Tag Archive: Ricky Wagner


From now until the season starts I will be previewing the prospects from Big-12, ACC and Big East teams for the upcoming season. My colleague at NFL Draft Monsters Justin Higdon (follow him on Twitter @afc2nfc) will be covering the SEC, Pac-12 and Big-10 and you will be able to read those posts on NFL Draft Monsters. Check them all out to get ready for the 2013 NFL Draft by identifying the prospects you need to learn about!

Today I am previewing the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers have had a fantastic run since Bret Bielema took over, particularly in the last two years, going to consecutive Rose Bowls. That’s relatively unheard of, and even though they lost both in close games it still means the Badgers are a program on the rise and that they aren’t just a big, slow team that can’t hang with East or West Coast speed. I do want to mention that while Bielema has done a good job leading the Badgers into a new era after legendary Head Coach Barry Alvarez became the athletic director, I am not quite convinced he’s the best in-game coach. Specifically, I’m talking about timeout usage. I could go on a huge rant about this, specifically relating to Bielema, but the man simply doesn’t use his timeouts effectively. Take Wisconsin’s last second loss on a hail-mary to Michigan State last season. The Spartans were content to play for OT and were going to run the clock out but Bielema got cocky and called a timeout. That led the Spartans to get aggressive and roll the dice, and we all know what happened when they did. I was so shocked by the result that I actually wrote this after the game. Fast forward to the Rose Bowl against Oregon, when a wasted timeout early in the 2nd half (this is a vast oversimplification, I just don’t want to write 4,000 words about this) left Russell Wilson without a way to stop the clock other than spiking it with under 10 seconds to go, meaning he and the Badgers didn’t have a chance for one last play to score a touchdown and win the game. I’m sure some don’t think Bielema is a bad clock manager, but those two examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Bielema and his timeouts. I’ve actually never seen or heard of a head coach who uses them more poorly and sees his team suffer more for it as a result.

Anyways, Bielema sure has done a good job as a recruiter and that was evidenced by convincing Russell Wilson to transfer to the land of the cheese and he did it again with Danny O’Brien. I’m sure I’ll say this 1,000 times by the end of next season, but Badger fans please listen to me: Danny O’Brien is NOT Russell Wilson. I still believe he is a good quarterback, but like I said before last season Russell Wilson was special, and the Badgers won’t have another quarterback that good for a long time (if ever). O’Brien is officially the starter and has the unenviable job of replacing Wilson, who became a Wisconsin legend about as soon as he stepped on campus. O’Brien has the talent to keep defenses from keeping 8 defenders in the box because he will be able to make them pay thanks to Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen catching balls from him. The offensive line at Wisconsin is always impressive, and despite losing three starters they will be good again this season.

My concern, much like it was last year, is with the defense. The Badgers’ defense last year was very average, if not poor, and was really held together by Chris Borland, Mike Taylor, Antonio Fenelus and to some degree Aaron Henry. This year it looks like the Badgers will have some more talent in the front 7, particularly along the defensive line, which would be a HUGE relief for any Badger fan. If the defensive line, particularly the defensive tackles, can occupy blockers better and contribute a bit to the pass rush then Wisconsin’s stellar linebacker tandem will be able to make a lot of plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. But beyond that, if the pass rush improves considerably it will make life a lot easier on Wisconsin’s weakest link- The defensive secondary. They are returning only ONE player with an interception from last season, and only two players who are projected to start have an interception in their entire careers. They have some starting experience returning, but it is mostly starting experience spent making mental mistakes, not playing the ball correctly, and generally allowing big plays from opposing offenses. If the secondary can step up, this defense could actually be decent or maybe even pretty good. But if they continue to play like they did last year (or worse, thanks to Fenelus and Henry heading to the NFL) then the Badgers will be in a world of hurt without Russell Wilson and a quick-strike offense to compensate. Thanks to Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for the conference championship game you’d have to be brain dead not to think Wisconsin is the favorite, but Michigan State is reloading better than I thought they would, and Michigan figures to be jockeying with Nebraska for the top spot in the Legends division (seriously, Leaders and Legends is still the stupidest thing ever) and all three teams will be able to give Wisconsin a run for their money as the Badgers try to get to an unheard of third straight Rose Bowl. And with that, here are  the prospects to keep an eye on for the 2012 season:

O’Brien has a chance to lead Wisconsin to a third consecutive Rose Bowl. He won’t be able to do what Russell Wilson did, but he can still be a quality quarterback thanks to his experience and preference for a pro-style offense.

Danny O’Brien, QB*- I watched O’Brien a fair amount as a freshman and got a chance to see two games of him as a sophomore and I didn’t see the same quarterback. I don’t think it was simply a fluke season as a freshman or a sophomore slump the next year, I think that he is a pro-style quarterback who was miscast in a spread offense as a sophomore. His freshman year he looked more decisive, comfortable and accurate. You could tell he was confident and believed that he was “the guy” when he was playing, and as a result he made plays and won games. Then they fired his HC, brought in a spread offense offensive coordinator, and tried to force a square peg into a round hole. O’Brien never looked comfortable running that offense, particularly the zone read aspect. I never saw him keep it on the zone read once, and that’s because he’s a pass first QB, not a scrambler. Defenses figured that out, and even on plays where the read would dictate pulling it and running with it O’Brien would hand it off for a limited gain. He just wasn’t a good fit for that offense, particularly from that aspect. But luckily for O’Brien, he graduated in just three years and was eligible to transfer out without having to sit for a season before playing again. That led to him being pursued by Wisconsin and Penn State very seriously, and many actually speculated that he would be going to Penn State when he took another late visit to them and was seen wearing Penn State apparel on campus. He chose the Badgers in the end, and it’s hard to say that he made the wrong decision considering all the damage that has been done to Penn State’s program. I think it’s safe to say he is happy that he decided to go to Wisconsin, and now he has a chance to start for two more seasons before heading into the NFL Draft. O’Brien isn’t a giant by any means, being listed at 6’3”, 215, but he sure makes Russell Wilson look short. O’Brien is likely only 6’2”, but that still makes him a legitimate three inches taller than the superstar signal caller that led Wisconsin back to a second consecutive Rose Bowl despite arriving just weeks before the start of the season. O’Brien is a good quarterback, but he is not the next Russell Wilson. Make no mistake about it, O’Brien is still developing as a quarterback. Wilson transferred to Wisconsin as a polished passer who probably could have left for the NFL Draft if he wanted to, and he showed what he could do when supported by a quality offensive line and running game. O’Brien was efficient at Maryland as a freshman, but the new offense and lack of quality weapons (including the loss of his go-to receiver Torrey Smith) outside of Davin Meggett certainly played a role in his down season last year. That and the fact that Maryland flip flopped between O’Brien and CJ Brown, a scrambler/option quarterback, for most of the season.

Now O’Brien has been established as the starting quarterback and he will have plenty of pieces around him to succeed. He has returning Heisman finalist Montee Ball, the speedster James White, future stud RB Melvin Gordon at running back, plus Jared Abbrederis, and Jacob Pedersen for him to throw to. When I watched O’Brien as a freshman I saw an accurate quarterback with pocket poise, the ability to throw accurately on the move (particularly to his right, as he is right-handed) and enough velocity to be a NFL starter. He doesn’t have a cannon, and his deep balls tend to have plenty of air under them, but I’ve watched him make an all-arm throw from the middle of the field to the left sideline with plenty of velocity, and that was during his sophomore season. He doesn’t have Russell Wilson’s arm, but I think it’s good enough to get a shot in the NFL. The most interesting aspect of this transfer, at least in my opinion, will be seeing how much more comfortable O’Brien will be in a pro-style offense than he was in the spread offense he was running last year. The Badgers offense has a lot of similarities schematically to the pro-style offense he was running at Maryland as a freshman, just different terminology I’m sure (as well as a bit more of an emphasis on feeding the quality ball-carriers the Badgers have in their backfield). That should help ease the transition for him, plus they have a cupcake schedule before opening Big-10 conference play with Nebraska in week 5. The first four weeks they will play Northern Iowa, at Oregon State, Utah State and UTEP. Not exactly a rough schedule, so the Badgers should be 4-0 heading to Nebraska for a big away game. He will be under a lot of pressure to be the next Russell Wilson, but O’Brien will realize that a lot of the pressure that he felt at Maryland will melt away thanks to the amazing running game the Badgers will have again this season. That offensive line doesn’t rebuild, it only reloads, so despite losing three starters (including two 1st round caliber interior linemen, Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz) they will continue to pound the rock at an impressive clip, especially since they have a quarterback who can make defenses pay when they load up the box against their stable of running backs. I’m very intrigued by O’Brien, and I am eager to see him return to his freshman form with his second chance at Wisconsin.

Montee Ball, RB- What is there to say about Montee Ball that hasn’t been said. He is one of the most NFL ready backs in college football, and really the only question marks people have about him are whether or not he plays behind “too good” of an offensive line so that he doesn’t really have vision or the more legitimate concern about his substantial workload at Wisconsin. Ball is listed at 5’11”, 212 and likely has 4.5 speed, but since he slimmed down before his junior season he has had substantially more burst. I thought he might have been carrying too much weight, and he always ran at one speed as a sophomore. But he was a different back, and a better one, as a junior, and it showed as he was a Heisman finalist and rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns while catching 24 passes for 306 yards and 6 more touchdowns (he also threw 2 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown, giving him 40 total touchdowns on the season). He has the size, the athleticism, the burst, enough speed to gain chunks of yardage, the vision, the hands out of the backfield and the ability in pass protection to be a starting NFL running back right now. That’s why I thought he should declare after his Heisman caliber season last year and start getting paid for carrying the ball 300 times a year. Instead, he chose to come back, and he will certainly raise question marks about all the tread on his tires thanks to the way Wisconsin likes to run the ball. That’s really the only question mark about him in my opinion though, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t have 7-8 years of productive NFL running once he leaves Wisconsin after this season. He’s got everything you could want in a running back outside of 4.35 straight line speed.

James White, RB*- James White is a peculiar player. He looked absolutely unreal as a freshman playing behind Montee Ball once John Clay went down with an injury, rushing for 1,052 yards on 156 carries (6.74 ypc) and 14 touchdowns while adding 11 receptions for 88 more yards. I thought the Badgers were going to have the best running back tandem in the country last year, but White encountered a bit of a sophomore slump and rushed for only 713 yards on 141 carries, good for a 5.06 ypc average, and 6 touchdowns while adding 10 receptions and 150 yards out of the backfield. Those are still solid numbers, particularly since he was backing up a Heisman contender, but he didn’t look like the same back at all to me. He didn’t seem as decisive, as explosive and as dynamic as he did as a freshman. I have questions about his vision and while he has plenty of speed, burst and explosiveness, I am waiting to see the freshman version of James White. He and Danny O’Brien are in similar boats, trying to recapture their freshman glory heading into their junior seasons. I don’t know if White will ever recapture that dynamic freshman year version of himself, but I really hope he does. I would draft that kid, but I’m not so sure I would draft the back I saw as a sophomore.

Melvin Gordon is going to be the next feature back at Wisconsin, go ahead and put me on record.

Melvin Gordon, RB**- Gordon is only a redshirt freshman this year, but I think he is going to be the next great Wisconsin running back. He only got 20 carries and rushed for 98 yards and 1 touchdown last season, but was given a redshirt after playing in only three games. Due to injuries more than anything else, he was given a chance to be the feature back in Wisconsin’s spring game and he carried the ball 30 times for 159 yards and a touchdown, surpassing the statistics he amassed in three games last year. Gordon is buried on the depth chart behind Ball, who will get the lions’ share of the carries, and White, who provides some speed that Ball and Gordon can’t quite provide, but Gordon has feature back written all over him at 6’1, 200 pounds. I can’t wait to see more of him this year, because the little that I have been able to see of him has been awfully impressive. He likely won’t get more than 100 carries this year (even that would be considerable, but it would be nice to see him get touches to help keep Montee fresh) but when he does get touches I expect him to impress.

Jared Abbrederis, WR*- Abbrederis is a kid you just can’t help but root for. He emerged originally as a walk-on freshman, catching 20 passes for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns while also contributing a bit as a kick returner and punt returner. Then his role expanded even more as a sophomore with the arrival of Russell Wilson, and the 6’2”, 180 pound receiver hauled in 55 receptions for 933 yards and 8 touchdowns. He expanded his role as a return man, showcasing his shiftiness and ability to make defenders miss on the way to accumulating 315 yards and a touchdown on only 20 punt returns (15.75 average per return) as well as accounting for 689 kick return yards on 28 kick returns (24.61 average). That led to him signing his scholarship offer last January, which I was very happy to see. You love to see hard-working kids rewarded for their efforts, and not many have worked harder than Abbrederis. He may not be the biggest or the fastest, but he is a quality football player who has been a reliable target for the Badgers. He had a very unfortunate fumble in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon late in the game, and his mistimed jump on the Michigan State hail mary helped contribute to Wisconsin’s first loss of the season. Despite those two mistakes that were magnified because of the stages on which they occurred, I am a big fan of Abbrederis. He runs solid routes, catches the ball well with his hands and uses his long arms effectively, and makes plenty of defenders miss once he has the ball in his hands. Not only that, but even as a freshman he was subbed into the game instead of Nick Toon, who was a junior at the time, when they needed a receiver to block effectively. That says a lot about his effort level and his commitment to fundamentals, and even though he isn’t a huge receiver he takes his blocking seriously. He’s a pretty complete receiver who should continue to win talent evaluators over for the next two years as a Badger.

Jacob Pedersen, TE/H-Back*- Before Pedersen even became the starter I proclaimed that he would be the “next Lance Kendricks” meaning he would be a good blocker from the H-Back spot and also the primary receiving tight end. Despite only having 8 receptions as a freshman, I saw enough to project him as a quality passing option. He proved me right by catching 30 passes for 356 yards and 8 touchdowns despite only being a sophomore. At 6’4”, 240 pounds he is not big enough to play inline every down in the NFL, or even in the Big-10 really. He’s a good blocker for his size, much like Kendricks was, but he’s more of an H-Back/receiving tight end than an extension of the offensive line like the great blocking tight ends are. I have a feeling Danny O’Brien will be very happy to have Pedersen as a security blanket, I know Russell Wilson was.

Ricky Wagner, OT- Wagner is an offensive tackle I’ve been talking up since Gabe Carimi was still playing on the Badgers a couple years ago. I don’t think he’s going to be a left tackle in the NFL, but I was impressed with him when I watched him a couple years ago and I liked some of what I saw of him on the left side as well. He’s not a great pass blocker, but he’s reliable and good enough to play on the right side at the next level in my opinion. The problem I have with Wagner is that even though he is listed at 6’6”, 322 pounds and he plays offensive tackle for Wisconsin, he’s not a typical road grader that you would like at right tackle. His run blocking is fine for a left tackle, but he’s not a good enough pass blocker to stick on the left side at the next level. He’s kind of a man without a home, not being a good enough pass blocker to stick on the left and not a good enough run blocker to be a great fit on the right. I am interested to see how he looks this year, as I’m hoping he will have improved in one aspect or the other (or if we’re lucky, both!) to provide some clarity about which position he projects best to in the NFL. Otherwise he might be a bit of a swing tackle that is never much more than a solid/reliable starter at either spot. I like him, but he’s not a 1st round pick at this point in my opinion.

Frederick doesn’t have a ton of game experience at center (just four starts) but his combination of size, strength, and football IQ is going to make him a possible 1st round draft pick at the position.

Travis Frederick, C/OG*- Frederick is a mauler in the trenches and will be moving inside to Center full time this season despite having only four career starts at the position in his first two years with the Badgers. At 6’4”, 328 pounds he is an absolute behemoth for a center, and will give the Badgers a huge advantage in the run game despite losing a great center in Peter Konz who I had graded as a first rounder. Frederick has received a lot of praise from coaches and media alike for his football IQ, and that is critical for any offensive lineman moving inside to center. The fact that he happens to have great size for an offensive guard, and the fact that he was a very good left guard last season, only means that by moving inside to center he gives the Badgers another year (or maybe two if they are lucky) of having what I call “three guards” inside. By that I mean, often times centers are very smart players with sound technique, but they are often in the 6’2”-6’3”, 300 pound mold and not particularly physically imposing. But when you have a 6’3”+ center who weighs 310+ and most importantly PLAYS as big as he is you have an advantage. Instead of having two guards and a center who can’t drive block one on one or block a defensive tackle one on one in pass protection, you theoretically have three guards who can drive a man off the ball when matched up in man blocking schemes and that really helps you generate push in the run game and dominate opponents with power man blocking. Frederick gives the Badgers a chance to do this again, and I for one can’t wait to see how he does. Centers with his skill set often go in the first round because it is so rare to find a center who can snap well, make line calls and also be big, strong and physical enough to generate push in the run game 1 on 1. That’s why centers like Nick Mangold, Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Pouncey went in the 1st round and why Peter Konz would have had he not had injury questions surrounding him. Centers that big and talented are rare and are extremely valuable commodities. The fact that Frederick combines his size, strength and technique with a high football IQ means he has the chance to be the next first round center either this year or next.

Ryan Groy, OG*- Groy is the 6’5”, 322 pounder replacing Frederick at left guard and while he only has 6 career starts (including two at FULLBACK) he played in all 14 games last year and if you know anything about the Wisconsin football program you know they churn out road grading offensive lineman like a Hershey’s factory churns out chocolate. I haven’t scouted Groy specifically, but think about the left side of Wisconsin’s offensive line: LT- Wagner, 6’6”, 322 pounds LG- Groy, 6’5”, 322 pounds C- Frederick, 6’4”, 328 pounds. You think Wisconsin is planning on running to the left at all this year?

Brendan Kelly, DE- Kelly is a player that before last year I never thought I might include his name in one of these prospect previews. He is a 6’6”, 250 pound defensive end who played high school football in Eden Prairie (which is about 10 minutes away from where I am currently writing this, and also was a rival team of Edina high school where I happened to go) before choosing to go to Wisconsin to play college football. He has been through a myriad of injuries and has rarely been on the field unfortunately. He sustained a serious groin injury as a freshman but attempted to play through it before realizing that he had torn four muscles off of his pelvis, and missed the final conference game the Badgers played that season. When he attempted to come back during fall camp the next year he aggravated the injury, leading to additional surgery and time on the sidelines. He had three total surgeries on his groin, he has missed time with a hand injury, and missed some time in the spring with a hamstring tweak. None of it fazed him though, as he continued to support his teammates, lift what he could lift, watch film, and continue to demonstrate an intense passion for the game of football. He has fought through a lot of adversity to remain on this team, much less play, and I find myself rooting for him to stay healthy this year and show what he can do. He played in all 14 games last season as a junior, and totaled 35 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 pass break-up and 2 forced fumbles. It wasn’t as if he got those sacks against bottom feeders either. His three sacks were in three different games, coming against Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State. He started the final 8 games, his first coming against the Cornhuskers. The Badgers will use a rotation along the defensive line, but Kelly is expected to get a lot of snaps. He also has the potential to petition for a 6th year of eligibility thanks to losing almost three full years of his career due to hand and groin injuries. We’ll see if he gets that, but I am looking forward to seeing if he can help Gilbert boost the Badgers’ pass rush this season. They could really use it.

David Gilbert, DE*- Gilbert flashed some potential to me as a sophomore because the 6’4”, 250 pound defensive end showed an impressive get-off as well as burst and speed to get the edge. He’s an impressive looking athlete, and he had 3 sacks in Wisconsin’s first four games last year (though they played UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota in the first four weeks, with Gilbert getting a sack in each game except for the NIU game). However, he sustained a serious foot injury and was granted a medical redshirt to preserve his junior year of eligibility. He’s very strong, and he has all the physical tools you could want to be an effective defensive end. I want to see him play smarter, improve his technique and prove that he’s more than just an edge rusher with a bit of a bull rush. If he improves his technique and continues to improve his craft as a defensive end he could get 8-10 sacks this year or the next and boy do the Badgers need a pass rusher. They have really missed the pressure J.J. Watt put on passers.

I honestly believe that Beau Allen could be the best defensive tackle the Badgers have had in years.

Beau Allen, DT*- I haven’t scouted Allen specifically, but the 6’3”, 323 pound defensive tackle gives the Badgers some much needed size in the middle of the defense. As a sophomore he had 22 tackles, 4 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss despite not starting a single game because he was playing behind Patrick Butrym. I was never a Butrym fan, so I am interested to see if Allen can be a superior talent. Wisconsin fields three undersized tackling machines at linebacker, so they need their defensive tackles to occupy blockers and allow them to fly around and make plays without being reached by offensive linemen. If Allen can keep his linebackers clean and also apply pressure on the passer like he did in a rotational role last year he is going to get a lot of attention from scouts. I can’t remember the last time the Badgers had a quality pass rusher at defensive tackle, but I think Allen has a chance to change that. He has already shown signs of being an impact player, such as totaling 3 tackles for loss and a sack in Wisconsin’s 2012 Spring Game.

Ethan Hemer, DT*- Hemer is another big, strong defensive tackle who will be starting at nose tackle I believe. He is listed at 6’6”, 305 pounds and by playing next to Allen I believe he gives the Badgers the biggest defensive tackle starting tandem that they have had in some time. Like I just mentioned, they need big defensive tackles to keep their linebackers clean and I am eager to see if Hemer is up to that challenge. He comes into the season with 20 career starts, including all 14 games last season, and he managed 34 tackles and 1 sack in those 14 starts. I don’t need him to make 100 tackles, 15 sacks and force 5 fumbles (though that would be terrific) but he needs to show that he can hold up against double teams and help clog up running lanes in the middle of the defense. Nose Tackles that can do that are very valuable in the Big-10, and just as valuable in the NFL.

Chris Borland, MLB*- Borland is just a beast, I know that word is overused but it’s true. I remember when I was watching him as a freshman (god that feels like a long time ago) and even though he is probably only 5’10”, 250 pounds (yes, he’s listed at 250 pounds, though he’s also listed at 5’11”) he plays very instinctually, flies to the ball and is a tackling machine. He was second on the team in tackles with 143 tackles, led the team by a wide margin with 16.5 TFL, had 2.5 sacks, 5 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions and FIVE forced fumbles. Make no mistake about it, Borland is a man who can stuff a stat sheet and he really has a knack for forcing fumbles. His freshman year in 2009 he only had 54 tackles (36 solo), but he had 10.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 pass deflection, 1 interception, a blocked kick and five more forced fumbles! He got a medical redshirt in 2010 and came back at full force as a redshirt sophomore as you all know. He enters his junior year with 28 career tackles for loss, 7.5 career sacks, 3 interceptions and a staggering 10 forced fumbles. He’s undersized and he won’t be able to play middle linebacker in the NFL, but I think he will get a shot to play outside linebacker in the NFL. Maybe it will have to be in a Tampa-2, but he is too instinctual and too good a tackler to not get a NFL shot.

Mike Taylor, OLB- Taylor is taller than Borland at 6’3” but despite being listed four inches taller he weighs 28 pounds less, listed at only 222 pounds. That’s pretty light even for a weak side linebacker, but he produced anyways as he led the team in tackles (which is no easy task playing next to Borland) with 150 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. He’s a senior this season and figures to help Wisconsin have one of the best, if not the best, linebacker tandems in the entire Big-10 conference. If the defensive line can keep him and Borland clean they are going to wreak a lot of havoc on opposing offenses, you can count on it.

Shelton Johnson, SS- There is actually a fair amount of potential in the Badgers’ front 7, more than I expected and more than they have had since they had J.J. Watt leading the charge to the Rose Bowl against the TCU Horned Frogs. The Badgers had a lot of trouble on the back-end last year though, even in spite of having two well established senior starters in Antonio Fenelus and Aaron Henry. Now they have both moved on to the NFL, and Shelton Johnson is the only, yes ONLY, returning defensive back that had an interception last season. He had four of them along with 54 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and four pass break-ups, so I think he has a chance to be a reliable safety in his second season as a starter, but the lack of talent around him is extremely concerning. The only returning defensive back besides Johnson with an interception in his entire career is Devin Smith, who has three, and he sustained a season-ending injury last season that earned him a medical redshirt. Johnson is going to be the best player in this secondary, and if a Smith and Marcus Cromartie don’t step up at corner this pass defense is going to struggle mightily, particularly with big plays. That is, unless the pass rush improves considerably. The defensive secondary will be the kryptonite of this Badger squad, but Johnson has a chance to help stop some of the bleeding.

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Quarterback Rankings:

1-      Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal

2-      Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee*

3-      Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas

4-      Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech*

5-      Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

6-      Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia*

7-      E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State

8-      Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State

9-      Casey Pachall, QB, TCU*

10-   Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

Running Back Rankings:

1-      Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina*

2-      Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin

3-      Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas*

4-      Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State*

5-      Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina*

6-      Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh

7-      Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M*

8-      Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama*

9-      Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson

10-   Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas

Wide Receiver Rankings:

1-      Robert Woods, WR, Southern Cal*

2-      Keenan Allen, WR, California*

3-      Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee*

4-      Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State*

5-      Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee*

6-      Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas

7-      Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor

8-      Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

9-      Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon

10-   Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
Tight End Rankings:

1-      Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame*

2-      Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State

3-      Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA

4-      Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn

5-      Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford*

6-      Michael Williams, TE, Alabama

7-      Jordan Reed, TE, Florida*

8-      Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut

9-      Colter Phillips, TE, Virginia

10-   Ben Cotton, TE, Nebraska
Offensive Tackle Rankings:

1-      Chris Faulk, OT, LSU*

2-      Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M*

3-      Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

4-      D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama*

5-      Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan*

6-      Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia

7-      Alex Hurst, OT, LSU

8-      Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse

9-      Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M*

10-   James Hurst, OT, North Carolina*
Offensive Guard Rankings:

1-      Barrett Jones, OG, Alabama

2-      Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

3-      Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

4-      Travis Frederick, OG, Wisconsin*

5-      Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas*

6-      Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky

7-      Omoregie Uzzi, OG, Georgia Tech

8-      Braden Hansen, OG, BYU

9-      Blaize Foltz, OG, TCU

10-   Lane Taylor, OG, Oklahoma State
Center Rankings:

1-      Khaled Holmes, C, Southern Cal

2-      Graham Pocic, C, Illinois

3-      Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas*

4-      James Ferentz, C, Iowa

5-      Mario Benavides, C, Louisville

6-      Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson

7-      Matt Stankiewitch, C, Penn State

8-      Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia

9-      Braxton Cave, C, Notre Dame

10-   Ivory Wade, C, Baylor
Defensive End Rankings:

1-      Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU*

2-      Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas*

3-      Alex Okafor, DE, Texas

4-      Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State*

5-      Margus Hunt, DE, SMU

6-      Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois

7-      Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina

8-      Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

9-      James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech*

10-   William Gholston, DE, Michigan State*
Defensive Tackle Rankings:

1-      Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

2-      Johnathon Hankins, DT, Ohio State*

3-      Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

4-      Bennie Logan, DT, LSU*

5-      Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina

6-      Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

7-      Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia

8-      Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois*

9-      Shariff Floyd, DT, Florida*

10-   Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Middle Linebacker Rankings:

1-      Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame

2-      Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford

3-      Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina

4-      Michael Mauti, ILB, Penn State

5-      Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama

6-      Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State

7-      Jonathan Brown, ILB, Illinois*

8-      Bruce Taylor, ILB, Virginia Tech

9-      Jonathan Bostic, ILB, Florida

10-   Christian Robinson, ILB, Georgia
Outside Linebacker Rankings:

1-      Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia*

2-      Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU*

3-      Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M

4-      Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State

5-      C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama*

6-      Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State

7-      Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Florida*

8-      Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford

9-      Khaseem Green, OLB, Rutgers

10-   Kenny Tate, OLB, Maryland
Cornerback Rankings:

1-      David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State*

2-      Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State*

3-      Jonathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

4-      Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU*

5-      Jonny Adams, CB, Michigan State

6-      Nickell Robey, CB, Southern Cal*

7-      Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas*

8-      Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State

9-      Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa

10-   Tharold Simon, CB, LSU*
Safety Rankings:

1-      Eric Reid, FS, LSU*

2-      T.J. McDonald, FS, Southern Cal

3-      Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas

4-      Robert Lester, FS, Alabama

5-      Tony Jefferson, FS, Oklahoma*

6-      Bacarri Rambo, SS, Georgia

7-      Ray Ray Armstrong, SS, Miami

8-      John Boyett, SS, Oregon

9-      Matt Elam, SS, Florida*

10-   Vaughn Telemaque, FS, Miami

Kirk Cousins and the Michigan State Spartans were the ones celebrating at the end of this thrilling contest between two Big-10 championship contenders.

When I saw the schedule for this 2011 season I pointed this game out to every one of my friends who likes the Badgers and said “This is going to be a critical game not only for the Badgers’ season, but for the entire Big-10 conference.” After Michigan State lost to Notre Dame it didn’t seem like my prediction would come true, but boy did it ever prove to be correct. This game had immense ramifications not only for undefeated Wisconsin and one loss Michigan State, but for the rest of the teams in each division of the conference that are trying to catch both teams for a shot at the Big-10 title game.

I will readily admit that I missed the entire first half of this game. I was on my way back from an away game that my college’s football team lost (63-41, it was quite a shoot-out) and started watching instantly once I got back. I got to see Kirk Cousins and Le’Evon Bell drive down the field for a huge touchdown to put Michigan State up 31-17. I thought Wisconsin was toast at that point, especially because of how much trouble they were having slowing down Michigan State’s running game, plus they were struggling to move the ball effectively on offense. But Wisconsin’s defense made three great stops in a row and kept Wisconsin in the game, and Russell Wilson proved that he is worthy of a lot of the praise that he receives nationally by leading two touchdown drives in the last 10 minutes of the 4th quarter to tie the game at 31. On the game tying drive he was 4/4 with a huge 3rd down conversion, a fantastic throw on an extended play to Nick Toon, and then bought more time outside of the pocket, drew a defender in as he rolled to the sideline and dropped the ball off right over him to Montee Ball for an easy score.

Some of my close friends will remember me questioning how good of a coach Bret Bielema really is when we were freshmen and sophomores. Calling a timeout with 30 seconds left instead of playing for overtime didn't really change my mind.

This is where things got crazy.

Michigan State got the ball back and Cousins did not start strong. He checked down for three yards on his first pass, then short-armed a throw to the near sideline on a curl at the marker. 3rd and 7, and he threw a dart underneath to convert. Michigan State continued to try to move the ball, but couldn’t get significant chunks of yardage. With 30 seconds left, they were content to let the clock run out and take the game to overtime. But to my disbelief Bret Bielema called his second timeout of the half and stopped the clock, foolishly hoping to get the ball back to Russell Wilson and his suddenly potent offense. But with the ball around the 40 yard line, even if the Badgers had stopped the Spartans at that point they would have punted it and at best the Badgers could have hoped for the ball on the 30 yard line with 15 seconds or possibly less remaining. Not much time even with a timeout and Russell Wilson’s strong arm.

But Bilema decided to do it anyways, and Michigan State managed to convert and the game seemed to be slipping away from Wisconsin. But with 10 seconds left the Spartans found themselves outside of field goal range with only one timeout left. They snapped the ball and Cousins started scanning the field but the clock never started. In fact, the clock didn’t start running until after the play had nearly concluded and it continued to run after the play was over (all the way down to four seconds). Suffice it to say, in all the years I have been watching football I have never seen anything quite like that, and no one in the stadium seemed to notice nor did they seem to care. You’d think Michigan State would be interested in seeing if more time should have been allotted for that final play, but apparently not.

Ohio State and Michigan were both watching this game intently. Ohio State started slow, but is gaining momentum. Michigan has had a terrific start to the year, but needs to catch Michigan State.

Then the craziest thing of all happened. After the timeout, Michigan State lined up with trips on the right side of the formation, Cousins rolled out to his right side to buy time and lobbed up a hail mary. Jared Abbrederis and a number of other players were down waiting for the ball near the end zone and Abbrederis jumped to try to catch it or knock it down but he didn’t time it right. The ball bounced off of a Michigan State receiver in the end zone and Keith Nichol, a former quarterback who transitioned to wide receiver after losing the starting job to Cousins, managed to catch it on the one yard line. He then fought tooth and nail to BARELY claw the ball over the goal line for a touchdown. Initially it was ruled that he was down on the one yard line, but when looking at the replays of the play it was clear that the ball crossed the plane of the end zone (even if it barely crossed it).

So, with that, the Spartans beat the Badgers for the second year in a row during a critical portion of the season. This doesn’t dramatically hurt the Badgers’ bid to ultimately become Big-10 champions because Michigan State and Wisconsin are in separate divisions, but it does all but dash Wisconsin’s chances at the BCS National Championship. Ohio State is looming after coming off of a quality win over then-ranked Illinois. Wisconsin travels to Columbus next, and it is imperative that they win this game to keep Ohio State from roaring back in the second half of the season. Michigan State maintained their lead in the opposite division ahead of Michigan, and if they win out they will be in the Big-10 Championship Game. Wisconsin is in the same boat, and I for one hope both win out so that we can see a rematch of this game. It probably won’t be as exciting or as unpredictable as this one was, but it would likely be a great game.

Wisconsin-UNLV Breakdown

Wisconsin-UNLV Breakdown:

Obviously Wisconsin was in control of this game from start to finish, as they scored within the first three minutes of the game with a powerful running game and a dangerous play action fake. The thing that stuck out to me more than anything else was Montee Ball’s overall speed/quickness. He looked much more explosive, much quicker and displayed significantly more burst than he ever did last season. That was fantastic to see from a scouting perspective. The announcers drove the point home that he lost about 28 pounds this offseason, so obviously he is in pretty incredible shape and is moving much better as he is carrying less weight. That means Wisconsin’s backfield is going to be terrifying because James White continued to look excellent as expected (he still reminds me a lot of Warrick Dunn) and Melvin Gordon looked effective as a possible #3 back.

Obviously Russell Wilson was a player you have to key on because of his ability to sling the football all over the field as well as his athleticism, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. He was 10/13 for 255 yards (19.6 yard average), 2 TD’s plus 2 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown on a 46 yard scramble just before the end of the second half. He was awfully impressive, though two of his incompletions were passes that I would expect him to make most of the time. But his arm strength, accuracy, intelligence, athleticism and poise were on full display tonight even if the opponent wasn’t much of a challenge. He had great pass protection the whole night, and when the pocket did eventually break down a couple of times he gashed UNLV’s defense with improvised plays. He was extremely effective for having been on campus for only two months. It speaks volumes about him that he was able to adjust and adapt that quickly, not to mention that he played great and was voted as a captain by his teammates.

Nick Toon was only targeted a couple times tonight but he made two tough catches in traffic which was good to see. He and Jared Abbrederis have the most to gain from Wilson’s presence this year because they will see a lot more targets and downfield passes because of his ability to buy time in and out of the pocket and because of his significant arm strength. Jacob Pedersen was also targeted a couple times and I really think that he is going to surprise a lot of people. He’s got a ton of athleticism and upside.

The offensive line looked great to me. Obviously Oglesby isn’t the strongest part of that offensive line, but I am extremely high on Ricky Wagner (LT) and Peter Konz (OC). I also like Travis Frederick and Kevin Zeitler, though this was the first I’d seen of Frederick since he was redshirted last year. Oglesby has his moments in the run game and looked alright in pass protection, but I am going to wait to pass judgement until he deals with players with more edge speed and quickness which he really tends to struggle with when pass blocking. His feet are slow and he doesn’t seem to have much ability to recover quickly and re-establish fundamentally sound mechanics. I love Wagner and Konz though, and both looked great tonight when I paid attention to them even if it was against less than comparable competition.

Louis Nzegwu flashed some potential at DE for Wisconsin as did David Gilbert, though I think Nzegwu is the better player I think Gilbert has more upside because of his size, speed and strength combination. He flashed some serious speed off the edge last year and showed that again in this game, but he just needs to improve his hand usage if he is going to provide anywhere close to the pass rush that J.J. Watt did from that same position last year. Defensive tackle was a concern of mine for the Badgers coming in and that held to form as they got gashed versus the run, whether it was inside or outside in this game. That speaks to the linebackers as well, but they looked pretty weak up the middle to me and Gilbert did not impress me much versus the run, though I would need to re-watch the game to get a more accurate feel for that. I think the Badgers are really going to struggle to stop teams like Nebraska and Michigan State on the ground if they gave up 146 rushing yards to UNLV.

Antonio Fenelus impressed me in the secondary for Wisconsin. He was called for pass interference on a play when he had perfectly fine coverage, located the ball and was making a play for the ball in the air. I thought it was a bad call, there was contact, but it shouldn’t have been a penalty. I think he has some significant upside, and I’m excited to watch him this year. Devin Smith, their new starter at corner, didn’t fare as well. I don’t think he has much upside in the NFL, and at this point he’s probably a late round/free agent guy based on what I’ve seen of him, though he is fundamentally sound for the most part. He just doesn’t have what it takes in coverage in my opinion. I’m also not that impressed with Aaron Henry. I didn’t pay attention to him at all (he might not have even played for all I know) but he strikes me as an average FS in the NFL. Not very fundamentally sound and doesn’t seem to have very good instincts in my opinion.

For UNLV I wasn’t very impressed with their QB Caleb Herring. He looks very skinny and he has a bit of a goofy throwing motion, and isn’t overly accurate. However, he did throw a couple nice balls and I liked some of what I saw from Phillip Payne. He dropped a pass or maybe two, but he made a couple nice catches in traffic and had one of UNLV’s two touchdowns on the night. It’ll be interesting to see how he does this year.

So overall I was impressed with Wisconsin, but their run defense and their kicking game is going to hurt their chances at winning the Big 10 with Nebraska and Michigan State both posing legitimate threats with very potent ground games. They have a good chance with Russell Wilson, but their run defense was a weak spot that needs to be improved upon to hold up week 5 against Nebraska, and if they are in close games and they are relying on a kicker who can’t make all of his extra points they could be in for a couple tough losses.

Thanks for reading!!

–Tom

Here’s a quick breakdown of a view games that I think will be interesting over the next few days. Part two will be coming soon, but I didn’t want it to be too long of a post considering they are just previews for the games. This covers Thursday, Friday and some of Saturday. Saturday through Monday will be covered in Part Two. Obviously there aren’t a lot of competitive match-ups in week one of the season since most teams are essentially buying wins to start off the season instead of scheduling potentially challening out of conference opponents, but that’s out of my control. So enjoy some of the match-ups that might just end up being interesting!

Thursday:

-Wisconsin-UNLV:

There are plenty of prospects to look at in this game. Russell Wilson (QB), Montee Ball and James White (RB), Nick Toon (WR), Ricky Wagner (LT), Kevin Zeitler (OG), Peter Konz (OC), Louis Nzegwu (DE), Antonio Fenelus (CB), Aaron Henry (FS) and their former nickel corner Devin Smith. On the UNLV side they have a young QB in Caleb Herring who will be trying to improve on an average season as a freshman where he saw action in 8 games but didn’t do anything spectacular. He has an ok running game and a solid receiver in Phillip Payne who has 127 career receptions coming into his senior year as well as 1,786 total receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. He should be the main target for Herring in this game, and I imagine Fenelus will be up to the challenge of defending him. That could be the most intriguing match-up in the game outside of Wilson playing his first game on the Badgers, which certainly will get lots of media attention throughout the season as he becomes acclimated to the team, the coaching staff and obviously his teammates on offense. I’m excited to see how they all do in this game, but Ricky Wagner is the best prospect in this game in my opinion. It will be interesting to see how he holds up as a starter at Left Tackle. I have high expectations for him.

Friday:

-TCU-Baylor:

This is an intriguing matchup at the QB position with Casey Pachall replacing Andy Dalton at QB and with Robert Griffin III returning as the starter for Baylor. TCU is overrated as the #14 overall team in my opinion, but they are returning a strong defense led by Tank Carder who terrorized Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. I also think Stansly Maponga has some upside as a defensive end for TCU. Griffin is very athletically talented, but needs significant improvement with his mechanics and accuracy to be a serious or even dominant threat at QB. It will be interesting to see what Pachall has to offer, but Ed Wesley and a strong stable of RB’s are returning to help support him while he adjusts to the starting role. Kendall Wright is going to get a lot of looks from Griffin especially because of the loss of Josh Gordon, a receiver who had legitimate 1st round ability. TCU is obviously the favorite in this one, but Baylor has enough firepower to potentially hang around with them.

Saturday:

-Northwestern-Boston College:

This game could go either way, and has a couple intriguing prospects at QB. The superior prospect is obviously Dan Persa, the QB for Northwestern. He should give the Wildcats a serious boost on offense, and they’ve got a lot of talent on that offense for him to utilize. Boston College has a younger QB in Chase Rettig who should be a sophomore this year. He showed some ability as a freshman last year, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with the Northwestern defense. Montel Harris should help keep some pressure off of him even if he is an average NFL prospect. I think Northwestern is the favorite, but Boston College has a legitimate shot in this one.

-Notre Dame-South Florida:

Notre Dame is a heavy favorite in this game but I don’t buy the hype of them being a potential top 15 team. South Florida doesn’t have a great shot at winning this game but they have a QB in B.J. Daniels who can be very streaky, and can be dangerous when he’s hot thanks to his strong arm and legitimate athleticism so he can threaten with his legs as well as his arm. I’m not sold on Notre Dame’s defense at this point, but their offense shouldn’t have much trouble scoring on South Florida’s defense. Dayne Crist will be starting a game for the first time in a very long time so expect some significant rust, but they’ll make it easy for him to get into a rhythm, especially with Michael Floyd still intact.

-BYU-Ole Miss:

I actually think this could be an interesting game. I know nothing about either QB that Ole Miss was considering starting (except that the original starter Randall Mackey was arrested for disorderly conduct after a fight at a bar) so now Barry Brunetti is starting. I know a significant bit more about Jake Heaps, BYU’s QB, and I am excited to see how he progresses. He was incredibly impressive for a true freshman QB last year, and was quite impressive in their bowl win to cap off their season last year. This will be a huge test for him going against a SEC caliber defense, but I think he might be up to it. Ole Miss will rely a lot on Brandon Bolden, their quality RB, who put up 976 rushing yards (14 TD’s and 6.0 ypc) plus 344 receiving yards and 3 more TD’s on 32 receptions. It’ll be interesting to see how well they move the ball because I have no expectations for their QB. They have some talent on defense, but it will be interesting to see how they match up with BYU. Cody Hoffman, BYU’s very large WR, might create some match-up problems because of his size.

It’ll be interesting to see how these match-ups play out, but regardless I am excited to see some college football finally. Enjoy it, I know I will!

–Tom

E.J. Manuel's performance this year will either be the reason Florida State climbs back to the top of the ACC or the reason they have a mediocre season. If he plays well, the old FSU could be back. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

6. Florida State- Florida State lost quarterback Christian Ponder but outside of that they return a LOT of starters, key starters too. Jermaine Thomas at RB will be huge for them, they have talent at receiver, and they return a quality offensive line (especially their tackles Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders). They also have one of the best pass rushers in the country in Brandon Jenkins, who should draw considerable attention this year as he attempts to mimic his incredible success from last year. Florida State’s saving grace will be E.J. Manuel’s considerable playing experience considering he was the back-up to Ponder all this time, but because of Ponder’s injuries he not only has regular season experience but bowl game experience. While he wasn’t dominant or spectacular in all of his playing time, he definitely showcased ability and should play well enough to give Florida State a good shot at an ACC title. If he plays really well then they may have a shot at a great bowl game or even a chance to win the National Championship.

7. South Carolina- South Carolina is returning a lot of talent and has a great recruiting class coming in. They have a number of players ready to emerge, and if Stephen Garcia can finally get his act together (and keep it together, which is usually the tricky part) South Carolina should have a great season. Garcia, Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey will make the offense viable provided the offensive line helps them out, and South Carolina should have a fierce pass rush if Devin Taylor emerges like I expect him to. South Carolina definitely has a lot of talent, and this may be the ole ball coach’s best chance to win a SEC title in a long time, with Alabama, Auburn and Florida all in a significant transition stage.

Trent Richardson has incredible upside and should help carry the Crimson Tide offense while A.J. McCarron adjusts to his new role as the starter. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill)

8. Alabama- It’s tough to ever count Alabama out of the top 5 or 10, but if there was a year to do it this would probably be the year. They lost a quarterback who is apparently allergic to losing in Greg McElroy, a Heisman winner and future NFL stud in Mark Ingram, a dynamic wide receiver in Julio Jones, multiple offensive linemen (most notably James Carpenter, who I might have had an interview with had I not projected him to go in the 3rd round) and Marcell Dareus, just to name a few. Losing four first round draft picks plus a quarterback who lost less times in his college career than I do when I play a full NCAA Football on Xbox is about as bad as it gets for a college program, but Alabama is an elite program now and like USC used to do they aren’t going to rebuild, they are going to reload. The problem with that is, while they can reload at most positions and they return a LOT of talent on defense, QB is going to be a question mark. A.J. McCarron is expected to be the starter, but he has little playing experience and will only be a redshirt sophomore. The QB position is incredibly important, especially for a possible national title run, and while I expect ‘Bama to be formidable because of their defense and a very dynamic running back in Trent Richardson and a receiver I am high on in Marquis Maze, if McCarron doesn’t step up in a big way they will lose at least a couple games even with a favorable schedule for a SEC school.

9. Oklahoma State- Oklahoma State had a fantastic season last year and they return some key starters this year, specifically Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, two of the key cogs in what may have been the most explosive offense in the country last year. They lost Kendall Hunter though, a very effective RB who really was the final piece to their explosive offense puzzle, so replacing him with another effective player will be critical if they want to have similar success on offense again this year. On defense they have some talent, but it will be a question mark until they step up in my opinion. They haven’t had much on that side of the ball in a while but it has been overshadowed by their high octane offenses. If their defense can step up then Oklahoma State has a chance to give Oklahoma a run for their money.

Russell Wilson may not have played for Wisconsin last year, but this year he could be the key to unlocking the potential of multiple players on offense, most notably wide receiver Nick Toon.

10. Wisconsin- Wisconsin is returning a lot of quality players, such as Montee Ball, James White, Nick Toon, Ricky Wagner, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler, Louis Nzegwu, Chris Borland (coming back from injury), Antonio Fenelus, Devin Smith and Aaron Henry, to name a few. They will still have a very good offensive line as they return three good starters and already have a replacement for Carimi in place at LT in Wagner. RT will be an area of concern, as well as the DE spot opposite Nzegwu, previously occupied by the #11 overall draft pick J.J. Watt. They do have a significant upgrade on the way at QB though, and Russell Wilson’s transfer to Wisconsin makes them a favorite to win the Big-10 this year. Their pass defense is concerning to me though, because they lost two established starters in J.J. Watt and Niles Brinkley and while they might have solid replacements for them Wisconsin’s pass defense was an issue before they even lost them (see Rose Bowl game against TCU). If they can generate a quality pass rush and play better pass defense then Wisconsin could go a long way, but that back end is concerning to me.

Thanks for reading my most recent installment of my Preseason Top 25 Rankings! The top five teams will be unveiled tomorrow!

–Tom

Wisconsin Film Post:

Here are my thoughts on all of Wisconsin’s prospects. Obviously as a senior Russell Wilson would constitute an offensive prospect, but I obviously couldn’t watch film of him on Wisconsin from 2010 because he was on NC State at the time. I have high expectations for Wilson and the rest of Wisconsin’s team next year, and if you want to read about the impact I think Wilson will have on Wisconsin feel free to read it here. Otherwise, enjoy the read for these prospects! I watched a ton of film for these, so they should be pretty thorough.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin: Ball was obviously extremely effective for Wisconsin last year and he should be the featured back in their offense next year and figures to continue his incredible success that he experienced after John Clay’s injury last season. Ball is a power back in a similar mold to Clay, just without the same mammoth size. He has a similar running style though he isn’t as likely to run over defenders as Clay was. He can run through contact and break arm tackles, but I haven’t seen him bowl defenders over like everyone saw Clay do on a regular basis in the games I watched, though they were from earlier in the season. He seems to have about 4.55 speed to me, which is solid for a power back, but like Clay I don’t think he has much in the way of burst and quickness. He seems to run at more or less one speed on toss or stretch plays, not showing much of a higher gear when he has time to accelerate. He doesn’t quite have the speed to get the edge, but he is a very effective between the tackles runner. Shows the willingness to put his head down and get the tough yards, and showed good vision to find cut-back lanes, etc. He consistently falls forward also which illustrates his impressive leg drive. He also flashed ability in pass protection as he picked up blitzes with effective blocks multiple times while I was watching him. He also demonstrated pretty soft hands out of the backfield. Overall I like Ball as a prospect, but I’m not sure he’s much more than a mid-round guy at this point.

 

I think James White is one of the most talented players Wisconsin has had in years, and is poised to be one of the best players in the Big-10 in the next year or two.

James White, RB, Wisconsin: First things first, White is very fast. He definitely has the speed to get the edge and demonstrated impressive quickness every time I saw him get the ball. He shows pretty good vision though a couple times he missed cut-back lanes when running between the tackles. Those were in the earlier games though, and he seemed to get better and better as the season progressed. When he is in the open field he has a great feel as a runner and is so quick and fast that it is hard to get him down one on one, especially if he can get you off balance with a cut/spin move. He has good hands out of the backfield and should be utilized as a receiver more this year because of his speed and potential to get sizeable gains on screen passes. He also flashes some ability as a pass blocker, utilizing a couple cut blocks to take out blitzing players. He did miss an assignment or two when he was in, so he still needs to improve in this area. He reminds me a lot of Warrick Dunn in terms of his size, quickness, speed, hands and at times his vision. We’ll see if that comparison holds any water as we all watch him this season, but the similarities are uncanny to me at this point. I know White is only a freshman, but he has 1st round written all over him when he eventually leaves in my opinion.

Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin: I have to say I was impressed by Toon. I had seen him play before obviously, since my freshman year actually, and I knew he had a tendency to drop catchable balls at times. That’s usually a red flag for me, because it’s pretty natural to expect a wide receiver to catch the ball when he’s thrown to, or else what’s the point? So I was skeptical about Toon. But after I was able to watch him and specifically pay attention to him and see what he had to offer I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. He has good size at 6’2”, 215 pounds and you can tell he is strong. He is effective running after the catch and gets tough yards even in the face of contact. He is also quite fast. He has a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.52, but I think he might be closer to 4.48, or at least it looks that way on film. But even more importantly, he has very impressive acceleration and burst which helps him create significant separation. At times his burst looks elite, and while I’m not sure if it is, it is definitely noticeable and noteworthy. He is a good route runner for this reason, and I’m not sure anyone in the country runs a better corner route than he does.

He also shows the ability to come down with tough catches, such as balls away from his body or passes in traffic with defenders draped over him. He has good hands and good potential to make tough catches, his problem is with more routine passes. I think it has more to do with lapses in concentration (not paying attention to the ball or trying to turn and run too quickly before the ball is secure) than it does with his actual ability to catch the ball. If he focused intently on the routine passes on curls and quick slant routes he would be able to catch them easily, just like he catches tougher balls. His hands aren’t elite, but they aren’t bad enough that he should drop those catchable balls by any means. So, needless to say, I like Toon’s upside. He isn’t a great run blocker, and doesn’t give a ton of effort in that phase of the game, but he isn’t a liability either. I’ve heard he’s a confident, bordering on cocky guy, but that’s nothing new for the receiver position. I can’t wait to see how he does this season, because if he can get on the same page with Russell Wilson he could absolutely blow his career season averages out of the water. To do that, though, he will need to improve his concentration on routine passes. Let’s hope he does, because I love watching him run routes.

Josh Oglesby, OT, Wisconsin: There isn’t much to say about Oglseby other than he clearly disappointed this past season. He got replaced by Ricky Wagner, an offensive tackle I am very high on that is expected to start at LT, and didn’t see much playing time after that. The RT position may be up in the air for Wisconsin so perhaps he will have a shot at regaining his starting spot, but he has very slow feet and is not fundamentally sound, leading to him reaching and losing his balance when blocking, severely limiting his effectiveness. He also doesn’t have the lateral agility or the quick feet to mirror speed rushers which presents a problem when he faces smaller, quicker defenders. I would be surprised if he turned out to be the starter, and even though he has great size I don’t think he will stick in the NFL. He strikes me as a potential CFL player because his size will do more for him at that level of competition.

 

Wagner has NFL upside as a LT in my opinion, and I was very impressed with him even when he had just been inserted into the lineup at RT.

Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin: Wagner should be the man to replace Carimi at LT and he is only a junior so he definitely has upside. I was very impressed with his lateral agility, his sound fundamentals, his quick feet and his good hand placement. He doesn’t lean or reach when blocking, he bends at the knees, not at the waist, and he has the athletic ability to get out in front of screens or to cut block defenders effectively. He is very athletic, moves to the second level well, and has good awareness to boot. On top of that he can recover quickly whether he is surprised by a blitzer or if he gets bull-rushed, and he has a strong anchor that he can use to stop the bull rush. He has the total package and I think he might actually have more upside than Carimi as a pass blocker because he will be able to handle speed better than Carimi did. I think Wagner has LT written all over him and may even keep the LT label once he starts getting NFL consideration. I am very much looking forward to seeing him play this season, and I think he will surprise a lot of people once he faces some pass rushers at LT. He should be able to handle whatever the Big-10 can throw at him. There was a rumor going around Wisconsin that he was playing so well that the coaching staff considered moving him to LT last year, even with Carimi firmly entrenched at the position. That speaks volumes about his upside in my opinion. I can’t wait to watch him play more this season as a junior.

Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin: Zeitler is a pretty good guard, but I’m not sure he will go before the 3rd round at this point. He has pretty good size and shows some ability as a drive blocker, has pretty solid leg drive usually, and is an effective combo blocker who has the athleticism to get to the second level. He is a solid puller, but not spectacular and at times will struggle to sustain when blocking on the move. He is athletic enough to cut block effectively which he does well, and he also has a good enough first step to down block effectively, where he gets a good push. He will lean at times I noticed, but overall seems to have solid balance. He can anchor as a pass rusher and seems to be fundamentally sound overall as far as hand placement, etc. I don’t think he’s an elite guard, but he looks like a reliable NFL starter to me, similar to Moffitt in that regard.

Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin: Konz was very impressive when I watched him. He will be a junior in 2011 so he has definite upside. He is big and strong enough that he can block a defensive tackle one on one which is a very valuable trait for a center to have. He isn’t a dominant drive blocker but he can drive DT’s one on one at times which is almost like having a third guard on the line instead of a smaller pivot who can’t handle a defensive tackle one on one. It’s a huge advantage for your offensive line, which is one reason I’m high on Konz and another reason why I think he will be in high demand when he enters the NFL Draft this year or next. He is a good athlete and pulls well and he blocks effectively on the move, consistently engaging linebackers on the second level and taking them out of the play. He also has an impressive first step which enables him to snap and step smoothly, and that enables him to down block or wall-off defensive tackles to create seams in the middle of the offensive line with relative ease. He has good feet and strength which helps as well. He will lean into his blocks at times though which leads to balance issues, so he spends some time on the ground which I’m not wild about. He has pretty good awareness but I’m not sure how good his intangibles are, I haven’t seen enough of him to know how much he makes line calls before the snap, etc. He has a lot of upside, but he still has things to improve on. I think he is the 2nd best prospect on Wisconsin’s offensive line behind Wagner.

 

Wisconsin fans, Pedersen is going to be the guy who replaces Kendricks as the next dynamic TE at Wisconsin. Get excited. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Jacob Pedersen, TE, Wisconsin: I was very pleased with myself for uncovering Pedersen when watching film. His stat line may not blow you away (8 receptions, 132 yards (16.5 yards per reception) and 2 TD’s) but they are pretty impressive for a #3 TE who was playing behind a 2nd round pick who was a very good receiving TE and arguably their best big play receiver in Lance Kendricks. I was not particularly taken with Jake Byrne, a TE who will be a senior in 2011, though he is a pretty good blocker. I expected them to have a receiving TE to help replace Kendricks, and that is where Pedersen comes in. He is fast, similar to Kendricks I would say, has good size, hands and has some quickness to create separation and shows the ability to run effective routes. I don’t think he will be the primary blocking TE like Kendricks was regularly for the Badgers, but should have a similar role to what Kendricks had as a junior with Garrett Graham as the primary TE. He should provide some ability to stretch the field just like Kendricks did and hopefully his hands will be just as reliable.

Thanks for reading, and the defensive post should be up later today!

–Tom