The Wisconsin Badgers now enter a crucial off-season in which they will need to find replacements for some notable upperclassmen heading off to future endeavors.
While there still remains a chance that some more seniors could opt to return due to an NCAA eligibility waiver exception for 2021, there are still some vacancies that will need to be filled.
Spring practice for the 2021 season is months away, but here is a way-too-early look at what the Badgers two-deep could look like entering those first workouts.
- Graham Mertz
- Chase Wolf
- Danny Vanden Boom
Unless something drastically changes, Graham Mertz will enter the spring as QB1. After starting each of the games in 2020, the former 4-star recruit could make significant gains this off-season, especially with a full complement of weapons around him and time to generate a rapport with his top targets.
Behind him, Chase Wolf and Danny Vanden Boom will likely be the guys next up, as incoming freshman Deacon Hill is a likely redshirt candidate.
- Jalen Berger
- Garrett Groshek (if he returns)
- Julius Davis, Brady Schipper, or Isaac Guerendo
The are some lingering questions currently at running back outside of Jalen Berger. Senior Garrett Groshek is still on the fence about returning in 2021, while Nakia Watson recently announced that he intends to transfer after being bypassed by Berger on the depth chart. Then there has been smoke around the possibility of Markese Stepp transferring in to UW from USC. If Stepp does indeed join the team, he would likely jump into one of the top three spots immediately.
Both Julius Davis and Brady Schipper have seen limited action, and will each look to have strong springs in order to carve out a role in the backfield next year, while Isaac Guerendo has struggled with staying healthy over the course of his career. With three running backs incoming, one of the freshmen could easily get into the mix as well if Davis, Schipper or Guerendo don’t lock down a spot.
- John Chenal
- Quan Easterling
Assuming Mason Stokke moves on, John Chenal should see an increased role in the offense next year. A multi-year contributor at fullback and on special teams, Chenal should not represent a huge drop from Stokke. Behind him, Quan Easterling is the other primary fullback on the roster that should see playing time.
It will be interesting to see what other players wind up joining fullback room, as incoming freshman Jackson Acker, and some of the former walk-ons down on the depth chart at inside linebacker could contribute at the position next season.
- Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis III (if he returns)
- Chimere Dike and Jack Dunn (if he returns)
- Devin Chandler and A.J. Abbott
The announced return Kendric Pryor to the team in 2021 was big for the offense after the offense sputtered while Pryor was out of the lineup. Danny Davis and Jack Dunn have yet to come to a decision about their future, but if they indeed do come back for another year as well, it would definitely give the offense a nice boost.
Behind the three seniors, Chimere Dike and Devin Chandler appear like the most likely candidates to see extended playing time after showing flashes as true freshman. Stephan Bracey could reemerge after missing extended time in 2020 with an injury, and the two incoming freshman — Markus Allen and Skyler Bell — could also contend for playing time.
It is beginning to be make or break time for A.J. Abbott and Taj Mustapha, both of whom have struggled with consistency over the course of their careers and were seemingly jumped on the depth chart by Dike and Chandler for playing time.
- Jake Ferguson
- Hayden Rucci and Jack Eschenbach
- Jaylan Franklin and Clay Cundiff
Arguably the biggest surprise thus far in the off-season has been the announced return of Jake Ferguson. Many had him projected as a mid-round draft pick, and the expectation was that he would turn pro. Back with the Badgers for another season, Ferguson will once again be a vital piece for the offense.
Behind him, Hayden Rucci earned a lot of playing time last year primarily as an in-line blocker. He should continue to see time in that role, and could see more passes come his way next year too.
Jack Eschenbach is more of a pass catching threat, and is still learning the finer nuances of run blocking. He played in all seven games, and will look improve on the two catches he reeled in during 2020.
The wildcard in the tight end room is Jaylan Franklin. A fast and lengthy tight end prospect who made the switch over from outside linebacker last summer, Franklin will have an entire off-season to get bigger and learn the playbook. He has the highest ceiling of any of the tight ends as an h-back, and his development is something to watch. If he has a big spring and summer, he could easily leapfrog Eschenbach on the depth chart.
- Logan Brown
- Jack Nelson
With Cole Van Lanen off to the NFL, former five-star Logan Brown is expected to be the next man up after seeing playing time at the position most of the second half against Wake Forest. Brown has all the athleticism and measurables that coaches desire at the position, now it is a matter of refining technique and gaining experience as the guy. Look for him to be a multi-year starter on the left side of the line.
Behind him, Jack Nelson could very well be the next in line after Brown. Another highly coveted recruit out of high school, Nelson was listed as the backup right tackle all of last season and played a little as a true freshman in mop up duty. If Nelson doesn’t prove to be one of the top five lineman during the spring and fall camp, he should at the very least round out the depth chart as one of the reserve tackles. Five-star true freshman Nolan Rucci is also a possibility here as well.
- Josh Seltzner
- Joe Tippmann or Cormac Sampson
Former walk-on Josh Seltzner has seen a ton of playing time for the Badgers at left guard. He has shifted in and out of the lineup the past two seasons as a rotational player, and his play as been up and down. Entering his senior campaign expect him to get the first crack at earning the starting spot, but there will be plenty of younger players vying to usurp him.
The most likely candidate to compete with Seltzner for the left guard role is either Joe Tippmann or Cormac Sampson. Tippmann missed most of 2020, but he is a former 4-star prospect that the staff has been high on for some time. He can play any position along the line, making him a valuable swing piece when healthy. Like Seltzner, Sampson has a wealth of experience to draw upon, but he has primarily played as a blocking tight end and as a center the past two years. If Kayden Lyles is healthy, and Tanor Bortolini makes a nice jump, Sampson could easily pop over to left guard if he is one of the top five lineman. This is also a position that Jack Nelson could make things interesting if he flashes in the spring and the staff wants to move him inside.
Regardless, this should be the position to watch this off-season along the offensive line.
- Kayden Lyles
- Cormac Sampson
- Tanor Bortolini
After playing along the defensive line for the Badgers in 2018 out of necessity, Kayden Lyles has struggled to remain healthy the past two seasons along the offensive line. The former 4-star prospect has always oozed potential, but his injury history makes the status of the center position a little less solid. If he is healthy, I expect Lyles to be the starting center in 2021, but there is a chance that one of the younger contenders could beat him out.
Behind Lyles for most of the season was Cormac Sampson. As previously mentioned, Sampson has played a lot for the Badgers and has steadily increased his weight along the way. Look for Sampson to contend for a couple different spots along the offensive line, with the center spot being the place he has the most comfortability after starting multiple games there in 2020. After seeing playing time at center as a true freshman, Tanor Bortolini is another intriguing player that should only continue to improve with experience.
- Logan Bruss
- Michael Furtney
Logan Bruss returns for another season as a starter along the offensive line. Originally the starting right tackle in 2019, he slid down to right guard for most of this past season. Bruss is a strong and reliable player for Joe Rudolph and should maintain his starting status in 2021.
Behind Bruss, Michael Furtney probably the guy. Furtney was listed as the backup right guard for the entirety of 2020, and even made a spot start for Bruss in the bowl game. After dealing with a hand injury two seasons ago, Furtney appears fully healthy and should provide some nice depth for the line next season.
- Tyler Beach
- Jack Nelson or Trey Wedig
Another rising senior on the offensive line, Tyler Beach had a good year as a first time starter at right tackle in 2020. He and Bruss should continue to hold down the right side of the line for another season, and give the Badgers a formidable duo to rely on.
Behind Beach is where things get interesting. Jack Nelson has potential to play all along the line, but he was listed as the backup to Beach last season. I could easily see that designation continuing, but former four-star Trey Wedig could also be a candidate for the position depending on his development and if Nelson ultimately lands elsewhere. At 6-foot-8 and well over 300 pounds he is probably too big to move inside like Nelson, making a home at right tackle the most likely scenario for the in-state standout from the 2020 class.
The 2021 projected defensive depth chart will be published on Thursday.