Author: Wade Flavion
MADISON- As the Badgers season comes to a finale in the Rose Bowl, there is speculation about who will be leaving for the NFL and how Wisconsin can replace their losses. While Jonathan Taylor has all but surely played his last game at Camp Randall, there are other key Badgers who are either seniors, or have a chance at being drafted in April that are large parts of this Rose Bowl team. Let’s break it down position-by-position.
There are several starters along the offensive line that will be playing in their last game as a Badger in Pasadena. The headliner, of course, is Remington award winner Tyler Biadasz. After starting for three years at various positions for Wisconsin, Biadasz will be testing his luck in the NFL Draft. He is currently projected to go in the 3rd round by CBS Sports, and will certainly be an outstanding addition to the team he is drafted to. The Amherst native has been extremely consistent for the Badgers and has finally started to get the recognition he deserves this season. His play as the anchor for this unit will be missed going into next season. The next two key players, who have had a hard time being consistently in the starting lineup in their time at UW, are David Moorman and Jason Erdmann. Although they have had a hard time getting in the starting lineup, they have been key role players for the Badgers this season, and have added outstanding depth to this unit. They have rotated in as starters, and have been used in the widely renowned “Hippo Package” that Wisconsin has used to convert short-yardage and goal-line situations. Lastly, there has been speculation that Left Tackle Cole Van Lanen might try his hand in the draft, but according to team sources, he will be returning to lead the offensive line for his senior season. The offensive line will be losing a lot, but talent coming in and already on the roster should keep this unit as good as ever going into next season.
The Badgers will be returning all of their quarterbacks for next year, and by all observations, Jack Coan will remain the starter for next year as Paul Chryst wants to give the talented Graham Mertz another year to develop in the Wisconsin system. The play from Wisconsin quarterbacks will only grow stronger as Coan gains reps and deepens his understanding of Wisconsin’s game plan.
Alright, I’m done making you wait for what you want to hear about. It’s no secret that two-time Doak Walker award winner and three-time All-American Jonathon Taylor. Taylor has not been open about what his plans are after this season, but after three consecutive 1000-yard seasons, it is likely that the junior will enter the draft following this season. It honestly makes more sense for the Jersey native because of the effects that further “mileage” could have on his draft grade if he comes back to Wisconsin for another season. As of now, the Badger star is projected by CBS Sports to be a late third-round pick. Taylor has retweeted numerous tweets begging him to come back for his final year to break the FBS rushing record. This is just twitter antics, so take this information with a grain of salt. Another key to this conspiracy is that Taylor cares deeply about his education, and maybe partially motivated to stay for his senior season to be able to graduate with an impressive degree in astrophysics. Badger fans obviously hope that he will return for his senior year, but understand his motivations for getting paid to play the sport he loves. The only other person leaving the running back group following this season is Bradrick Shaw who shined in his first year at UW, but has seen a steady decrease in playing time after recovering from two ACL injuries.
The only receiver leaving the Badgers is star wideout, AJ Taylor. The senior has really improved this season and has become the main possession receiver for Wisconsin. Unfortunately, his senior season ended early after an Achilles tear against Iowa, but Taylor may have a shot to try out for an NFL team following his recovery. He certainly has the talent and tremendous character to do so.
The tight ends are another group returning all of their starters for next season, and will be lead by Jake Ferguson and Cormac Sampson. This season their play as blockers has outshined limited targets as pass catchers, but both tight ends have made the most of limited opportunities. It will be interesting to see if the tight ends see an increased role going into next season, especially if Jonathon Taylor does not return.
The dynamic duo of John Chenal and Mason Stokke that won the Lowman trophy will be returning for Wisconsin next season, and will look to continue to punish opposing linebackers and safeties. Their versatility in the running, passing, and blocking game will continue to be a vital part of Wisconsin, or as its known “Fullback U.”
The Badgers will be losing several key contributors on special teams going into next season. The most prominent of these is Zach “Touchback” Hintze who has been phenomenal at kickoffs this season, and his 62-yard school record field goal against Purdue has allowed him to win the starting job over Colin Larsh. Punter Anthony Lotti will also be graduating after this season, and although it is sad to see him go, the disastrous campaigns of the last two seasons will leave Wisconsin fans excited for a change at the position. Backup punter and holder Connor Allen will also be graduating leaving the starting job at punter to walk on, and current backup holder, Conor Schlichting. It will be interesting to see how these changes could affect the Badgers going into next season.
The Badgers will be losing an extremely talented player at the end of this season to the NFL draft in Zack Baun. Baun has been nothing short of phenomenal at getting after the quarterback this season, which led to him being named a first-team All American. He is projected to be the first Badger off the board by CBS Sports in the second round. His powerful presence will be missed next year along with role player Tyler Johnson, but this unit will be just as strong next year with Noah Burkes, Izayah Green-May, and Spencer Lytle. The Outside Linebacker position has a lot of promise for the future.
Chris Orr headlines those who will be leaving at inside linebacker. His season has been phenomenal, and his play over the years as a Badger has been something consistently excellent to watch. This year he has been all over the field, and many drives have ended with Zack Baun and Chris Orr on top of the opposing team’s quarterback. The Badger’s will also be losing Travis Wiltjer who only played on special teams. This unit will remain excellent going into next season with the return of Leo Chenal, Mike Maskalunas, and Jack Sanborn.
There are only two players on the defensive line graduating after this season, David Pfaff and Gunnar Roberge. Neither of these players were a part of the defensive game plan for Wisconsin, but their leadership in the locker room will be missed. This unit will be returning all of their starters next season, including Bryson Williams who is currently recovering from a torn ACL.
All of the defensive backs will be returning for next season, including safety Scott Nelson who suffered a torn ACL at the beginning of the season against South Florida. This unit has been phenomenal all season, even after several key injuries and suspensions. There have been some struggles by the cornerbacks against some of the more talented teams in the Big Ten, but they have continued to improve as the season went on. As this young secondary develops, it should be expected that they continue to improve in both the physical and mental aspects of the game. It will be interesting to see the role Eric Burrell plays next season after Nelson returns from injury. I’d personally like to see him continue to start at safety or move to cornerback which he played in his first few years at UW. He has certainly earned the opportunity to start on this stacked defense.
Overall, the Badgers are losing some key starters, but they have an extremely deep roster that will continue the tradition of excellence for Wisconsin next season. Just because Jonathon Taylor may be gone next year doesn’t mean the Badgers will not be competitive. They will be a solid football team on both sides of the ball and could be a dark horse for the College Football Playoff if things go exceptionally well.