Wisconsin Football: Badgers' All-Time NFL Defensive Greats

By Cody Meadows on November 8, 2011
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Wisconsin Football: Badgers' All-Time NFL Defensive Greats
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers football team has been known for its physical style of play for a long time. There have been several players to go on to have success in the NFL, most on the offensive side of the ball. There aren't many who come to mind from the defense, but they are there.

Success isn't always best measured in stats, especially when it comes down to defense. Longevity and hard work go a long way as well.

Like a lot of Big Ten schools, the tradition at Wisconsin focuses on the defense.This is why I wanted to look back at some Badgers who went on to have nice careers in the NFL.

Read on, and be sure to share any players you feel deserve credit.

Cornerback, Jamar Fletcher

Wisconsin Football: Badgers' All-Time NFL Defensive Greats
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Jamar Fletcher was a superstar cornerback at Wisconsin. He won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2000, among several other honors. He was a huge reason for the Badgers' back-to-back Rose Bowl Champion teams. If the ball was thrown his way, he caught it most of the time. He was also named to the Top 100 Greatest College Players by America's Best & 10.He is the All-Time Interception Leader at Wisconsin with 21 total interceptions in three seasons of college football.

He wasn't as prolific a player in the National Football League, but he did a nice job wherever he went. He played for five different teams, starting with the Miami Dolphins, who drafted him in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. He also played for the San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and the Cincinnati Bengals until 2009.

I was always surprised when he was traded, but that happens with some players. He was always good in coverage and had good hands for a defensive back. He hasn't officially retired, and at 32 years old you might still see him in the NFL someday.

He finished his career with 193 tackles, seven interceptions and 26 passes defended.


Safety, Jim Leonhard

Wisconsin Football: Badgers' All-Time NFL Defensive Greats
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Safety Jim Leonhard is the type of guy who people like to root for.

Small in stature and not highly touted, his story might remind you of the movie Invincible. Jim Leonhard walked in at Wisconsin and received no Division 1-A scholarship offers out of high school. He was not awarded a scholarship until his senior year, even though he had been a regular starting safety before that season. He had already been named All-Big Ten twice. he totaled 21 interceptions (tied with Jamar Fletcher for the most in school history) and had the most in a single season at Wisconsin with 11 in 2002.

His pro career began the same way as he went undrafted in 2005 despite his success in college. Leonhard was the only undrafted rookie on the 53-man opening day roster for the 2005 Bills, playing in 10 games. He stayed with the Bills through the 2007 season and played for the Baltimore Ravens in 2008. He joined the New York Jets in 2009 and is still there today.

At this point in his career, Leonhard has amassed 312 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five interceptions, 19 passes defended and two forced fumbles.

Linebacker, Michael Reid

Wisconsin Football: Badgers' All-Time NFL Defensive Greats
George Rose/Getty Images

Michael Reid is a forgotten man.

He was a monster at Wisconsin, forcing fumbles as he terrorized quarterbacks each week. His most notable game in college was against the Ohio State Buckeyes in 1985, when he recovered three fumbles in one game. He was one of those guys who had a motor that was non-stop, like the Energizer bunny. He was a great tackler and a smart player as well.

He played his entire six year pro career for the Atlanta Falcons from 1987 to 1992. While he wasn't a starter very often, he played like he was. Whether he played an entire game or just a few plays, he did his job—chased whoever happened to have the ball and didn't stop until the whistle.

Defensive Tackle, Tim Krumrie

Wisconsin Football: Badgers' All-Time NFL Defensive Greats
Mike Powell/Getty Images

Tim Krumrie was a stud in both the college and the National Football League.

Krumrie was a three-time All-Big Ten defensive tackle for the Wisconsin Badgers. He still holds the school record to this day for most career solo tackles with 276 and most career tackles by a defensive lineman with 444. He was also named defensive MVP of the Badgers 1982 Independence Bowl win over Kansas State.He was named a member of the University of Wisconsin Hall of Fame in 1999.

Tim was drafted in the 10th round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals and played his entire career with the team. While he was a great player during his successful 11-year career, he is most often remembered by his toughness through injury during Super Bowl XXIII. He broke three bones in his leg during this game against the San Francisco 49ers and refused to go to the hospital. He watched the game in the locker room until finally agreeing to go to the hospital when his condition worsened. 

Krumrie finished his career with 1,017 tackles (700 solo), 34.5 sacks, 13 fumble recoveries, 11 forced fumbles and 10 passes defended.

Defensive End, J.J. Watt

Wisconsin Football: Badgers' All-Time NFL Defensive Greats
Bob Levey/Getty Images

I know J.J. Watt just started his NFL career, but the dude is a beast!

After being redshirted in 2008, Watt started all 13 games at defensive end in 2009. He finished the season with 44 tackles and four sacks even though he was new to the position. He played tight end for Central Michigan University in 2007 before transferring to Wisconsin. He learned fast and was a terror right away. In the 2010 season, Watt finished the regular season with 59 tackles, seven sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception.

He decided to leave college after his junior season and was drafted 11th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Through Week 8, he has 26 tackles and two sacks and has proven himself worthy of a first-round draft pick.

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