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Wisconsin Football position-by-position breakdown: Defensive Line

The Badgers brought in some new faces to replace departing starters in the offseason.

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 every offensive position group ahead of spring ball. Now, we transition to the defensive side of the ball, starting with the defensive line, which has seen some overhaul with former starters Nick Herbig and Keeanu Benton departing to the NFL Draft.

Defensive Line

Starters: Darian Varner(R-Jr.), Rodas Johnson(R-Sr.), Isaiah Mullens(6th-Sr.)

Backup: James Thompson Jr.(R-Jr.), Gio Paez(R-Sr.), Curt Neal(R-Fr.), Jeff Pietrowski(R-Jr.)

Competition: Cade McDonald(R-Jr.), Manny Mullens(So.), Ben Barten(R-Jr.)

The Wisconsin Badgers made two key additions via the transfer portal, adding Temple’s Darian Varner and Michigan State’s Jeff Pietrowski to account for the departures of edge rusher Nick Herbig and defensive tackle Keeanu Benton.

Varner comes into the group as the most established edge rusher on the team, and should slide into a starting spot on the edge, with his frame providing a better defender against the run.

Pietrowski comes to Wisconsin after an injury-plagued 2022 campaign, serving as the depth that head coach Luke Fickell suggested the team was looking for at the edge position.

In addition to the transfers, the Badgers return three key players from their rotation in 2022, as Isaiah Mullens has elected to come back for a sixth season, joining Rodas Johnson and James Thompson Jr. as the incumbents.

The Badgers are lacking depth at nose tackle after the loss of Keeanu Benton, with Gio Paez serving as the logical option at nose tackle.

However, the Badgers could see action from redshirt freshman Curt Neal, while true freshman Jamel Howard Jr. features to play a role in Wisconsin’s future plans.

While Mullens is the bigger body, Thompson Jr. has a unique frame, which could see him earn more playing time if he can prove to be sound against the run, given the explosiveness he possesses at his height.