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Wisconsin football 2020 fall practice position preview: tight end

After an injury plagued 2019, the Badgers bring back a ton of tight end depth

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oregon vs Wisconsin Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Look, we don’t know if there is going to be college football this fall but until we know for sure that there isn’t, we are going to treat this offseason like any other and get you prepared for the 2020 season. Here are our thoughts on each position group before spring practice started and then, uh, got canceled to get you fully up to speed.

Since, to be quite honest, not a whole lot has changed since we wrote the spring previews we’ll be adding a couple of different elements to these previews. We’ll take our best guesses at how the depth chart for each position group will look this fall and we’ll also take a look at a potential breakout player for the 2021 season (in case you haven’t had your Graham Mertz fix in a few months).

Wisconsin v Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Returning Players

Jack Eschenbach, 6-foot-6, 224 pounds, redshirt sophomore
Gabe Lloyd, 6-foot-4, 241 pounds, redshirt senior
Clay Cundiff, 6-foot-3, 251 pounds, redshirt freshman
Jake Ferguson, 6-foot-5, 246 pounds, redshirt junior
Hayden Rucci, 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, redshirt freshman
Coy Wanner, 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, redshirt junior

Departing Players

Luke Benzschawel, medical retirement
Seth Currens, transfer
Cormac Sampson, position change (offensive line)

Incoming Players

Cole Dakovich, 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, freshman
Cam Large, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, freshman

Depth Chart/Breakdown

Tight End Depth Chart

Role Player Position Year Games started
Role Player Position Year Games started
Starter Jake Ferguson TE RS JR 15
Backup Gabe Lloyd TE RS SR 0
Backup Hayden Rucci TE RS FR 0
Backup Clay Cundiff TE RS FR 0

Position breakdown and depth chart: If you look at the tight end room in 2020 you’ll see one thing that is very clear, and some other things that are a little bit more murky. To start, you have a clear cut star in Jake Ferguson, but after that the questions start to develop. Despite the rise in questions, this room appears to be in much better shape than it was in 2019.

At the start of last season the Badgers we’re close to holding open tryouts for the tight end position. Not really, but the room was in desperate need of bodies. Zander Neuville attempted to return but another injury setback ended his time at UW before it really got back off the ground. A similar situation occurred with Luke Benzschawel last spring which led to a medical retirement. If things could get worse, they did, and the Badgers saw the rest of their tight end room battle through ailments.

When the Badgers opened the season in 2019 at South Florida they had two tight ends in Ferguson, who was healing from thumb surgery, and Cormac Sampson who had converted over from offensive line. In 2020, that problem appears that it will have been fixed and the Badger possess much more depth than they had a season ago.

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin Big Ten football Photo by Mark Vancleave/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Ferguson is your clear cut starter/pass catching tight end but if you watch Wisconsin football you know that the Badgers never rely on just one tight end. After Ferguson, senior Gabe Lloyd looks like he could be a tight end that can do a little bit of everything and help fill a need.

Further beyond that are the likes of Clay Cundiff and Hayden Rucci who we’re both highly recruited tight ends that will look to step up after their redshirt season. An emergence from one of those two will likely be needed as the Badgers look to continue their power run offense. Mixed in with that group is Jack Eschenbach, a lanky redshirt sophomore that could be a player that emerges as a pass catcher down the road of his career.

Lastly, you have the incoming freshman in Cam Large and Cole Dakovich. Large is a 4-star tight end out of Massachusetts, and Dakovich is a 3-star player out of Waukesha. Both players show a lot of upside and will likely benefit from learning the system in a redshirt role in 2020.

Potential breakout player for 2021: I think you could see a real emergence from any of the players in this group. In fact, you’ll have to see some sort of growth from any of these guys behind Jake Ferguson in order to have success at the tight end position.

Overall, I think you’ll see a steady dose of Gabe Lloyd in 2020. Lloyd comes in as a player that can catch the ball in situations, but also play the important role of a run blocker that the Badgers rely on so heavily. Lloyd is a redshirt senior, and his familiarity with Joe Rudolph’s offense should help him given the parameters surrounding COVID.

After that, I really like the play of Clay Cundiff and Hayden Rucci. Both guys show that they can play both phases of the game, and I think you’ll see one of them emerge as a player this Fall. With Ferguson taking much of the passing downs, you’ll likely see whichever guy can run block consistently. Rucci is incredibly physical, so he could be a guy that helps in that third tight end roll if needed.