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Wisconsin football recruiting: Previewing Badgers' 2017 needs on defense

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Wisconsin could have a smaller-than-usual 2017 recruiting class. After previewing the offense, here's who the Badgers might end up with on defense.

Fort Lauderdale (American Heritage), Fla., defensive tackle George Ellis III.
Fort Lauderdale (American Heritage), Fla., defensive tackle George Ellis III.
Student Sports

Here's a bit of interesting trivia: the Wisconsin Badgers have four scholarship seniors on the defensive side of the ball. That's right: Arthur Goldberg, Leo Musso, Sojourn Shelton and Vince Biegel are the only prospects guaranteed to be elsewhere in 2017. So when you consider what's on the defensive side of the ball, the Badgers can really just go after prospects they like, be they upside plays like Aaron Vopal or four-star studs like Pete Werner.

As we did on Wednesday with the offense, here's a positional run-through of Wisconsin's needs at each defensive position and the types of players they could bring in with the 2017 recruiting cycle.

Defensive Line

On Scholarship: 14
Graduating Seniors: Arthur Goldberg
Already Committed: Aaron Vopal

As you can see, in terms of depth, the Badgers appear to have replaced Goldberg, someone who played more defensive end than defensive tackle as 2015 went on with Vopal, someone who has the frame to become a real nasty 3-4 defensive end before he graduates. So, the question is, which way do they want to go? They're in enough on four-star defensive tackle Donovan Jeter to play it out as far as it goes, but when you have a prospect from Beaver Falls, Pa., with offers from Penn State and Pittsburgh as well as Michigan State, Ohio State, Tennessee and UCLA, it's a battle that you might not win.

Otherwise, there is an offer out to George Ellis III from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He's a strong and disruptive force in the trenches who is doing it at American Heritage, one of the top high school programs in Florida. He's definitely an interesting prospect even if he doesn't have a high school teammate in James Houston who the Badgers are highly interested in at linebacker. With that said, the Badgers have four nose tackles and none of them are even juniors. Ellis-cubed is a good prospect, but if spots get tight, this might be where you can move on without regret.

Linebackers

On Scholarship: 15
Graduating Seniors: Vince Biegel

In terms of numbers, Keldric Preston is starting as a linebacker and while he could easily swing back to defensive end, he just goes to show that numbers-wise, linebacker isn't a position of need. That said, linebacker is a position where the Badgers could easily land themselves at least two that don't take projection to be considered worthy to be in their best 18. That doesn't even include Corey Malone-Hatcher from Mt. Vernon, Mich., who was interested enough in Wisconsin to pay his own way on an unofficial visit.

The Badgers are also currently in the top three for four-star Mt. Vernon, Ind., outside linebacker prospect Pete Vernon. He's got that Noah Burks versatility that would make him an exciting future addition in the 3-4, though it will be a battle especially if Stanford deigns to offer.

Wisconsin's also in play for Houston, the rising explosive linebacker who's earned offers from Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Miami, Mississippi State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina and West Virginia in the last month. Considering how he flies around the field, he might not be done there.

Finally, there's the top-20 inside linebacker from Buford, Ga., Juwuan Jones. A lot of teams are circling, but the Badgers still have the first-offer advantage.

Cornerbacks

On Scholarship: 8
Graduating Seniors: Sojourn Shelton

It's going to be interesting to see if there turns out to be a bit of a stylistic difference now that Daronte Jones made the leap to the NFL. I mean, it's not like the Badgers are going to target slow, short guys, but they might switch to more of a coverage than pressure-based style. Still, even with three juniors on the depth chart, don't expect them to try for more than two cornerbacks. With Deron Harrell guaranteed to arrive by January 2017, they could probably get away with one.

One of the prospects the Badgers are currently in play for is Fort Lauderdale (Cardinal Gibbons), Fla., prospect Randall Haynie. He fits more as a physical ballhawk, though he does have the athleticism to stay step-for-step, and with his next-best offer currently being Purdue, Haynie is Wisconsin's to lose.

There's also an offer out to Cedrick Dort from the immortal Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He's 6'1 and has the frame to go beyond future star rankings. Beat Syracuse, and Dort becomes a Badger.

Safety

On Scholarship: 7
Graduating Seniors: Leo Musso

The Badgers definitely are going to miss Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy, but they do have five safeties with at least three years of eligibility on scholarship. They might try for two in this recruiting class, but so long as they grab one, everything should be copacetic.

Amir Riep out of Cincinnati is the one of the most highly-touted safety prospects in the nation, and the Badgers' last reported offer was to him, following Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Oregon. So the sledding might be tough here.

Keontae Jones, Riep's tag-team partner, is also interesting. The Badgers gave him a Darius Hillary comparison in their evaluation, and he does have the athleticism to cover, as he plays close to his Hudl 4.47 40-time. But with a player like Riep opposite him, Jones had to be more the strong safety for Colerain and he definitely has the aggression and motor to be a serious player if he were to slot in at that position in college. The Badgers haven't formally offered yet, but with a best offer of West Virginia, so long as they don't sleep and there are no exigent circumstances, they will soon.

Special Teams

On Scholarship: 4
Graduating Seniors: K Andrew Endicott, LS Conner Udelhoven

With Rafael Gaglianone and Anthony Lotti on campus and long snapper Jake Cesear set to be on scholarship in two years, the expectation will be that if there's any added scholarship, it's going to come to an enterprising walk-on that learns the mystical art of the Long Snap. Otherwise, this position is locked in.

So, what did we learn over this thought exercise? One, the offensive side of the ball has early hints of promise. Two, Wisconsin's skill at evaluation is still ever-present and will probably cause the recruiting boards to go radio silent before the Badgers can land a commitment. And three, there's likely going to be little to complain about on the trail.

It may be boring, but boring is good.