Arguably the position most dependent on chemistry and continuity, Wisconsin returning every offensive lineman on the roster from last season puts the Badgers in an incredibly advantageous position entering fall camp.
With Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel, and David Edwards all spurning the NFL (for a year, at least) to come back to Madison, the Badgers return arguably the best and most talented unit in the country.
Despite the return of every linemen, however, the starting five is expected to change in 2018. As noted by offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph during an ESPN Madison radio show at a Mendota Gridiron Club golf event in late June, Deiter is returning to the left guard position that he played as a redshirt freshman in 2015. Doing so will be a definite boost to his draft stock. He was clearly out of position in 2017, but performed admirably and showed his willingness to be a team-first player. He’s likely a Day 2 NFL Draft prospect and, for my money, the best lineman on the team.
Wisconsin’s 2018 Offensive Linemen
|Beau Benzschawel||6-6||322||R-Sr.||Grafton, Wis.||Grafton|
|Brett Connors||6-6||297||R-Sr.||New Berlin, Wis.||West|
|Michael Deiter||6-6||321||R-Sr.||Curtice, Ohio||Genoa|
|Micah Kapoi||6-3||321||R-Sr.||Kapolei, Hawaii||Kapolei|
|Jon Dietzen||6-6||326||R-Jr.||Black Creek, Wis.||Seymour|
|Jason Erdmann||6-6||330||R-Jr.||Richfield, Wis.||Slinger|
|David Moorman||6-5||306||R-Jr.||Northville, Mich.||Northville|
|Tyler Biadasz||6-3||322||R-So.||Amherst, Wis.||Amherst|
|Patrick Kasl||6-5||315||R-So.||Wyoming, Minn.||Forest Lake|
|Cole Van Lanen||6-5||311||R-So.||Green Bay, Wis.||Bay Port|
|Tyler Beach||6-6||301||R-Fr.||Grafton, Wis.||Port Washington|
|Logan Bruss||6-5||292||R-Fr.||Appleton, Wis.||Kimberly|
|Alex Fenton||6-4||302||R-Fr.||Menomonie, Wis.||Menomonie|
|Kayden Lyles||6-3||323||R-Fr.||Madison, Wis.||Middleton|
|Josh Seltzner||6-4||329||R-Fr.||Columbus, Wis.||Columbus|
|Blake Smithback||6-2||298||R-Fr.||Waunakee, Wis.||Waunakee|
|Michael Furtney||6-5||290||Fr.||Milan, Mich.||Milan|
|Andrew Lyons||6-5||290||Fr. (Walk-On)||Kenosha, Wis.||Bradford|
Left tackle, as Rudolph also noted, will be fought for between Cole Van Lanen, Patrick Kasl and Jon Dietzen. Van Lanen and Kasl both came to Wisconsin in Chryst’s first full recruiting class (2016) at Wisconsin. Van Lanen was a four-star recruit and was used as a jumbo-set tight end late last season. He also briefly spelled Deiter late in the Week 4 win over Northwestern. Kasl is a highly athletic lineman who played in relief of Edwards in the second half of the Orange Bowl and played well. Dietzen, who has played the last two seasons at left guard, was a highly-touted recruit coming into Madison, but injuries have kept him from playing as consistently as he’d like to. He seems like the odd man out here, but has loads more experience than the other two.
Tyler Biadasz returns for his second season as the Badgers’ starting center. A Freshman All-American last year, Biadasz was a standout as a redshirt freshman at the pivot for Wisconsin, who was fortunate to not burn his redshirt in 2016. Coming back for his redshirt sophomore season, he will likely garner some NFL Draft attention in his first eligible season. He had some inconsistencies with the under-center snap exchange with Hornibrook last season, but I expect those to be fixed.
Benzschawel comes back for his fifth year in Madison looking to start his fourth season on the offensive line and his third full season at right guard. One of the biggest names among the offensive line prospects headed toward the 2019 NFL Draft, Benzschawel will look to continue his performance, which earned him a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season.
Edwards will be the starting right tackle for the second full season and is arguably the most sought-after prospect by the NFL on this roster. The former high school quarterback-turned-tight end-turned-offensive tackle has the size, length, and athleticism that the NFL will covet in pass protection, and he has the growth potential to be considered a “high ceiling” prospect. Look for Edwards to work on his ability as a pass blocker, which will only continue to vault his draft stock.
Looking through the rest of the roster, the Badgers have bountiful depth along the entire offensive line, a luxury very few teams have.
Assuming Van Lanen, for the sake of this exercise, wins the left tackle position, Kasl and Dietzen will be reserve offensive linemen. Kasl has big-time athleticism and is clearly next in line behind Edwards at right tackle. Diezen has 20 career starts, and could be the odd man out. Another tackle who is waiting in the wings and could possibly be pushing for playing time is Tyler Beach, a former three-star recruit from Port Washington.
Along the interior, the Badgers have maybe as much depth as any team in the country. I’m going to throw Dietzen as a reserve in here as well. Fifth-year seniors Micah Kapoi and Brett Connors have both started at different points in their careers and have always been game when called upon. Both would likely start on other teams in the Big Ten, and these two are fighting for their spots on the two-deep.
David Moorman and Jason Erdmann are two others who have received playing time, with Erdmann moving over to center at Nebraska in Week 5 when Biadasz went down mid-game. Erdmann also saw time at left guard when Dietzen was injured, proving himself a valuable reserve.
Redshirt freshman Kayden Lyles will also be pushing for a spot, as he is a former four-star lineman from powerhouse Saguaro High School in Arizona, as well as the well-respected Middleton program here in Wisconsin. He can play both interior positions.
What to Expect
Badger fans should expect an offensive line that will truly impose its physical will on opponents. Rudolph has rotated offensive linemen in the past in order to help keep guys fresh, and with the surplus of playing time-worthy big fellas, it would be shocking if he didn’t employ the same strategy moving forward.
This offensive line is going to be special, y’all.