With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for Wisconsin. Over the next few weeks we’ll be going position-by-position to see what the future holds for the Badgers.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to each player in terms of their class for 2018. If someone was a sophomore in 2017, they will be called a junior here.
Returning: Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS SO), Madison Cone (SO), Faion Hicks (RS FR), Caesar Williams (RS SO), Cristian Volpentesta (RS SO),
Leaving: Nick Nelson, Derrick Tindal, Lubern Figaro
Arriving: Travian Blaylock (3-star), Donte Burton (3-star), Alex Smith (3-star), Rachad Wildgoose Jr. (3-star)
Biggest question: Who ends up as the No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks?
Wisconsin is losing playmakers up and down the depth chart on defense, but the cornerback spot took an especially big hit. Not only did the Badgers say goodbye to three-year starter Derrick Tindal, but they also lost Nick Nelson early to the NFL. Both were All-Big Ten selections in 2017 and their absence will be felt. But like the other open spots on defense, the coaching staff likes the possibilities with the guys that are still around.
That starts with redshirt sophomore Dontye Carriere-Williams. He played in all 14 games for Wisconsin, mostly as its third cornerback, finishing with 30 tackles, an interception and six pass breakups.
“Now he’s got to take the next step and become a leader in that room,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said of Carriere-Williams, who becomes the Badgers’ No. 1 CB. “[And that’s] really on and off the field to me.”
That room Leonhard speaks of will be populated by guys like sophomore Madison Cone. He saw mostly special teams work in the nine games he played, though he did have a key pass breakup in crutch time against Miami in the Orange Bowl.
“[He’s] a guy that impressed me all year with his approach to the game,” Leonhard said of the former 3-star recruit. “He’s a very mature kid that understands football and wants to get better. Anytime you have that, it’s great.”
Cone was one of two CBs to enroll early among the 2017 recruiting class, with the other being Faion Hicks. He missed most of spring ball and fall camp with an injury, but when he’s feeling right, he’s got the talent to make an impact.
“Love what he’s done once he was able to get healthy,” Leonhard said. “He’s extremely athletic and he’s hungry. He had some injury issues early where he was fighting back…I think he’s got a chance to be very good in this program.”
The other holdover that could challenge for a spot in the rotation is redshirt sophomore Caesar Williams. He, like Hicks, has been hampered by injuries during his time in Madison, meaning he hasn’t necessarily gotten the number of reps he and the coaches would like in practice.
“I think [Williams] is figuring out who he is on the field,” Leonhard said. “He needs a big offseason to physically get where he needs to be to really help this team, but I think he’s close.”
The unknown at the position is the incoming freshmen. One of them, Donte Burton, is already on campus. The 6-foot, 175-pound, Burton chose Wisconsin after de-commiting from North Carolina. He also had offers from Oregon, Nebraska and Minnesota, among others. He’ll be looking to follow in the footsteps of Cincinnati Bengals CB Sojourn Shelton, who enrolled early at Wisconsin, earned a starting spot as a freshman in 2013 and never let it go.
Travian Blaylock was a big win for the Badgers, as they beat out 25 other schools for his services, including Stanford, which some considered to be his dream school. The son of former NFL running back Derrick Blaylock, the 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback could be in the mix right away.
Same goes for Alex Smith, who joins tight end Kyle Penniston as the only California products on Wisconsin’s roster. He, like his two classmates, brings size to the table at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds.
The Badgers also added 3-star recruit Rachad Wildgoose Jr. to their incoming class on Wednesday.
Predicted depth chart:
1st-team CBs: Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS SO), Madison Cone (SO)
2nd-team CBs: Faion Hicks (RS FR), Donte Burton (FR)