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Wisconsin football 2020 review/2021 preview: cornerbacks

Next up in our off-season series that looks back at 2020 and peeks ahead to 2021, we turn our attention to the other part of the defensive backfield, the corners.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

2020 starters

  • Faion Hicks (RS junior)
  • Caesar Williams (RS senior)

2020 statistics

  • Hicks was tied for the CB lead in tackles on the season with 13 and led the whole team with four passes broken up.
  • Williams, his fellow starter, also had 13 tackles, one TFL and two passes broken up.
NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan
Faion Hicks keeps Michigan out of the endzone
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
  • Donte Burton recorded 10 tackles and had three passes broken up, which was second best on the team.
  • Deron Harrell had seven tackles and two passes broken up in only four games played.
  • Rachad Wildgoose, who only played in two games, had six tackles, two TFL and a pass broken up.
  • Alexander Smith had three tackles and one pass broken up.
  • Semar Melvin had two tackles.

2020 season review

While looking over the stats of the players who lined up at cornerback for the Wisconsin Badgers last year you may be thinking “Drew, surely you must’ve forgotten some stats because you did not list a single interception or fumble related play for any of the Wisconsin corners!” And to that, I say “IT’S BECAUSE THERE WEREN’T ANY!”

Now, before we all freak out it definitely needs to be noted that the Badgers pass defense only allowed 169.8 yards per game through the air this past season, which was good enough to be tied for No. 6 in the whole country. The defense was also No. 6 in the country, allowing only 15.7 points per game.

These are all excellent statistics! I think we can probably say that while it is disappointing that the corners didn’t force any turnovers, their main goal of shutting down opposing pass games was reached.

Wildgoose, who ended up being one of the top corners for the Badgers in their first two games, announced that he was opting out of the rest of the season after suffering an injury early in the year. Luckily the Badgers had a lot of depth and Williams and Hicks were able to form a solid duo on the outside.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Wisconsin
Donte Burton
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Burton and Harrell were capable backups and filled in at nickelback when called on. Smith showed some improvement and should be in the rotation next season. Melvin, a promising young CB, missed much of the year with an injury and has prove to be a bit injury-prone in his first two years on campus.

2021 season preview

We know for sure that Wildgoose will not be back and that Hicks will be coming back. Williams, who is a senior, hasn’t decided if he’ll be using the “free year” of eligibility that the NCAA granted to everyone, but for our purposes let’s just say he’s leaving. That’ll leave an open spot across from Hicks for the other starting position.

The most likely candidate to step into the starting lineup is Harrell and then I’d love to see a healthy Melvin assume the nickleback roll with Burton, Smith and a young guy like Max Lofy fill out the rest of the rotation. Regardless of how it shakes out, Jim Leonhard will, again, have a number of options to play around with in order to field another dominant pass defense. Hopefully one of them will record a pick in 2021.