying to get you, they want to get you where they feel they want to get you and not have to go up, or however that works. They really didn’t give me a whole lot (of information), but it is what it is. You don’t really know, I’ll find out in a few weeks and be ready to go.

Q: Did you meet with teams at Pro Day?

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A: I met with some. I met with the Jaguars a bit before Pro Day and we did some tests and things like that. And I met with the Dolphins after Pro Day and we did some more tests. And then you just talk with scouts with the teams that are looking at you, they come up to talk to you and introduce themselves. The thing with them is they want to get to know you, too. What kind of person you are, your character. They do all the background, but getting face-to-face and have interactions. They just want to make sure you’re a good guy, do the things they right way and will represent their organization with class.

Q: You kind of hinted at it there, but have you met teams since Pro Day?

A: I went to Minneapolis last week to visit with the Vikings and them I am going to Cincinnati to visit with the Bengals. It’s a very unique process, something I’ve never done before so the things is just to enjoy it, too. I’ve put a lot of time and work to get to this point, to not enjoy it would be a shame.

Q: From January to March you are training just for Pro Day. So from early March to late April, what do you do?

A: I went down to Florida after Pro Day for a few weeks. Went down and trained at Chris Chambers’ facility down there. So I trained with him and Brandon White, another Wisconsin guy. It was great working with them. Chris has a facility down there that they have a lot of pro guys and college guys, so it was cool to get back in that environment again and just kind of see different things you can try, different things you can improve. Because it is all about competing. You see how the pro guys are running routes and just try to pick some pieces of things you like and think will work for you and incorporate it into your game. Now I’m back in Madison and training up here, lifting and running. I’m working with Brandon White again, he’s back in Madison for a few weeks, so I’m going to train with him on some wide receiver stuff. Joe (Schobert) and Joel (Stave) are around, too, so we’ll keep pushing each other and stay in shape and be ready for the call and ready to get into camp and show you them belong.

Q: You mention watching the pros run routes. Did you feel like you were a pro-caliber route runner?

A: I think my route running is as good as anybody’s. It’s just a matter of being able to run different routes. At Wisconsin, the offense we run . . . it is big-time throws and big-time routes. You’re running 18-20 yard comebacks, 16-18 digs, curls — all the stuff you see on Sundays. Now it’s a matter of fine-tuning those and being a little quicker on the breaks. Just like going from high school to college it’s a big step, it’s even a bigger step going from college to the NFL. The guys I’ve talked to, the guys who have shared some advice, they say it is so much faster, the windows are tighter, you have to be sharp and you have to be able to make contested catches. It’s all about getting as much separation as you can because there’s not going to be a lot. Those corners are the elite of the elite.

Q: Is it just "watch my tape" or is there more to it where you have to sell yourself?

A: I guess you are selling yourself. The work’s been done, they have all the film they need to see. So when you go into these team meetings it is a lot of get-to-know you stuff. They ask you what would you bring to the team, what kind of player are you, what type of person are you, what kind of guy in the locker room? They know the film, they’ve done the research on what kind of person you are, but for you to get in front of them and share that and reveal that is (a big part) of the visits.

Q: What’s your feeling, your inner gut — do you think you’ll be drafted or are you not trying to worry about it? What’s your thought process?

A: From what I heard it’s going to be late rounds to wherever. But I don’t know. It’s like . . . you’ve done all the work, and all you can do is just keep preparing yourself and be ready if your name is called and the phone rings. It’s one of those things that yeah it’d be cool experience to get drafted and be introduced to the NFL that way, but if you don’t you see guys every Sunday you hear them talk, that guy’s an undrafted free agent yada yada yada. One of the coaches told me when I was going through this process, it doesn’t matter how you get here it’s what you do when you’re here, and I think that’s so true. Because you see undrafted guys making Pro Bowls, undrafted guys starting on Sunday, so either way you’ll have an opportunity and that opportunity is all on you.

I think my route running is as good as anybody’s.

Q: What’s your plan on draft day?

A: I’ll probably go back home to my parents’ house and enjoy it with them. Either way, if you don’t get drafted you’ll get called. Just enjoy it and relax. Whatever happens, happens. Just roll with the punches.

Q: Will you watch it or try to keep yourself preoccupied because it is a long day Saturday.

A: Yeah, it’ll be long, but I’ll watch it, shoot. There will be a lot of guys who will be drafted that I know and it will be cool to see that. One thing cool about this process is you meet a lot of guys. And whether it’s the process of training or the 4 1/2 years at Madison, you meet a lot of cool guys and lifelong friends, to see their dreams fulfilled is a special thing for you, too. I feel like we’re all in it together.

Q: I have to ask you a Badgers question. You were obviously the go-to guy. Who should we be looking for to step up, besides Rob Wheelwright?

A: I haven’t been able to watch much of the spring ball this year, but Jazz is going to be a guy, too. When Jazz got here, he has natural feet and he’s quick in and out of cuts and I think he’s really going to be stepping up in that role of moving in the slot and outside, where I was last year. Jazz is a guy who is going to be a great playmaker for Wisconsin for years to come. It’s only his junior year so the future is bright for him. I’m excited to see where he goes with this. He’s obviously going to have a lot of opportunities this year.

Q: I asked Mike Caputo this as well: Is it weird talking about Wisconsin in past tense?

A: It is! We were talking about how you grow up in Wisconsin and you’re a Badgers fan. Then you become part of the program and it’s a little surreal in the beginning. "Holy cow, I’m a Badger." And then it goes by so fast, and now you’re post, where you’re back to being a fan but you’ve experienced it so you know what it feels like. Right now I still feel connected and really close to the program. It will be fun to watch ’em. There will be guys who step up that you knew had the potential and to see them step up will be pretty cool and be really happy for them. Because at one point you were that guy that they knew you had that ability but going out and doing it is another thing. It’s definitely interesting.

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