This article was originally published Feb. 22 at Cheesehead TV.
INDIANAPOLIS––Jared Abbrederis knows a good underdog story when he hears one. That's what draws the Wisconsin product to former Packers wide receiver Donald Driver, a player Abbrederis models his game after.
"Donald Driver, I love the way he played the game," said Abbrederis from the site of the NFL Combine. "The fearlessness going over the middle, kind of his underdog story as well, and how he grew up and then being drafted later and just the career that he had. Good route-runner, good player."
By now, Driver's background is public domain: He overcame a childhood of occasional homelessness, selling drugs and stealing cars to later go onto Super Bowl glory and Dancing With The Stars fame.
While not quite on par with Driver just yet, Abbrederis has a pretty good underdog story himself. A native of Wautoma, Wis., Abbrederis won the Burlsworth Trophy in 2013, an award that honors the most outstanding player in college football that began his career as a walk-on.
"I obviously have the underdog mentality," said Abbrederis. "I think the biggest thing for me, I’m a goal-setter. So when I set a goal I do everything in my power to achieve that. Growing up, I’ve always been like that, and that just kind of carried on through my career as a walk-on, once I earned a scholarship, and then trying to achieve my goals here in the NFL."
In four years at Wisconsin, Abbrederis caught 202 passes for 3,140 yards and 23 touchdowns, gaining first-team All-Big Ten recognition in his final season and earning an invitation to the Senior Bowl. Another feather in his cap is his ability to return punts, averaging over 10 yards per attempt over his college career.
Whereas Driver came out of relatively small Alcorn State and ended up being a seventh round draft choice, Abbrederis comes from a big-name program and with production like his, he figures to come off the board higher a whole lot higher than the final round.
Exactly how high is up for debate, but according to the NFL Network's Mike Mayock, there's plenty that makes Abbrederis attractive to potential teams.
"What I see with Abbrederis is a wide receiver that understands routes more than most wide receivers in college do," said Mike Mayock of the NFL Network. "He gets in and out the breaks and he's got good speed. I think he's got to get stronger so he doesn't get beat up at the line of scrimmage. I think he's probably a third or fourth round pick."
The speed of Abbrederis is one of his more underrated characteristics but also of the biggest reasons he was able to get behind defenders in college, even highly-rated cornerbacks such as Bradley Roby of Ohio State.
In nationally-televised game between Big Ten rivals, Abbrederis caught 10 balls for 207 yards and a touchdown, burning Roby on several occasions. He's had several good performances while with the Badgers, but it was that contest that perhaps helped catapult Abbrederis into the national consciousness.
Teammate James White declined to say who would win in race between him and Abbrederis, but acknowledged that the wide receiver's speed is one of best assets.
"He kind of glides," said White. "He's a fast runner. He ran track in high school, and he was pretty fast on the track."
Being a Wisconsin native and Packers fan, Abbrederis also tries to emulate his game after Jordy Nelson. Measuring in at 6-1 at the Combine, Abbrederis is two inches shorter than Nelson, but there are several aspects of Nelson's game that Abbrederis tries to work into his repertoire.
"I love watching him, how he high-points the ball, saves room for the quarterback to throw and just takes pride in his route-running as well," said Abbrederis. Abbrederis acknowledged he's talked to the Packers while at the Combine and said he'd love to play for them, but they're just one of 32 teams in the NFL. His professional football hopes won't rest with one team.
"That’d be awesome to play for the Packers," said Abbrederis. "I’ve been a fan ever since, growing up as a little kid, growing up in Wisconsin. I would love to play anywhere, just have the opportunity to play in the NFL is a dream come true."
With the Draft less than three months away, it won't be long for those dreams and aspirations to become realized. And when his name is called at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, one chapter in Abbrederis' underdog story will come to a close and another will just be beginning.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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