Once again, the rankings are determined based on performance, expectations and need — a wonderfully vague definition of valuable to justify about any selection.
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Last week's rankings in parentheses.
1. J.J. Watt , DE (LW: 3) — With O'Brien Schofield wreaking havoc last season, it wasn't the tackles for a loss or sacks that stood out the most. It was the simple fact that everyone in the stadium knew — opposing quarterbacks included — that Schofield was going to make two or three plays a game, no matter how many blockers stood in his path. Watt isn't at that level yet. But he is close. He forced a fumble Saturday that Aaron Henry returned for a touchdown and got his hand on three passes at the line of scrimmage (two more then the entire secondary).
2. Gabe Carimi, LT (4) — Much like in Joe Thomas' heyday, the Badgers have become a left-handed team. While position battles rage on at right guard and tackle, Carimi is in the argument for best LT in the nation. Wisconsin gained 278 yards on the ground in the season opener, with the senior anchor leading the charge. Already considering a borderline first-round NFL pick, Carimi can cement that reputation with a healthy final season.
3. Chris Borland, LB (5) — Named defensive MVP by head coach Bret Bielema, Borland picked up right where he left off last season as Big Ten Freshman of the year. The playmaking linebacker came up with two tackles for a loss, including a six- yard sack to kill a UNLV drive. He tweaked his surgically repaired right shoulder, however, and will once again be playing in pain. He held up last season, but if Borland get's any more nicked up, his explosiveness may start to diminish.
4. John Clay, RB (6) — Imagine what Clay would be like if he was healthy AND in shape? The 260-pound bruiser put together a solid first game, starting the Badgers season off with a 18-yard gallop and finishing the drive with a five-yard touchdown plunge. He finished the game with a strong 123 yards and two touchdowns at a 7.2 yards per carry clip. Finishing the game with 17 of the UW's 50 carries, any chance of a Heisman candidacy will be stalled quickly if Clay continues to share the load. Seeing as Montee Ball and James White combined for 138 yards on 27 carries, Clay may just have to settle for defending his Big Ten Offensive Player of the year title.
5. Scott Tolzien, QB (2) — If your beverage of choice is half full, just tell yourself it is nice that Tolzien got his interception out of the way early. If you have finished your glass, the pick was a little too familiar to Tolzien's struggles against Ohio State and Iowa last season. He did finish completing 15-of-20 passes, and had a beautiful play-action strike to David Gilreath that came one yard short of a touchdown. But Tolzien's mediocre arm strength can be exposed when he telegraphs the out route throw. Against a stronger opponent, he might not get a chance to make up for the error.
6. James White, RB (NR) — Thunder and Lightning is an overused cliché for running back duos. But with Clay outweighing White by 60 pounds, sometimes the tried and true nicknames are the best. A sensation in fall camp, White burst for 18-yards on his first collegiate touch. He finished the game second over all on the team in yards from scrimmage, 59 rush yards and 37 receiving yards. A true dazzler, White should be given return opportunities before Big Ten play starts to see if his magic can impact the special teams.
7. Lance Kendricks, TE (1) — Why the precipitous drop? Well, one catch for five yards will hurt your cause as a game breaker. It should be pointed out that Kendricks was marvelous blocking, pancaking at least two linebackers on big UW runs. Talented as anyone in the nation, it remains to be seen if Kendricks can become a true playmaker week in and week out.