Grading the Badgers: Defensive line

A great number of defensive minds believe that the way to build a defense in the game of football is with a strong defensive line. There are number of reasons for this theory, including generating a significant pass rush and freeing up linebackers to make tackles in space. Those are just two of the reasons as to why game-changing defensive ends are often drafted high in the NFL and rank among the highest-paid players in the game.

Wisconsin’s defensive line didn’t have the star power to create quite that much buzz across the country, but certainly did job required. The Badgers’ linebackers and secondary posted stellar seasons partly due to how good the defensive line was.

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Wisconsin was able to get to the quarterback without having to bring more than four rushers in most cases. The lack of blitzing allowing there to be more of an emphasis on coverage down the field.

Alec James was the best defensive lineman for Wisconsin this season. He started all 13 games at defensive end and collected 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. While the sack total is impressive but not gaudy, it got the job done. James was named consensus second team All-Big Ten.

Opposite of James often times was Conor Sheehy. He also finished as an All-Big Ten player, being named to the second team by the coaches and the third team by the media. He didn’t quite have the production that James did. Sheehy finished with 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in 12 games played during the season. He was effective enough to get the job done, but again, not a star.

On the interior, Olive Sagapolu was named an honorable mention in the Big Ten for his play. He did miss three games but was productive when on the field. The nose tackle position typically isn’t a place where stats are expected to be accumulated, but rather success is measured by how well the linebackers behind are able to play. That obviously was something that went well for Wisconsin.

The line could have been better had Isaiahh Loudermilk been able to stay heathly. The 6-foot-7, 306-pound defensive lineman was productive in the limited opportunities he had on the field, but he missed seven of the games due to injury. In the five games he played in, he had a pair of sacks and nine total tackles.

Another player that would have been able to help out if not for injury was Chikwe Obasih. The defensive end had a good junior campaign, but was only able to get on the field for five games in 2017.

Grade: B+ | Injuries hurt this group in some aspect. They certainly could have been a deeper group, potentially leading to more production. That being said, the defensive line should necessarily be judged solely on what they did, but also what the other position groups were able to do as a result of their efforts.

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