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NFL Draft watch: Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal

Matthew Morris BVM Sports Journalist

Editor’s note: The Kansas City Chiefs selected LB Leo Chenal with the No. 103 pick in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft on April 29.

MADISON, Wis. (BVM) – Following a phenomenal season with the Wisconsin Badgers, junior linebacker Leo Chenal made one of the biggest decisions of his life: declaring for the NFL Draft rather than coming back for his senior season. 

“At the end of the day, you can talk numbers, stats for the season. I thought the biggest thing for me was just the gut feeling and just that desire to move on with my life,” Chenal said. “I love Wisconsin, great program, great people, great teammates, everything was amazing but I just thought it was best for me.” 

Since his decision, Chenal has been steadily building up his draft stock as April 28 continues to get closer and closer. 

“I think it’s going really well,” Chenal said. “Just going through the whole pro day, combine, all the work leading up to it… It’s definitely different, definitely interesting and I’m just excited to keep it going.”

Chenal graduated high school early to go to Wisconsin and the extra time made all the difference for him. (Photo by David Stluka/Wisconsin Athletic Communications)

The excitement is only amplified by the fact that he can go through this process with his older brother, John. A senior fullback for the Badgers, John is also training for the draft. For two brothers who have been teammates for almost their entire lives, it is a rare and special opportunity.  

“It means a ton just because we went through everything together,” Leo said. “Third grade, fourth grade flag football, middle school football, three different sports together all throughout high school, playing college, lining up next to each other on the punt team, the kickoff team, punt return team, everything like that. We’ve been through it all together and being able to bounce things off of each other, like talk about the process, each of our own experiences, it’s really cool just to be able to hear from him and talk to him throughout the process.”

And the process is going well for Leo. Both his combine and pro day workouts have gotten the attention of many who follow the draft process closely. At the combine, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Leo ran a 4.53 second 40-yard dash and had a vertical of 40.5”.

At his pro day in Madison, he wowed spectators with an impressive 34 reps at 225. His workouts have had him trending in the right direction, and Todd McShay even said he was “the most underrated player in the class” on First Draft. But for Leo, the growing hype should have been there since the end of the season.

“I heard from people that they were pretty low on me after the season and I think the season should speak for itself… I put the work in in the season,” Leo said.

Chenal was first team All-Big Ten and a second All-American this past season. (Photo by David Stluka/Wisconsin Athletic Communications)

Leo was the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year award winner along with first team All-Big Ten honors and second team All-American honors. He had 115 total tackles, 18.5 were for a loss, along with eight sacks, two forced fumbles and five QB hits. Those numbers standout even more when you take into account that Leo missed the first two games of the season due to COVID. 

His confidence in what he did during the season is also supported by the confidence he has in himself. It is the reason he has been able to go through the draft process evenkeeled and focused on the end goal: hearing his name called in Las Vegas.

“I would say the main thing is trusting in God, just the gifts he gave me and just having that confidence that he has my back and living that day by day,” Leo said. “Not thinking ahead like, ‘Oh shoot I got the combine in a week or I got it in two weeks.’ I was just trying to be the most present in that moment each and every day.”

However, this isn’t a new mentality for Leo. It’s the same one that allowed him to go from a barely-recruited high school player to the player he is now. 

“I just remember the days of my freshman year of football,” Leo said. “I came in as a mid-year and I’m glad I did to get all the mistakes out of the way. I was making those mistakes, it was really humiliating for me, my spring ball and even my fall camp going into my freshman year. I was making mistakes left and right, I was uncoordinated, all around I was just really raw and just really not that good so it was definitely a humbling process to say, ‘OK I’m not the star of the team right now, I got guys to look up to, I got a long ways to go.’”

The guys he looked up to were Jack Sandorn, Chris Orr and Zach Baun. All Badger linebacking legends in their own right but also people that Leo gives credit to helping with his development. 

“Being able to play alongside Chris Orr, Zach Baun, Jack Sanborn,” Leo said. “Those guys are legendary at Wisconsin and just being able to look up to them and feed off of their leadership and energy and just their knowledge has been really helpful to me.”

Leo improved every year going from a backup as a freshman to a starter as a sophomore and it was in the last regular season game of his sophomore season that Leo believes he set himself up for what he is doing now. 

Against Minnesota, Leo had 13 total tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks and a crucial forced fumble in a Wisconsin win over the Gophers. 

“That definitely gave me a boost of confidence playing into the next year and building that in the offseason,” Leo said. 

Games like that and the season he had this past year are the reason Leo has entered the same group of legends that he looked up to. 

“It’s kind of an honor just to be able to be a part of that legacy of Wisconsin linebackers,” Leo said. “I don’t really think about it but when I do, I’m kind of in shock about it because it is a cool thing to be a part of Wisconsin and say you contributed to the program as a linebacker.”

A linebacker who came in as a three-star recruit with only two offers became one of the best linebackers in the nation as a junior. Leo has done a lot in this three-year chapter of his life that was with the Wisconsin Badgers. If the NFL chapter is anything like that, then it will be a long and successful one.