The Green Bay Packers are not participating in the forthcoming NFL playoffs, but that doesn’t mean fans of Wisconsin football are shut out completely. In fact, every team has some connection to former Packers, Badgers or Wisconsin high school products.
Here are the top Wisconsin connections to each team remaining in the postseason:
Daurice Fountain. The Madison Memorial High School product was the lone Wisconsin prep graduate drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft, and now he’s a rookie wide receiver with Indianapolis. The Northern Iowa graduate has seen action in one game after being added to the active roster in December.
Next game: Saturday at Texans, 3:35 p.m. CT.
J.J. Watt. After two injury-riddled seasons, J.J. Watt was back with a vengeance in 2018. The Pewaukee native and former UW standout racked up 16 sacks and seven forced fumbles, tying for the league lead in the latter category. He finished with 47 tackles and 14 assists, and he returned to his status as one of the league’s best defensive players. He probably won’t win a fourth NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award (Aaron Donald of the Rams is the frontrunner), but he’s not far off that standard.
Madison Memorial product Jester Weah is listed as a member of the practice squad but is on injured reserve. Weah, a wide receiver, played college football at Pittsburgh.
Former Wisconsin Badger Natrell Jamerson played 10 games for the Texans this year, racking up seven tackles before getting waived and claimed in December by the Packers. He finished the season in Green Bay.
Next game: Saturday vs. Colts, 3:35 p.m. CT.
Russell Wilson. Still beloved for his role on the 2011 Badgers football team, during which Wisconsin defeated Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, Wilson has been a villain of the Green Bay Packers ever since as the leader of the Seahawks. For the seventh year in a row, Wilson played in all 16 games, throwing for a career-high 35 touchdowns with a career-low seven interceptions. He threw for 3,448 yards and completed 65.6 percent of his passes.
The backup will be familiar to local fans, too. Brett Hundley hasn’t seen the field this year, but he was with the Packers the previous three seasons and was needed extensively last year after Aaron Rodgers was felled by injury. He struggled in 11 games last year, throwing for nine touchdowns with 12 interceptions, then got traded to the Seahawks in the offseason.
As of Jan. 1, there’s another Wisconsin connection, too. Oak Creek High School product Marwin Evans was just signed to the Seahawks practice squad after spending the past two seasons with the Packers. The safety was largely a special-teams contributor in Green Bay but did see action in all 16 games the past two seasons.
Next game: Saturday at Cowboys, 7:15 p.m. CT
Joe Thomas. The linebacker played the past three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, racking up 70 tackles in 2016 with an interception. His 2017 was cut short by injury, and he ultimately signed a two-year contract with the Cowboys in March. This year, he’s appeared in 10 games for the Cowboys.
Big Foot High School and University of Wisconsin product Travis Frederick had emerged into perhaps the NFL’s best center, but he was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease, in the offseason.
Next game: Saturday vs. Seahawks, 7:15 p.m. CT
Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon. The 2014 Doak Walker Award winner at Wisconsin has been a little limited by injury this year, but he does have 885 yards rushing in 12 games, with 10 touchdowns rushing and another four receiving (plus 50 catches for 490 yards). Those numbers were good enough to merit a second career selection to the NFL Pro Bowl.
It wasn’t a clean sweep for the Watt brothers, with T.J. and Pittsburgh just missing the AFC North title, but two out of three isn’t bad. Derek Watt, the younger brother of J.J. Watt, was a standout running back at Pewaukee High School before playing fullback for the Badgers and in the NFL. For the third straight year, he’s seen action in all 16 games.
Next game: Sunday at Ravens, 12:05 p.m. CT
Ty Montgomery. His tenure with the Packers ended infamously when he was traded to the Ravens at the 2018 trade deadline for a draft pick, one game after a dubious attempt to return a kickoff that hurt the Packers chances to upset the Rams. The converted receiver ran 71 times for 273 yards and three touchdowns in 2017 with the Packers, one year after running for 457 yards on 77 carries in 2016, a year in which he also caught 44 passes for another 348 yards. With the Ravens, he has 10 receptions (56 yards) and 15 rushes (83 yards) in six games this season.
Head coach John Harbaugh – a man whose name has at times been floated as a potential replacement for Mike McCarthy in Green Bay – is the son of Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, who lived in Mequon when John and brother Jim (then with the 49ers) met in the Super Bowl in 2013. Running backs coach Thomas Hammock spent three seasons coaching running backs at the University of Wisconsin from 2011-13, overseeing the nation’s leading rusher in Montee Ball.
Next game: Sunday vs. Chargers, 12:05 p.m. CT
Brandon Brooks. The Milwaukee Riverside product played a role on the Eagles Super Bowl championship team last year, and the team’s starting right guard is now in his seventh year of NFL play. He’s been open about his battle to overcome anxiety disorder. Brooks attended college at Miami of Ohio.
Though he was placed on injured reserve midway through December, Corey Clement – the former University of Wisconsin running back – was a key figure in Philadelphia’s run to the Super Bowl last year. He racked up 100 receiving yards on four receptions with a touchdown in last year’s big game after making the roster as an undrafted free agent. This year, he posted 259 rushing yards in 11 games.
With the Packers, Richard Rodgers is credited with one of the most famous receptions in franchise history, on the receiving end of an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary against the Detroit Lions in 2015. The tight end has seen the field in seven games for the Eagles in 2018, with one catch for seven yards. Rodgers was a fixture in the Packers offense each of the past four seasons.
Josh Hawkins spent the past two seasons with the Packers and has seen action in six games for the Eagles this year. The cornerback defended six passes and racked up 38 tackles last year with the Packers.
Racine native Chris Maragos hasn’t seen action since Week 6 of 2017, with a torn PCL sidelining him most of last year (including for the Super Bowl run). He has been on the physically unable to perform list this year. Maragos has made his name as a special teams wizard and is in his ninth year of NFL experience.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson served as Brett Favre’s backup with the Packers, spending a total of seven seasons with Green Bay (and accounting for three touchdown passes).
Next game: Sunday at Bears, 3:40 p.m. CT
Ed Donatell. The defensive backs coach was the Packers’ defensive coordinator from 2000 to 2003. In 2002, the Packers set a franchise record with 52 sacks and led the NFL with 45 takeaways. Not only that, but the Packers led the league in takeaways (116) from 2001 to ’03.
Next game: Sunday vs. Eagles, 3:40 p.m. CT
Kansas City Chiefs
Demetrius Harris. Considering the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee hasn’t sponsored a football team for quite some time, it’s fair to say Harris is the school’s best NFL player since the 1980s. The former UWM basketball player is now in his fifth year as a tight end with the Chiefs, and he’s caught a career-best three touchdown passes this season (12 catches overall, for 164 yards).
Milwaukee Riverside product Eric Murray, who attended the University of Minnesota, is in his third NFL season as a safety, and he posted his best season yet in 2018. He logged 55 tackles and pulled in his first career interception while seeing action in 15 games for the Chiefs.
Former Packers linebacker Frank Zombo has maintained an NFL presence, playing the past six seasons with the Chiefs. He was a factor with the Super Bowl champion Packers, appearing in 13 games in 2010 and registering four sacks. But his most consistent work has come in Kansas City, where he appeared in 16 games each of the past five years. This year, he’s seen the field in nine games.
The coaching staff has multiple state connections. Long-tenured head coach Andy Reid spent seven seasons as an assistant with the Packers under Mike Holmgren, overseeing tight ends, offensive line play and quarterbacks. Green Bay went to the playoffs six times and reached two Super Bowls with Reid on staff, including the victorious Super Bowl XXXI run. Part of his coaching staff is secondary/cornerbacks coach Al Harris, who played seven seasons with the Packers and started all 102 regular-season games in his tenure. He earned two trips to the Pro Bowl and famously intercepted Matt Hasselbeck for a game-ending Pick-6 in the 2003 Wild Card game. Defensive quality control coach Jay Valai played in 48 games at the University of Wisconsin from 2007 to 2010, earning second-team All Big Ten in 2009 and 2009.
Next game: Saturday, Jan. 12 vs. TBA, 3:35 p.m. CT
Los Angeles Rams
Sam Shields. The former Packers cornerback did not play for most of 2016 or all of 2017 as he recovered from a head injury, but he has made it back and has contributed this year for the Rams, with 22 tackles and an interception. Shields became an undrafted diamond in the rough when he saw action in 14 games for the Super Bowl-winning Packers of 2010, and he spent a total of seven seasons with Green Bay.
Offensive lineman Rob Havenstein has been with the Rams since he was taken in the second round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Wisconsin, and he signed a four-year contract extension before the season through 2022. He’s cemented as the starting right tackle for one of the league’s most electric offenses – one that’s second in yards and points per game.
Cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant was a three-year letterman at the University of Wisconsin from 2005-08, making 14 starts at safety and appearing in four straight bowl games.
Next game: Saturday, Jan. 12 vs. TBA, 7:15 p.m. CT
New England Patriots
James White. The University of Wisconsin product probably should have been the Super Bowl MVP a couple seasons ago. His 20 points scored were a single-game Super Bowl record after the 2016 season, when the Patriots won Super Bowl LI, and he also scored the game-winning TD in overtime (with a Super Bowl record 14 receptions that helped his team rally from 25 points down, as well as 110 yards receiving and 29 yards rushing). The dynamic pass-catching running back had 425 rushing yards and five touchdowns this season, along with 87 catches (easily a career best) for 751 yards and seven scores.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is one of the most discussed candidates for the head-coach opening in Green Bay. McDaniels was formerly head coach of the Broncos and accepted the Colts head job in the offseason before rescinding and returning to the Patriots.
Next game: Sunday, Jan. 13 vs. TBA, 12:05 p.m. CT
New Orleans Saints
Ryan Ramczyk. He’s one of the great stories in recent Wisconsin athletics. Ramczyk started his college career at his hometown UW-Stevens Point, then transferred to Wisconsin where he became one of the nation’s dominant offensive linemen. He was able to jump to the NFL Draft as a junior and became a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints, where he has settled in as a rising star at offensive tackle. Many Packers fans fixate on the team’s decision to skip taking Badgers linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round of the 2017 draft, instead trading out of the first round and selecting Kevin King with the first pick in the second round. But Ramczyk was also taken in that interim period between Green Bay’s initial pick and actual selection, so he’s also a missed opportunity. Adding to the equation is Vince Biegel – a player the Packers took with the other draft pick acquired in that deal – is also now with the Saints.
Safety Chris Banjo spent three seasons in Green Bay from 2014-15, though he ultimately left the squad after an injury settlement. He was picked up by the Saints in 2016 and is now in his third season with New Orleans, appearing in 16 games both this season and last as a special-teams dynamo. He recorded two interceptions in a win over Philadelphia in November.
Biegel, the Wisconsin Rapids native and former Packers draft pick, signed on with the Saints after the Packers let him go this season. Biegel has seen action in 14 games, registering four tackles.
One of Packers’ fans favorite “one that got away” stories is Taysom Hill. He was in training camp as a third string quarterback in 2017, but he was released when the Packers elected to keep just two quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley). Hill has become a jack-of-all-trades for the Saints, with 196 rushing yards this season, a trio of receptions, 14 kick returns for an average of 25 yards, six tackles on defense and three pass completions on seven attempts.
Then, there’s Dan Arnold. Basically, the Saints are a showcase for the talent available within Wisconsin’s Division III football community. The Wisconsin-Platteville graduate was signed in 2017 before being placed on injured reserve. The receiver caught 65 passes at Platteville for 1,176 yard and 16 touchdowns as a senior, and this year he made 12 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown, seeing action in his first 10 NFL games. Arnold is from Illinois.
The Saints’ quarterbacks coach, Joe Lombardi, is the grandson of Packers legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Head coach Sean Payton was famously one of the finalists for the Packers head-coaching gig when Mike McCarthy was chosen before the 2006 season.
Next game: Sunday, Jan. 13 vs. TBA, 3:40 p.m. CT