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Wisconsin football: Projecting the 2016 depth chart for Badgers' defense

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After taking a look at the next version of Wisconsin's offense, we move to the other side of the ball.

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Defensive ends

Arthur Goldberg, R-Sr.
Chikwe Obasih, R-Jr.
Alec James, R-Jr.
Billy Hirschfeld, R-So.

Arthur Goldberg and Chikwe Obasih return as the starting ends from a year ago. Obasih took a nice step forward after starting seven games his freshman year, leading Wisconsin's defensive linemen with 41 tackles and five tackles for loss as a sophomore. The bigger-bodied Goldberg is the most prototypical of Wisconsin's starting 3-4 linemen, possessing the ability to occupy blockers and the versatility to play inside as well as out.

Alec James will continue to be the next end up and has the athleticism to provide more play-making ability to a defensive front that could use it. James has been able to fill in when needed over the last two years and should be able to build upon that experience for a more productive junior season. The 6'6, 287-pound Billy Hirschfeld is also worth keeping an eye on given his size and pedigree.

Nose tackles

Conor Sheehy, Jr.
Olive Sagapolu, So.
Jeremy Patterson, R-So.

Despite weighing more than 20 pounds less than Goldberg and UW's other options at the position, Conor Sheehy held the title of nose tackle throughout the year and held up well on the line. Olive Sagapolu and Jeremy Patterson both come in at over 330 pounds and are more traditional space eaters in the middle. Patterson chose Wisconsin over an impressive offer list, but was jumped by the younger Sagapolu. Sagapolu ended up earning noticeable playing time in a few games and will continue to provide depth to a line that only loses one member of the rotation.

Inside Linebackers

T.J. Edwards, R-So.
Chris Orr, So.

T.J. Edwards earned national All-Freshman honors after leading the Badgers with 84 tackles. He combines with Chris Orr to provide Wisconsin with a couple tackle-machine options in the middle of the defense.

Outside Linebackers

Vince Biegel, R-Sr.
T.J. Watt, R-Jr.

Jack Cichy, R-Jr.
Leon Jacobs, Sr.

Wisconsin received a major victory when Vince Biegel announced his decision to return for his senior season. Biegel earned third-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015 a year after receiving a second-team nod. Biegel maintained his production from his sophomore season, logging 14 tackles for loss and eight sacks, but was slightly overshadowed by the Big Ten's linebacker of the year, Joe Schobert.

Jack Cichy will assuredly be a major part of the defense after a phenomenal finish to the 2015 season, highlighted by 41 tackles in the final five games and a spectacular three-sack effort in the finale. The versatile Cichy should see the third-most playing time after Biegel and Edwards as he moves between the inside and outside of the defense. After entering last season as a starter at middle linebacker, the athletic Leon Jacobs could also see time at either position depending on how the depth chart shakes out.

T.J. Watt finally saw some playing time in his third season after redshirting his freshman year and sitting out his second with a knee injury. In his first year at outside linebacker after moving from tight end, Watt showed a lot of promise whenever he was on the field. At 6'5 with good size, Watt has the makings of a powerful edge rusher to complement Biegel when he gets on the field.

Cornerbacks

Sojourn Shelton, Sr.
Derrick Tindal, Jr.
Natrell Jamerson, Jr.
Titus Booker, R-Fr.

The Badgers return a mixture of dependable and promising cornerbacks despite the departure of three-year starter Darius Hillary. Sojourn Shelton, who has 36 starts of his own under his belt, will anchor a unit that gained valuable experience a year ago. Derrick Tindal saw a lot of playing time as the nickel back and had some occasions when he was picked on, but should be able to transition into whatever role the 2016 unit needs him in.

Natrell Jamerson earned more playing time as the season progressed after converting from wide receiver. Also the team's kick returner, his combination of size and speed in addition to his rapid learning of the position make him an intriguing player to watch out for. Titus Booker will likely slide into the emergency role after redshirting his freshman season.

Safeties

D'Cota Dixon, Jr.
Arrington Farrar, So.
Leo Musso, R-Sr.
Lubern Figaro, Jr.

The safety position is by far the most questionable of the defense heading into 2016 after the departures of Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy. D'Cota Dixon and Leo Musso saw some action on the back line, but neither did enough to give them much of a leg ahead. Dixon saw his most action in the season opener against Alabama after Caputo was forced out with a concussion and turned in mixed results. Musso showed the ability to be an opportunist in coverage with a pair of interceptions against Miami (Ohio), but proved to be an inconsistent tackler and is at a physical disadvantage due to his small stature.

Arrington Farrar, a consensus four-star recruit that was one of the jewels of last year's class, spent most of his freshman year on special teams. At 6'2, 215 pounds, Farrar is a big-bodied safety that some projected to play linebacker at the college level. He should emerge as an immediate contender at the position. Lubern Figaro has become a forgotten man after earning the starting nod as a freshman two years ago. A rough debut against LSU proved to be a sign of things to come as his playing time completely diminished, but he has plenty of time to turn things around and re-emerge.