The Wisconsin Badgers have significantly improved their roster with an overload of talent at several key positions, which has come following a coaching change to former Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell.
With the amount of competition at several positions, and with the first transfer portal period officially over, let’s evaluate every position group heading into 2023.
Earlier this year, we evaluated the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. Now comes the tight ends room, which has several returning faces heading into 2023.
Starters: Hayden Rucci(R-Sr.), Jack Eschenbach(6th-Sr.)
Backup: Clay Cundiff(R-Jr.), J.T. Seagraves(R-Fr.),
Competition: Jack Pugh(R-So.), Riley Nowakowski(R-Jr.), Angel Toombs(Fr.)
The tight ends room returns many familiar faces, as the Badgers have each of their top three players back from a year ago in Hayden Rucci, Jack Eschenbach, and Clay Cundiff, while electing not to bring in a high-caliber transfer, meaning that there shouldn't be a significant change in snap counts on the roster.
With Cundiff still recovering from the injury that sidelined him for the majority of last season, Eschenbach and Rucci begin spring ball as the two starters in Phil Longo’s system, which will prioritize not only blocking, but also the utilization of pass-catchers at the tight end position.
Cundiff’s prognosis appears to be going well at the moment, according to newly-appointed tight ends coach Nate Letton, who hopes that the redshirt junior can practice toward the end of spring in a limited capacity.
“Clay is a guy who was obviously highly productive last year. I leave all those decisions [about his return] to the medical staff, but it sounds like his prognosis is good and that maybe we can get him in some on air situations towards the end of the spring, see his movement skills and kind of just get him back in a football mindset,” Letton said. We’re really excited about him.”
As for the other candidates for playing time, Letton name-dropped Seagraves as a tight end whose potential could be reached within the offense, paving him to potentially earn crucial reserve snaps as he continues his career with the Badgers in 2023.
“J.T. Seagraves, I think his potential is through the roof,” Letton said. “We’ve got a lot of a lot of guys that I think do a great job, and they work exceptionally hard, but I’m not ready to say where we’re at with any of those guys right now.”
Seagraves is certainly a name to watch with his pass-catching ability and mismatch size at 6’6 tall, which could work well alongside quarterback Tanner Mordecai as a unique threat in the air, should he develop into a solid run-blocker and route-runner.
Spring ball likely dictates where the Badgers stand on several of their tight ends as they adapt to new coaches and a new offense, but there are some exciting names that could see an increase in production, while maintaining their roles in the run game, as Wisconsin looks to continue its physical approach.