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Wisconsin football recruiting: Where the Badgers stand on defense in April

After taking a look at the state of play on offense, here's how Wisconsin is looking on defense as April heats up.

Sep 12, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Hawaii Warriors defensive back Nick Nelson (11) deflects a pass away from Ohio State Buckeyes running back Jalin Marshall (17) at Ohio Stadium.
Sep 12, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Hawaii Warriors defensive back Nick Nelson (11) deflects a pass away from Ohio State Buckeyes running back Jalin Marshall (17) at Ohio Stadium.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

For the defensive side of the ball, the question for the Wisconsin Badgers is: Who will join Aaron Vopal on the side of the ball that only loses three scholarship seniors from the 2016 season?

The defense has been where the battles have begun or continued. There isn't going to be a real surge of commitments unless people decide on the same day, but the Badgers are in on some real quality pieces here.

Defensive line: The book on Vopal remains the same. He's set to gain 30-40 pounds and join the tall defensive ends the Badgers look to keep recruiting. They will likely attempt to recruit one more, and when you consider that there are currently four nose tackles on the roster who have at least three years of eligibility remaining, you are not in need of a rapid talent infusion. But when you're in play for a prospect like Columbus, Ohio's Derrius Mullens, you'll make the space. After all, he's north of 300 pounds and has good mobility.

That said, Ohio State might offer, and obviously that tilts the board. But remember, there are currently four nose tackles and none are juniors yet. If not, there's always the possibility that George Ellis III joins the fray from American Heritage in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

When you consider that the high school defensive ends the Badgers find worth tracking are in the 3-4 OLB sort of skill set, like wide receiver, this is a position where they can let the sleepers come to them.

Linebackers: If you're looking for the position where the Badgers seem to be busiest right now, it's linebacker. Especially on the outside, where Bolingbrook, Ill., prospect Izayah Green-May recently received an offer from Michigan State. The Badgers had him back on campus on April 8 and have the distance-from-home advantage against the Spartans, and looking at Green-May's Hudl profile, you see a prospect who plays his defensive downs without his hand in the dirt, using his athleticism to blow by defenders, as well as moments of dropping back into coverage and being on gunner duty on punt returns. In short, one can see why the Badgers will go into a recruiting battle for him.

The Badgers also are still in the lead for American Heritage three-star prospect James Houston. His first offer being from Wisconsin, along with two quality visits (including one on April 1), has kept the Badgers ahead for a prospect with an offer sheet that could otherwise keep them far off pace. Houston now has offers from Clemson, Florida State and Michigan to go with offers from such known and local luminaries as Florida, Miami and LSU, among others. Obviously, sometimes an offer isn't really an offer. But Houston keeps on racking them up, and the Badgers still lead.

They are also still currently working on St. Joseph, Mich., four-star prospect Corey Malone-Hatcher, and unless there's an exigent reason, they could be in play for the No. 1 prospect out of Missouri in Chester Graves.

At inside linebacker, Juwuan Jones, the three-star out of Buford, Ga., has landed other offers, but the Badgers still outrank the likes of Miami (Ohio), Troy and Tulane. If he comes up soon, the Badgers could close the deal. If the situation changes, the next on the board would likely be Ezekiel Noa, an active if undersized linebacker with good athleticism and great instincts.

Cornerback: Here's another position where the Badgers are looking like they can be patient vis-a-vis how it breaks down. After all, Deron Harrell looks like he will arrive in January. Add to that the possibility that 247Sports' Evan Flood has reported of Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson is looking at coming to Wisconsin ($), and you have two answers for 2017 right there. I mean, Nelson was ranked second in the Mountain West in passes defended as a sophomore, so the possibility of landing him is quite tantalizing.

Yet, as it sometimes can be construed as harder to land a camel through the eye of a needle than landing a transfer prospect through admissions, we're in a holding pattern with Nelson. That doesn't mean the Badgers don't have a top target they are working on while they wait in Kernsville, N.C, three-star cornerback Madison Cone. He's a 5'10 ballhawk who has his best offers from Duke and Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech is the favorite, but the Badgers' interest is strong enough that Cone's looking to visit for the spring game. Otherwise, his process could extend until the season, like what the Badgers had with Eric Burrell.

Safety: The big name the Badgers are going after is Jonathan Sutherland. He's a four-safety from Alexandria, Va., and defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard has the Badgers in a race with Michigan, Nebraska and North Carolina. He's a rangy thumper of a safety and he definitely can attack the pocket and play downhill. He's an exciting prospect, and in a year where the Badgers have won battles with Michigan, he's definitely a potential crown jewel for the defense to land.

If the Badgers lose out here, look for them to go after Warner Robbins, Ga., three-star prospect Tae Daley or double back to Keontae Jones from Cincinnati. Since they only lose Leo Musso to graduation, one prospect would be enough.

Special teams: Could the Badgers actually take a kicker on scholarship? Maybe. When you have a prospect in Adam Stack who noted kicking authority Chris Sailer regards as the No. 1 kicker and the No. 1 punter, and he's willing to come all the way from Hawaii, he's definitely worth considering. The interest would definitely be mutual, too, as Stack's brother is on the Badgers' swim team.

Now, I know what you're saying. "But Rafael Gaglianone has two years of eligibility left." And my response is, "Exactly!" Gagilanone plays out his career with rhythm and whimsy, and after a redshirt season, Stack has four years of eligibility left. Easy peasy.

Anyway, as it goes, the defense is likely to be where most of your heated recruiting battles are going to go. There's a potential fun transfer and a couple of possible four-star prospects. Wisconsin is ahead of schedule, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but we'll see where it goes next.