On paper, Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler looks like the perfect Patriot: he is all about football, won a team award after his junior season for weight room dedication, has made a strong impression on teams in interviews, projects well in a zone-blocking scheme and scored a reported 33 on the Wonderlic test.
If that’s not enough to convince you, try this: one draft evaluator called Zeitler ‘’a dependable, no-nonsense mauler.’’ Sounds a little like Logan Mankins, no? Zeitler even wore number 70 in college, the same number Mankins wears with New England.
The 6-foot-4, 314-pound Zeitler (pronounced ZITE-ler) started 36 of 40 games at right guard over his final three seasons with the Badgers, not starting four games at the start of the 2010 season due to a high ankle sprain.
Last fall, the homegrown talent was a key part of a standout offensive line that helped Wisconsin average more than 44 points per game and 237 rushing yards per outing.
Against Nebraska, Zeitler had three goal-line blocks that led to Montee Ball rushing touchdowns, pulling from his spot at right guard each time and clearing a path on the left side for Ball in a 48-17 win.
He played alongside tackle-turned-center Peter Konz, considered the top player available at that position this year; the two are just the latest Badgers linemen headed for the NFL - in 2011, tackle Gabe Carimi was a first-round pick of the Bears and had earned a starting job before a knee injury ended his rookie season.
Badgers John Moffitt (Seattle) and Bill Nagy (Dallas) were also drafted last year. In 2007, Joe Thomas, now considered one of the best left tackles in the game, was taken third overall.
Zeitler knows he’s carrying on a legacy.
‘’There’s been a great tradition of offensive linemen there,’’ he said. ‘’We respect it. Nobody wants to be the guy that stops it. As a group, we try to work hard. It works.’’
Zeitler was a man of few words in his interview session at the NFL combine, a stark contrast to the loquacious Konz, whom he called his best friend on the football team. Konz hammed it up, detailing how he went from tackle to center, and explaining that he majored in radio/television/film because he loves to get attention.
Zeitler? About the most expressive he got was when he called Konz ‘’Konzie.’’
But being talkative isn’t an indicator of success.
Because of the complexities of the Patriots’ system, the team generally only drafts offensive linemen who post a 20 or better in the Wonderlic, a mark he far exceeded. Zeitler is also described as a perfectionist who is very technically sound, qualities New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia would likely value.
With Brian Waters expected back this season but perhaps set for retirement after 2012, Zeitler could be a candidate to come in, learn the ropes, and step in if Waters steps away.
Playing against some strong defensive linemen - he named Michigan State’s Jerrel Worthy and Penn State’s Devon Still, both considered late-first round prospects, as the toughest players he faced last fall - and playing them well gave Zeitler the confidence that he would be good enough to play in the NFL, though he isn’t quite sure how soon he’ll hear his name called.
Generally regarded as the second-best guard in this year’s draft behind Stanford’s David Decastro, Zeitler feels he has a chance to be taken in the first round.
‘’I believe I can. I excel at off-field preparation and I’m as prepared as I can be,’’ he said. ‘’(But) I really have no clue. I haven’t gotten a straight answer about that. Maybe I’ll get lucky.’’
He was lucky enough last weekend - on Monday he tweeted ‘’SHE SAID YES!! Engaged to the most wonderful girl ever’’ after proposing to his girlfriend.
So being drafted isn’t the only major life change coming up for Zeitler.