The Wisconsin Badgers lost a veteran QB in Scott Tolzien, but this team will work from its bread and butter all season long with a powerful rushing attack led by a beefy offensive line and a very talented corps of running backs. Wisconsin is a pro-style offensive team with almost identical principles to those of the Iowa Hawkeyes, but they like to run it down your throat all day long and play small ball.
This is a team that consistently has been churning out NFL talent, and should do no different over the next couple of years. It’s possible that Wisconsin could have all five of their current offensive linemen drafted in 2012-2013. They are big, strong, powerful, and very, very skilled. Wisconsin has one of the best rushing teams in the country, and surprisingly for college fans, neither of their top two backs is a senior this year, so feasibly it could go on for another couple of years. This is a talented team that recruits very well, and that is evident in the way they play ball.
1 Nick Toon (RS Senior), WR, 6’3″ 213
Nick Toon, aside from having an awesome name, is a big play wide receiver who missed some time last year (four games) due to injury, but is a guy who can really come into the NFL and help someone’s team. He’s probably not going to be a superstar, and I think he compares favorably to Niles Paul, who went in the fifth round to the Washington Redskins. He doesn’t offer similar upside in the return game because he lacks the experience that Paul has in that area, and with such a young quarterback, he probably won’t put up huge numbers as a receiver either. However, he returns for his senior season as the unquestioned top receiver on the team, and has shown an ability to make plays in his career. Over the last two seasons, he has caught 90 passes for 1,364 yards and seven touchdowns. Big possession receiver who will have a lot of experience blocking downfield, and understands route running concepts. I would probably give him a late round grade at this point, but if he can prove healthy and show that he is the playmaker we all know he can be, he could sneak into the middle rounds because of his size and experience in a pro style offense.
28 Montee Ball (Junior), RB, 5’11” 214
One of the things you really hope about Ball is that his weight doesn’t balloon all the way up to 240 pounds, or something crazy like that. Wisconsin had John Clay come out this past year prematurely, and it was mainly because their running back group is so good, they basically had no need for him anymore, and his weight had severely fluctuated. Ball reminds me a lot of Shonn Greene coming out, because he plays with such a low center of gravity and the name of his game is power. Ball has tons of skill, and isn’t just a one-trick pony. He led the team with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2010 to go along with 996 yards and a 6.1 yards per carry average. The crazy part is, he was THIRD on the team in rushing in 2010, and is one of four guys at this point in time who could eventually end up in the NFL. Not a speedy running back, but between the tackles he knows how to make plays. One-cut runner with good vision and burst, and has a nose for the end zone. Consensus Honorable Mention All Big Ten in 2010 season, and returns for his junior season atop the running back depth chart after a season where he played in 12 games and started the final four. Missed the Ohio State game, and really caught fire against Purdue with five games left to play. In the previous eight games, he had 219 yards running the ball, and starting with Purdue, he had 127, 167, 173, 178, and 132 yards to finish the season. Not only that, but he had 14 of his 18 touchdowns in those five games, and is well deserving of the starting position this fall, regardless of who is behind him on the depth chart.
**Keep an eye on #20 James White, who is a true sophomore and led the Badgers in rushing in 2010**
30 Zach Brown (RS Senior), RB, 5’10” 219
Brown is a guy who has really gone overlooked over the last couple of years because of the depth being compiled at the running back position, and he’s really been the guy lost in the translation here. Brown is a powerful running back who saw 119 carries in his freshman year, and finished the season with 568 yards and five touchdowns. Has not played since 2009 because he took a redshirt last season due to Wisconsin’s depth at the position, and will be back this year to add to the talented rotation. One of the smartest players on the team who has twice been named to the Academic All Big Ten team, and was also named ESPN the Magazine Academic All District. Brown has a 4.8 yards per carry average for his career, which is very, very good, even when compared to the six yards plus the other backs are averaging. Might not have a HUGE season, but could surprise some people and should be back on the NFL radar after a year off, waiting patiently for his time to shine.
82 Jake Byrne (Senior), TE, 6’4″ 253
Byrne is a blocking tight end through and through, and he’s not a phenomenal athlete by any means. However, he is a guy that will make it to an NFL camp because after this season, he will finally have had a year in the Wisconsin offense where he will be the primary pass catching TE in the offense as well as the primary blocker. Lance Kendricks was a huge reason why Byrne has not been productive as a receiver to this point, though he did have his first career touchdown catch last year. The value and importance of a tight end in this offense is not to be questioned, and Byrne is the leader to start at this point in time.
58 Ricky Wagner (RS Junior), OT, 6’6″ 322
Wisconsin grows them big, and they grow them in big, big quantities. Wagner is just one of many Badgers who will be playing offensive line in the NFL someday soon, and he could be a top of the line prospect for the 2012 NFL Draft. The name of the game is power for the Wisconsin offensive line, and I’m not sure he’s as good a player as Joe Thomas was, but he will be a good one. It’s hard to gauge just how good these guys are individually, because as a whole, they are probably the best overall offensive line in the nation right now. Wagner will come into the NFL well versed in zone running as well as power running. He has great size, and is capable of playing either tackle or guard position.
67 Josh Oglesby (RS Senior), OT, 6’7″ 331
Another big, powerful offensive tackle prospect who missed the last six games of the 2010 season due to knee injury. Former five star prospect in the class of 2007 who redshirted as a freshman and has been on and off as a starter ever since. Started all 10 games he played in 2009, but again, knee issues could hamper his NFL future. If he proves fully healthy in 2011, he could be one of the top offensive tackle/guard prospects out there. Very strong player who was a 2nd team All Big Ten selection following his 2009 campaign. Bruising blocker in the running game who devours everything in his path. Might be best playing guard in the NFL because of his size/strength combination, but again, in order to play tackle in this offense, you not only have to be powerful, but you better have some stamina and you had better be able to move around. Knee is a pretty large concern, though. Similar situation to that of James Brewer, the former Indiana offensive tackle who was drafted by the New York Giants.
70 Kevin Zeitler (Senior), OG, 6’4″ 317
There is a theme here–power, power, power. Zeitler won the team’s Badger Power Award for his prowess in the weight room, and is considered one of the top interior lineman prospects in the class of 2011. Honorable mention All Big Ten performer who started 22 of his last 26 games. Obviously played on a talented line last year with Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, and can play all over the line. Very smart kid, who made the Academic All Big Ten team. Should be a starting guard in the NFL as soon as he enters the league barring injury.
66 Peter Konz (RS Junior), C, 6’5″ 315
After redshirting in 2008, Konz came on in impressive fashion as a RS Freshman in 2009 and was named a first team freshman All American performer. Started 20 of 21 games for the Badgers, and could easily return for a redshirt senior season next year if he feels it’s necessary. Will likely graduate by the end of this year, so playing for a national title is really the only thing he has left to come back for. Will be in contention for the Rimington trophy in 2011, and could simply win it outright. Something that also seems to be the theme here is that these Wisconsin linemen are very smart. Konz is another Academic All Big Ten performer in the classroom. Brett Bielema is running an NFL offensive lineman factory in Madison.
7 Aaron Henry (RS Senior), DB, 6’0″ 211
Henry really burst onto the scene in 2010, and is a guy who is capable of making the big play at any time during the game. Has recovered a fumble for a touchdown, and picked off two passes in 2010 that were both returned for scores. Made the switch from cornerback to free safety in 2010 and really blossomed in that role. Severe knee injury derailed his 2008 season after a very solid freshman campaign, but has now returned to form. Biggest problem I have with Henry is that he will be 24 years old as a rookie, which is by no means the end of the world for him, but will probably prevent him from being a 2nd or 3rd round player. Leader on the defensive side of the ball who had 57 tackles and two interceptions in 2010 on his way to being named 2nd team All Big Ten, and Academic All Big Ten. This is a guy who has good size and speed, and will be a special teams ace early in his career. He will be a very solid contributor early in his career as a special teams player and nickel/dime defensive back who could eventually grow into a starter role at free safety.
18 Philip Welch (RS Senior), K, 6’3″ 213
One of the top kicker prospects in the entire country. Has been on the Lou Groza watch list and semifinalist list each of the last three years, and should be no different in 2011. Very accurate from under 50 yards, but just 3-of-7 from beyond. Still has the range from deep, with a career long field goal of 57 yards. Has been a virtual lock in terms of PAT’s, and is hovering around 77 percent for a career average. If he can show even more consistency in 2011, he should have a chance of getting drafted in 2012.
98 Brad Nortman (Senior), P, 6’3″ 214
Another excellent specialist for the Badgers, Nortman has averaged 42.1 yards per punt over the course of his Wisconsin career, which ranks third in school history. Career long is 76 yards which came last year, and because of the improvement of the Wisconsin offense, has seen his attempts go down from 66, to 49, to only 38 punts all of last year. 2nd Team All Big Ten performer and an Academic All Big Ten performer in the classroom. Has gotten 50 of his 153 attempts inside the 20, roughly 1/3 of his career punts, which is a fantastic number.
16 Russell Wilson, Quarterback, 5’11” 201
Wilson unfortunately doesn’t have ideal size for an NFL quarterback, but fortunately for him, it might not wind up mattering. Wilson isn’t quite a clone of Seneca Wallace, but they are pretty similar players and Wallace made it in the NFL for a while. There will be a team that finds a spot for this guy, who is one of the more veteran players in college football. After three years at North Carolina State, Wilson took his show on the road to Wisconsin after being drafted to Major League Baseball by the Colorado Rockies. Graduated in three years from NC State, very smart guy who has been one of the biggest playmakers in the ACC up to this past year. Since coming to Wisconsin, he’s played nothing but Heisman caliber football, throwing for 1,136 yards, 11 touchdowns, and only one interception in four games as the Badgers’ starting quarterback. Dual threat quarterback who has a strong arm and can make all the needed throws. Has struggled with accuracy in his career but his decision making has improved considerably with the Badgers. The fact that he earned the starting job and has such great chemistry with his teammates already is a real testament to his work ethic and leadership ability. It will be interesting to see what he plays at the next level, but he undoubtedly has a future in the NFL or MLB.