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.
Badgers get commitment from 2020 OLB Cole Dakovich
The 209 football recruiting cycle hasn’t technically ended and already things are heating up quickly for the 2020 Wisconsin Badgers recruiting class.
A day after accepting a verbal pledge from in-state wide receiver Chimere Dike, the Badgers now have their 6th member of the 2020 class with Waukesha (Wis.) Catholic outside linebacker Cole Dakovich announcing his pledge on Twitter on Friday morning.
This was another quick recruiting life cycle, as UW offered on Saturday during their first junior day and Dakovich jumped on the offer a week later.
He is another under the radar recruit, with the Badgers offer being his only to date. However, that is more likely because Dakovich has played only one year of football since the 7th grade and it was a productive year at that.
In his first year back to playing football, Dakovich racked up 105 tackles, 18 for loss, 2.0 sacks, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles. He also had 16 receptions for 150 yards and a touchdown on the offensive side of the ball.
Wisconsin has a long and storied history of identifying these types of prospects and having them turn out well over their time in Madison.
He is not ranked by any of the scouting services out there, that’s how little football he has played to date.
The Badgers are now 11th nationally in the 2020 team recruiting rankings after some movement around the country yesterday.
In-state 2020 WR picks Badgers
Just a month after the Wisconsin Badgers got the 2019 football class signed, they got their fifth verbal pledge to their 2020 class.
Following an offer at junior day on Saturday, Waukesha (Wis.) West wide receiver Chimere Dike jumped at the chance to follow the team he’s been a fan of all of his life.
Getting this commitment gives UW five players in the mix, but also their first non-offensive lineman commit in the class.
Wisconsin is getting a player they found early in his football playing days and only competed with Iowa State for a scholarship offer to date.
This past season Dike caught 79 passes for 1,091 yards and 12 touchdowns. At 6-1, 170 pounds, Dike gives UW a nice frame to work with and his production says there is potential here.
It has led to him being rated a 3-star prospect by 247sports and the No. 6 ranked player in the state. He’s also the No. 99 ranked wide receiver in the 2020 class.
Wisconsin had him near the top of their board and getting him to verbally commit this quickly has to make the coaching staff very happy.
It also means the Badgers continue to keep a very high national ranking for this class. Wisconsin is ranked No. 10 in the country and No. 2 in the Big Ten right now. They also have a crazy .890 average player rating for the class so far.
Wisconsin Badgers 2019 Early Signing Day Breakdown: Tight End
All 19 scholarships the Wisconsin Badgers had to offer in the 2019 recruiting class have been spoken for. Early National Signing Day was yesterday and everyone chose to put pen to paper and faxing actual Letters of Intent in.
But, we aren’t done breaking down the class and we continue our journey through the 2019 Badgers recruits today. This time it’s a look at Tight End.
UW Needs: 2
UW Commits: 2
Already Signed: Hayden Rucci, Clay Cundiff
After jumping in with some big time recruits at the position, Wisconsin got back down to looking at players who could be good blockers and pass catchers once again.
Rucci was a big get, with his recruitment a good battle amongst high-level teams. Cundiff was a late addition, flipping from Kansas during his senior season and UW believes they got a hidden gem from the 3-star recruit.
Biggest Get: Hayden Rucci
There are very different versions of what a quality tight end can be. There’s the receiver-heavy kind and the blocking-heavy kind, but in Rucci, the Badgers found a mix of both.
There wasn’t a lot of consensus on how good Rucci was in this class, with Rivals having the Badgers signee as their No. 15 ranked TE and 247Sports ranking him at No. 31.
What we can see from his junior film is someone who isn’t afraid to block on the line of scrimmage, but also has the ability to slip past defenders. Wisconsin got themselves a quality addition that may not have to immediately play should everyone else ahead of him stay healthy.
Biggest Miss: Hudson Henry
It’s not too often the Badgers are a serious contender with top-level recruits, but that was the case early on with 4-star tight end Hudson Henry. UW was given a long look by Henry, but the Little Rock, Ark. product couldn’t pass up playing for the home state Razorbacks.
Missing on the No. 60 player in the class stunk, but the Badgers ended up with some quality at the position despite this miss.
Biggest Target Still Out There: None
Wisconsin got what it wanted in this class in terms of a more well-rounded player at tight end.
What to Expect From This Group: Dual-Threat Ability
As hard as it is to admit, the Badgers offense is at its best when there are multiple looks from the tight end group. Having a blocking tight end along with a pass-catching option has made UW’s offense scary-good in the past.
With the additions of Rucci and Cundiff, Wisconsin has found two players who are good on the line of scrimmage and leaking out to receive passes as well.
Pairing either of them as they develop with the likes of Jake Ferguson could make UW’s offense really dangerous in the coming years.
Wisconsin Badgers 2019 Early Signing Day Breakdown: Defensive Tackle
Believe it or not, national signing day is here and the fax machines were buzzing early on Dec. 19th.
For many kids it is the time they finally get to do what they’ve wanted to do for months, if not years. Yes, they’ll officially be able to call themselves Wisconsin Badgers.
It’s 9:30am and believe it or not the biggest names UW had verbally committed to the program have already made it official. All the speculation and last-minute wringing of hands can cool off now.
We’ll continue to break down the class that just signed as we’ve done leading up to signing day.
Up today is a look at a position that saw injury and youth on the recruiting trail really devastate the group — defensive tackle.
UW Needs: 2
UW Commits: 3
Signed Early: Rodas Johnson, Gio Paez, Keenau Benton
With Olive Sagapolu graduating after this season and only one true nose guard/defensive tackle on the roster (Bryson Williams), this group was going to have more than one player in it.
In Benton, Johnson and Paez, the Badgers continue the trend they set with Williams — mainly concentrating on athleticism for the inside of the defensive line.
Biggest Get: Rodas Johnson
Getting a big time player at this position was a premium for the Badgers. Doing so right in Ohio State’s backyard…well that was just icing on the cake.
Wisconsin beat out the likes of Michigan and Penn State down the stretch of his recruitment and that was huge.
Johnson comes to the Badgers as the No. 29 ranked defensive tackle in the class and on film he shows potential to be a dominating force on the inside. At the very least, he’s got a college-ready body and can be the immediate back up to Williams.
Biggest Miss: Isiah Gibson
While the Badgers are happy with the three players they got, UW also was very heavily involved in the race for Gibson’s pledge. In the end it came down to the Badgers and Kentucky, with the Ohio native choosing to stay closer to home.
It also would’ve been interesting if Benton or more likely, Paez, would’ve even been in the mix had Gibson chosen Wisconsin.
Biggest Target Still Out There: None
UW has finished up its class and there are no expected signings at the position.
What to Expect From This Group: Athleticism
For all the talk of the size of Olive Sagapolu, the biggest lesson is that athleticism really matters on the inside. The ability to take on a double team or eat up space doesn’t just mean you’re a big man. It means you have the strength and athletic ability to get the job done.
When watching film on all three of UW’s signees, it’s clear that they all are athletes with big frames to work with. The more athletes along the line, the better UW’s linebackers look as well.
This will be a transformative group of inside players for Wisconsin’s defense.
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