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Wisconsin football: six young players to watch on the offense in 2022

A look at some freshmen and sophomores that could see a bigger role next season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Wisconsin at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2021 season may have just ended last week for the Wisconsin Badgers, but it is never too early to take a look at what the future could hold. After finishing with a 9-4 record with an up and down performance offensively, the Badgers are primed to replace a number of significant contributors this spring.

Here is a way-too-early look at six players with either freshmen or sophomore eligibility in 2022 that could be tasked with larger roles next season on the offense.

Braelon Allen - Sophomore in 2022

One young player that will for sure be back and will be the centerpiece of the offense is Braelon Allen. He had a scintillating freshman campaign and as of a few more days, he is still 17 years old. At this point, it is safe to say he has already broken out after posting over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games played.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl - Wisconsin v Arizona State
Braelon Allen is the latest in a long line of stud running backs for the Badgers.
Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

However, Allen didn’t really start earning a larger share of carriers until midway through the season, and while he wound up being the workhorse back for the better half of the year, he will be THE guy that everyone is talking about in 2022. How he manages that pressure and rounds out his abilities as a pass catcher and pass blocker will be interesting to watch this spring. He has the tools to be a three-down back, and with the injury status of Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo still up in the air, he should see plenty of opportunities to improve in those areas to fine-tune his game.

Allen is a physical specimen and has already proven to be the best player on the offense, but it would be an egregious oversight if we didn’t include him on this list. He will have one of the biggest roles on the entire team in 2022.

Markus Allen - RS Freshman in 2022

Wisconsin is in need of wide receiver help next season with Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor, and Jack Dunn all exhausting their eligibility. Add in the fact that Devin Chandler transferred out mid-year, and the depth chart is wide open for Markus Allen to make a move.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Rutgers
Wide receiver Markus Allen (No. 4) could be a starter in 2022.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Allen has good size for a Wisconsin receiver at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. The highest-rated wide-out since Danny Davis in the 2017 class according to the 247 Sports Composite, Allen is a player that has already shown some ability despite a small sample size. This past season the former three-star prospect out of Ohio recorded three receptions for 65 yards (21.67 avg) in the final three games of the season.

Given the questions marks at wide receiver heading into this off-season, the fact that Markus Allen saw an increased role late in the year is notable. I would expect him to be one of the top receiving targets next season assuming he can stay healthy and the Badgers do not bring in multiple transfer receivers.

Allen appears to be a talented player that could give the team a down-the-field threat come 2022, something they desperately need to give the passing game a jolt of energy.

Tanor Bortolini - RS Sophomore in 2022

The offensive line will undergo a makeover this spring with Joe Rudolph leaving for Virginia Tech and two seniors off to the NFL. Tyler Beach did opt to return for next season which helps retain some experience, but there are still two potential openings along the line. Odds are that Tanor Bortolini will be one of the players that fill a void.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl - Wisconsin v Arizona State
Offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini has already started multiple games during his first two seasons with the Badgers.
Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bortolini has already seen the field a good amount the past two seasons as a swing reserve. He has started games at center, left guard, and right tackle early in his career, and also filled in as a jumbo tight end at times. Bortilini’s position versatility and ability to move well for a guy 6-foot-4 and 306 pounds makes him a valuable asset for whoever is the new offensive line coach.

He is probably best suited to inside at one of the guard spots, but where on the line Jack Nelson and Beach wind up playing next season could have a big influence on Bortolini’s future position. Regardless I think he will be a starter come next fall given his talent level and early success.

Cam Large - RS Sophomore 2022

John Chenal has yet to formally announce his plans for next season, but I would imagine he will give the NFL a try instead of coming back for a fifth season. If he does, that leaves the depth chart at fullback completely up for grabs.

Walk-ons Marty Strey and Riley Nowakowski are potential contributors at the position after moving there during the season, but I think Cam Large is the name to watch.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Eastern Michigan at Wisconsin
Cam Large (No. 49) could be next in line at fullback.
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A tight end coming out of high school, Large was a huge recruiting win for the Badgers out of Massachusetts. He chose Wisconsin over Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State as his other finalists. He could still wind up as an inline blocker for Mickey Turner, but at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he could see the field earlier as a scholarship fullback.

Large saw reps at fullback during the season before an injury cut short his year, and given his traits as a blocker I think it is a natural role for him. He might not be as adept as a running threat in short yardage, but he could give the Badgers a nice pass-catching threat out of the backfield as well.

I would imagine that Nowakowski and possibly Jackson Acker get looks this spring at fullback too, but I think Large is a player that the staff wants to get on the field if they can, and fullback might be the quickest way to do so.

Skyler Bell - RS Freshman in 2022

Another talented wide receiver from the 2021 class, Skyler “Juice” Bell is a player that could earn a spot in the rotation next season as well. After missing a good chunk of fall camp and the season with an injury, Bell put together a string of good bowl practices and also made a beautiful diving catch in the Las Vegas Bowl against Arizona State.

NCAA Football: Las Vegas Bowl-Wisconsin at Arizona State
Skyler Bell (No. 11) is another intriguing wide receiving option for the Badgers.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Overall he was limited to that one game during the season, but that diving grab did show what he is capable of. A bit smaller than Markus Allen, Bell is a player that could play the slot for the Badgers next season in three-receiver sets. He has great speed and has a ton of potential after not playing his senior season of high school ball due to COVID-19.

Skyler Bell is a player that could really turn heads with a big spring, and I would have to imagine that his catch in the bowl game gives him some confidence heading into the off-season. Playing time is available in the receiver room, and Bell is another talented option for Alvis Whitted.

Trey Wedig - RS Sophomore in 2022

This last selection was very hard given the wealth of young options in the pipeline along the offensive line. With so many talented prospects for only two spots, it is going to be hard for anyone to crack into the starting lineup.

As mentioned earlier, I think Tanor Bortolini will be one of the starters next year. Personally, having him at left or right guard would make a ton of sense depending on if Jack Nelson remains the starter at right guard or pops out to right tackle.

That only leaves one other offensive line spot open assuming that Tyler Beach and Joe Tippmann both remain starters as well. The most likely candidate for another role has to be former 5-star Logan Brown. It’s getting to be now or never time for him, but he is going to be a redshirt junior and therefore is too old for this list. Cormac Sampson and Michael Furtney are both possible fits inside, but like Brown, they are upperclassmen at this juncture.

Then there is Nolan Rucci, another former five-star who just finished his first year in the program and will be entering his first spring. Add in former 4-star Riley Mahlman, who is entering his second spring after enrolling early and playing in one game during his redshirt season, and the possibilities are endless.

While I am especially intrigued by the development of Brown, Rucci and Mahlman from the above options, I think former 2020 four-star Trey Wedig is a guy to keep an eye on in 2022. Let’s not forget that he was actually a top-100 prospect and the highest-rated recruit in his class according to the 247 Sports Composite. Add in the fact that this past season he earned playing time on special teams in 12 games and also earned reps in late-game situations when the game was out of reach with the second team and I think he is someone that could surprise folks this spring.

First and foremost, Wedig has a massive frame at 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds. But what really stood out about him in his high school film was his ability to move. In fall camp, and during the season, Wedig played left guard and right tackle. Given his ability to potentially help out at multiple spots, that only increases the chances that he sees the field in 2022. The possibility of him and Jack Nelson (the crown jewels of the 2020 recruiting class) starting alongside one another on the right side of the line is intriguing. They did it in the Army All-American Bowl two years ago, maybe they can make it a more permanent deal in Madison?