National Signing Day is in the books, but it is never too late to look back at the past decade of Wisconsin Badgers recruiting. After all, the past can predict the future.
What does the past tell us about Wisconsin’s ability to be a player on the Big Ten and national scale? It tells us that despite recruiting rankings suggesting mediocrity, the Badgers program has been one of the most consistent in the nation.
So, who are the recruits that turned in to home runs? Let us look at the top 5 defensive ends over the past decade.
5.Warren Herring (2010)
Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 58 WDE, No. 22 in Illinois
Career Wisconsin Stats: 56 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks
Few players in recent history had as interesting a playing career as a Badger as Warren Herring had. He played half of his career under Bret Bielema and half under Gary Andersen. It was that switch that likely made him a more impactful player than he would’ve been in the old system.
Herring put up eight of his 10 tackles for loss and four of his 4.5 sacks as Dave Aranda took over and switched things to the 3-4 defense. For a player that was an after-thought in a huge recruiting class, he certainly had a big impact on the Badgers once he was being put in the best position to use his talents.
While his name may not come to mind as quick as others, few were as productive immediately upon Aranda’s arrival as Herring was. Had injuries not limited him to eight games in 2014, Herring may have been in line for much more notoriety amongst Badger fans.
4. David Gilbert (2009)
Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 507 nationally, No. 20 WDE, No. 71 in Florida
Career Wisconsin Stats: 79 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles
Many Badgers fans will be left wondering exactly what could’ve been for a player like Gilbert as the Badgers made the switch to the 3-4 defense. Gilbert didn’t stick around to find out, but as one of the most dynamic pass rushers in recent UW history he still has a place on this list.
It is hard to say that he didn’t live up to the recruiting hype, despite only seeing the field for three seasons in Madison.
Most will remember him as a pass-rushing dynamo, but Gilbert also had a knack for making big plays on the edge in the run game as well. He was the perfect complement to JJ Watt early in his career and shined big time in his final season in a Badgers uniform.
3. Louis Nzegwu (2007)
Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 697 nationally, No. 40 SDE, No. 4 in Wisconsin
Career Wisconsin Stats: 100 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 7 passes defensed
The hallmark of Wisconsin’s run to three-straight Rose Bowl appearances was its defense, and Nzegwu was one of the most consistent players on those teams. He was also one of the most versatile players on UW’s defense under Bret Bielema.
Whether it was holding the edge on rushing plays, heading up field on a blitz or dropping in to coverage, Nzegwu was often making the right play at the right time. Nzegwu won’t show up on the career stat sheets for the Badgers, but he was a master at doing all the little things right.
For a player most thought was a developmental prospect at best, Nzegwu proved to be a key component after a few years waiting in the wings.
No defensive end has perhaps a better lasting final memory than Nzegwu, who returned an Oregon fumble 33 yards for a touchdown and a 28-21 Wisconsin lead in the second quarter. Sadly the Badgers lost, but not for a lack of a great game by Nzegwu.
2. Chikwe Obasih (2013)
Recruiting Info: 3-stat, No. 344 nationally, No. 13 WDE, No. 2 in Wisconsin
Career Wisconsin Stats: 84 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks
Wisconsin’s switch to the 3-4 defense has de-emphasized the stats a defensive end is going to rack up. However, few player have been as productive or important to the success of those around him as Obasih has in his first three years of his career at UW.
Obasih rarely comes off the field and it is hardly a coincidence that the right outside linebacker has been successful no matter who was there. Wether it was Conor O’Neill, Joe Schobert, Jack Cichy or T.J. Watt, they’ve all had success and it certainly has helped that they’ve had a player like Obasih to take pressure off them up front.
Don’t think of him as just a space-eater either, as Obasih became more of a playmaker with Justin Wilcox in charge of the defense this past season. It will be interesting to see how the change to Jim Leonhard as defensive coordinator changes things for Obasih and the other defensive ends.
1. J.J. Watt (2008)
Recruiting Info: walk-on
Career Wisconsin Stats: 106 tackles, 36.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks
Maybe a bit of a cheat, but Watt was a transfer who decided to technically walk-on at Wisconsin rather than be converted to an offensive lineman at Central Michigan in 2008. The rest is history, as they say.
Watt went on to use the redshirt year in 2008 to put on another 25 pounds and was 6-5, 290 pounds as a redshirt sophomore in 2009. He flew on to the radar that year with 44 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
The legend of Watt only grew stronger in his junior season as he continued to terrorize opponent backfields and ended the year with a ridiculous 21 tackles for loss to go along with 7.0 sacks. It was a performance that gave him a 1st round draft status, and in just two years time at Wisconsin the status as perhaps the greatest defensive end in school history.
It was only the tip of the iceberg, as Watt has gone on to become a household name in the NFL and earned Defensive MVP three times in his career already. It’s safe to say no defensive end has had the impact on UW that Watt did in his short time in Madison.
Top 2021 OT commits to Badgers
With the Wisconsin Badgers 2020 class nearly full to the brim, a lot of attention has been paid to the 2021 class over this summer and it has paid off big time to date.
That hot streak continued on Sunday as one of the nation’s top offensive tackle prospects committed to the Badgers. Lakeville (Minn.) South offensive tackle Ryle Mahlman made his verbal pledge on Twitter a day after witnessing the Badgers win over Michigan.
With the Badgers rushing for over 350 yards as a team, Mahlman witnessed the smash-mouth style of Wisconsin and couldn’t wait to be part of that tradition.
“The atmosphere is always good there,” Mahlman told Badger247. “In a big game, the way they played it, it brought out the best atmosphere. It was insane. It was crazy fun.
“I love how the whole city rallies around the team.”
“They played smash-mouth football,” Mahlman said.
He comes to the Badgers as the No. 27 ranked offensive tackle in the country and the No. 1 player in the state of Minnesota. He is also the second tackle in the 2021 class, joining Wisconsin native J.P. Benzschawel, who is also a 4-star prospect and the No. 21 ranked offensive tackle in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Make no mistake about it, getting the best player in the state where head coach P.J. Fleck has been trying to build a wall around is a huge win as well.
Mahlman joins quarterback Deacon Hill as members of this class from outside of the state of Wisconsin.
Overall, Wisconsin has five commits in the 2021 class already and that has resulted in them ranking No. 6 in the country early on in the process.
The Badgers are getting another prototypical big-bodied, but athletic player with a lot of room to grow in to his body and with his overall technique. You can easily see his potential as just a sophomore in the film above.
According to those who have seen Minnesota high school football so far this season, he has begun to feel more comfortable in his bend and continued to show the aggression that is the trademark of Badgers offensive lineman.
You can also see that he wore the No. 86 and often was seen as a blocking tight end, which should tell you all you need to know about how athletic he really can be.
Wisconsin once again continues to hit on priority targets in the 2021 class and it will be interesting to see how things continue to shake out after the biggest recruiting weekend of the season happened.
Badgers add sleeper DE to 2020 class
It is official visit season for college football recruiting once again. All it took was the first of those weekends for the Wisconsin Badgers to add to their 2020 class.
Wisconsin was the first Power 5 offer for Thompson when they offered back in July and that recognition was very helpful in getting him on campus and eventually to verbally commit.
Navy had also offered Thompson according to his 247Sports profile.
He is the 15th name to verbally commit to the Badgers program and the second defensive end, joining Cade McDonald (Hudson, Wis.) in the mix.
Thompson’s film screams a ton of potential and a good bit of athleticism. Most importantly, he screams one of those under the radar players who the Badgers excel at identifying and getting the most out of once on campus.
At 6-5 and 255 pounds, the frame is there for him to build off of physically.
Wisconsin sits at No. 28 nationally and No. 5 in the Big Ten in the 2020 recruiting cycle and has 15 total verbal commits.
Acker becomes Badgers 2nd 2021 football commit
It didn’t take long for the Wisconsin Badgers to know that local product Jackson Acker was a kid they wanted. It also didn’t take Acker long to know he wanted to play for the Badgers.
Shortly after earning an offer at camp this weekend, the Verona running back pledged to the Badgers.
In doing so, he became the second commit in the 2021 class and the second in-state product to make his verbal pledge to the Badgers following in the footsteps of JP Benzschawel.
According to Badger247, Acker was timed at 4.63 in the 40-yard dash at camp and comes in at 6-1 and 214 pounds after his sophomore season.
Acker ran for 528 yards and seven touchdowns in his sophomore season as well.
Given UW’s history at running back, this type of an early offer indicates the coaching staff seeing something big time in the player.
You can see that on his film, as he not only uses his speed, but has a big time ability to find creases and get up field quickly when he does find him.
Perhaps the most impressive thing on film is what he does in 1-on-1 situations. Instead of slowing down to try something fancy, Acker just punishes the defender and that is something the Badgers coaching staff loves.
You can see the old-school, bruising back that the Badgers have really missed as of late in him. It could be a nice thunder-and-lightning combination at work here with Acker in the fold.
It also means that the Badgers are likely looking for a pair of running backs in the 2021 class, because they are hard after some of the bigger names as well.
No matter what happens, clearly this coaching staff wasn’t afraid to offer the in-state product and take the chance of having him commit. That’s a strong belief in what they saw in person over limited tape so far to say the least.
Badgers add in-state DE to 2020 class
Sometimes patience and hard work pay off. Such was the case for in-state defensive end Cade McDonald.
After an impressive showing at the Badgers camp this past weekend, the Hudson, Wis. native picked up an offer from the home state team. It took just a few days for McDonald to return the love and announce his commitment to the program.
On Monday, he made things official and became commitment No. 8 in the 2020 class for the Badgers according to Badger247.
Wisconsin was the only FBS offer for McDonald at the time of his commitment. Other schools that were after him included FCS schools like Illinois State, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The Badgers now have the No. 24 ranked class in the 2020 recruiting cycle per 247Sports team rankings.
McDonald becomes just the second defensive player to commit in this class as well, joining fellow in-state product Cole Dakovich on that side of the ball.
Overall, McDonald is a 2-star recruit and the No. 98 ranked defensive end in the country per 247Sports rankings.
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