Wisconsin made an emphasis to stockpile talent at the wide receiver and offensive line position, which is hard to argue with considering the shortages the Badgers faced at those two positions. That meant some positions had to be limited, one of which was the defensive line.
Only planning to sign one defensive lineman in the class, Wisconsin targeted Aaron Vopal early and got a quick commitment from him in January 2016. With UW graduating three projected starters after the season, Vopal will add some talent to the position. Having a strong motor in his 6-7 frame, Vopal has been able to consistently find his way into opposing backfields, finishing his two year varsity career with 117 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Vopal was able to improve upon his junior numbers as a senior, increasing his TFL numbers from nine to 11 and his sacks from three to 4.5.
While he has already made significant progress in the weight department, Vopal will need to continue to get stronger, learn technique and how to use his arms in order to get around his blocker. Once he learns how to rely on his technique, he’ll be difficult to stop from creating pressure around the edge or tying up blockers to open up opportunities for the linebackers. Vopal is similar in size to Isaiahh Loudermilk, and the two could form a solid duo moving forward as disruptive pass rushers with the ability to deflect passes at the line.
When talking about immediate impact players from this recruiting class, it’s hard not to point to Andrew Van Ginkel potentially making an impact at the outside linebacker position. With Wisconsin losing Vince Biegel to graduation and T.J. Watt early to the N.F.L. draft, Van Ginkel will have the opportunity to be either a starter at outside linebacker or be a part of the rotation.
With two years of eligibility left, Van Ginkel’s game fits with what Wisconsin does on defense. Starting his career at South Dakota before transferring to Iowa Western Community College, Van Ginkel has demonstrated on each level and ability to generate pressure in the backfield, having registered 18.5 TFLs and nine sacks at South Dakota (named the conference’s freshman of the year) and 13 TFLs and 3.5 sacks last year.
Van Ginkel will see a step up in competition but his motor and being able to disengage from blockers should give him an edge over some of the younger players in Wisconsin’s defense, a group that is short on any level of college experience.
While Van Ginkel will have the opportunity to provide an immediate impact, Izayah Green-May will likely need time to develop. Suffering through an injury-plagued senior season, Green-May has plenty of potential to have success. Possessing good speed off the edge, enrolling early will help him get stronger with the ability to add some weight to his tall frame. It may take Green-May time to develop into the player he’s capable of, but Wisconsin will have a plan in place to help him become the player they envision.
In his first year as Wisconsin’s secondary coach, Jim Leonhard was able to put together a successful season with his unit being responsible for 16 of the Badgers’ 22 interceptions. In terms of recruiting, Wisconsin was able some play makers to his unit, including two cornerbacks who have already enrolled and a safety that was highly coveted by a number of Big Ten programs.
Despite Madison Cone being listed at 5-9, he shows tremendous ball skills, evident with his 27 interceptions and 51 pass breakups. Cone may not be the tallest but he’ll be learning from Leonhard, who had a productive collegiate/professional career with his height deficiency. Leonhard will be a good coach for Cone for his ability to teach him different techniques to help him lock down his side of the field.
Faion Hicks plays a little taller than Cone, listed at 5-11, and has shown he’s not afraid to stick his nose in plays. While finishing the career with seven interceptions, Hicks added 75 tackles and was able to be aggressive at the snap of the ball to get opposing receivers off their marks. He will need to continue to get stronger in order to prevent his man from getting a clean break off the line of scrimmage.
Scott Nelson was the last addition to the secondary and, like other players in the class, is a versatile, two-sport athlete. Finishing his four-year career with 164 tackles and 10 interceptions, Nelson was coveted by Leonhard and tight end coach Mickey Turner because of his high football IQ, strong tackling instincts and leadership qualities.
The trio Wisconsin signed on Wednesday add substantial depth and increased the secondary’s overall athleticism.
Chryst has put an emphasis on recruiting top special teams players since arriving at Wisconsin. After nabbing one of the country’s top punters last season in Anthony Lotti, UW was able to secure the nation’s top long snapper in Adam Bay, flipping his commitment from Missouri.
With Connor Udelhoven – the lone long snapper on the 2016 roster – graduating, Bay’s position was an area of extremely importance, as tight end Zander Neuville was the team’s backup this past season. Performing at a high level in Wisconsin’s high school camp, Bay shows the consistent accuracy of getting the football to his holder. Delivering get good zip on the ball, Bay routinely makes things easy on his holder.