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: D’Cota Dixon (SR), Eric Burrell (RS SO), Patrick Johnson (RS SO), Seth Currens (RS SO), Scott Nelson (RS FR), Evan Bondoc (SR)
Leaving: Natrell Jamerson, Joe Ferguson
Arriving: Reggie Pearson Jr. (3-star)
Biggest question: Who replaces Natrell Jamerson?
Natrell Jamerson was a revelation in his lone year at safety. Starting all 14 games, he finished sixth on the team in tackles, had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown. Because of his background as a cornerback, the Badgers had flexibility and weren’t worried if Jamerson was forced to cover a receiver in the slot. All of the skills is showed last fall are going to give him a chance to stick with an NFL team.
So how does Wisconsin replace him? Well, it won’t be as simple as it was last year. As soon as the starter in 2016, Leo Musso, was gone, the Badgers pegged Jamerson as his replacement. He grabbed the job in the spring and never let go. That’s unlikely to be the case this time around.
The reason for that is there is little to no experience within the unit outside of senior D’Cota Dixon. Entering his third year as a starter, Dixon overcame injuries and missing two games to earn All-Big Ten honors in 2017. When he was out, Joe Ferguson filled in and largely played well, but he also graduated.
It leaves a bunch of young guys — sophomores Eric Burrell, Patrick Johnson and Seth Currens — that have had small roles to this point, along with redshirt freshman Scott Nelson, to battle for playing time.
“All guys that have contributed on special teams — outside of Scott [Nelson] — and know the speed of the game,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said about the group. “Now it’s time to go push. It’s time to push. That to me is the No. 1 thing.”
And by push, he means compete. There doesn’t appear to be a spot on the roster more open to competition than safety. And that means even a guy like Reggie Pearson, a member of the 2018 recruiting class that enrolled early, will have a shot.
It seems likely that Nelson will have some kind of role on defense. He, along with two other true freshmen, tight end Jake Ferguson and offensive lineman Kayden Lyles, traveled with the team to Minnesota for the final game of the year. Even though there was zero chance they would play, it followed a pattern used in the past by Wisconsin to get guys it expects to have an impact as redshirt freshmen used to the experience of being on the road.
Predicted depth chart:
1st-team: D’Cota Dixon (SR), Eric Burrell (RS SO)
2nd-team: Patrick Johnson (RS SO), Scott Nelson (RS FR)