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Wisconsin football recruiting since 1990: top class of tight ends

Our position-by-position look at the best group of players signed in a single class in recent Wisconsin football history moves on to tight end.

Wisconsin v Ohio State

The Wisconsin Badgers football program has seen an amazing wave of success since Barry Alvarez took over as head coach in 1990. His tenure in the athletic department shifted perception of Wisconsin athletics and paved the way for current success.

While the landscape of college football has significantly change since 1990, the lifeblood of winning hasn’t.

Recruiting and development are king.

The Badgers have seen tremendous results in developing talent since Alvarez took the reins and laid the blueprint, but recruiting has had areas of prosperity such as offensive line, running back, and linebacker. On the flipside, however, there have also been pockets of the roster that have been more challenging to recruit for.

Within each position though there has been moments of realized potential that create a source of strength on the roster based on the fruits of a singular recruiting class.

For example, in the 2021 recruiting class the Badgers currently have two four-star offensive lineman, and are heavily involved with five-star offensive lineman Nolan Rucci as well. If all three prospects were to sign with Wisconsin that could potentially be a major moment in the trajectory of the position, and ultimately alter the complexion of the offense as a whole.

With that as a launching off point, I began to wonder which classes in the past 30 years had the best collection of players in a singular position group.

In the third episode of the series we look into the top class of tight ends.

Wisconsin v Minnesota Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

Top group: 2005 recruiting class

2005 Recruiting Class: Tight ends

Name Position Freshman Height/Weight Hometown Notable Statistics
Name Position Freshman Height/Weight Hometown Notable Statistics
Travis Beckum Tight end 6-foot-3 / 220 pounds Oak Creek, Wisconsin 42 games played, 2149 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns
Garrett Graham Tight end 6-foot-4 / 223 pounds Brick, New Jersey 37 games played, 1492 receiving yards, 16 touchdowns

While Garrett Graham was originally signed as the only tight end in the class, four-star athlete Travis Beckum quickly shifted to h-back after his freshman year.

Graham and Beckum formed a fierce one-two punch for the Badgers during their careers, and were individually in the upper echelon of best tight ends in program history.

Graham was more of an in-line tight end that was a good blocker, but he was also a solid pass catcher as well. A three-star recruit coming out of high school, Graham was a really great option in the red zone given his blend of size and athleticism. He had a really great rapport with Scott Tolzien, and you can watch some grainy footage of their connection here. His three touchdown performance against Michigan State specifically jumps out.

Travis Beckum was one of the bigger recruiting wins in the mid-2000s for the Badgers. A four-star in-state linebacker, Beckum was a highly sought after athlete. His career at Wisconsin lived up the hype, as his statistical output in his two fully healthy seasons were really impressive.

A less traditional tight end, Beckum was split out wide often, and was not tasked with blocking nearly as much. As a sophomore and junior, Beckum had over 60 catches, 900 yards, and five touchdowns in consecutive seasons. Those numbers stand near the top of single season receiving stats in Wisconsin history, regardless of position, and his career receiving yards are tops for any tight end. Beckum was a second-team All-American as a sophomore, and a first-team All-American as a junior.

Both tight ends were eventually selected in the NFL Draft, Beckum as a third rounder in 2009, and Garrett Graham as a fourth rounder in 2010. While each player went on to multiple year careers in the league, Graham had the better NFL career, playing for six seasons with the Houston Texans.

Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Honorable Mention: 2006 recruiting class

While the combination of T.J. Watt and Troy Fumagalli could have been lethal if Watt would have stuck at tight end, the combination of Lance Kendricks and Mickey Turner in 2006 won out for the second spot.

Kendricks was a former four-star recruit out of Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, and was the highest ranked member of the 2006 class. While he did not do much his first two seasons on campus with Graham and Beckum monopolizing the position, he carried on the torch nicely after they left.

Kendricks reeled in 78 catches for 1160 yards and eight touchdowns for his career, with over 600 yards and five touchdowns as a senior. A bigger tight end that was also a strong blocker, Kendricks is one of the better tight ends to come through Madison. He would go on to be a second round NFL Draft pick, and is slated to play in his tenth season in the league in 2020.

The other tight end in the 2006 class was Mickey Turner. Now a position coach for Paul Chryst, Turner was a team captain as a senior, and bounced between fullback and tight end during his career. Originally a three-star recruit out of Missouri, Turner was primarily a blocker for the Badgers during his career. He did not exceed 100 yards receiving while at Wisconsin, but his presence as a blocker was crucial.

Both the 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes could eventually eclipse the 2006 group given their lofty recruiting rankings via recruiting services, but for now the jury is still out.