Wisconsin football: 5 biggest holes to fill in 2021 starting lineup
Wisconsin will need to replace 3 starters on offense and 3 starters on defense in 2021. We already detailed the projected starting lineup and with some of those questions answered since then, here’s a look at where the Badgers’ 5 biggest holes are in next year’s starting lineup.
Defensive end: Matt Henningsen/Isaiah Mullens replacing Isaiahh Loudermilk/Garrett Rand
What you need to know: Outside of how quarterback Graham Mertz progresses in his first offseason as the starting quarterback, the two defensive end positions will play a huge role in determining how good the Badgers can be in 2021. Wisconsin lost both starters Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand in the 3-4 scheme, and both had a ton of experience. Their play allowed linebackers to swoop in to make tackles.
Without them, it appears Matt Henningsen and Isaiah Mullens are next up. Henningsen will go into his fifth year and missed most of the season with an arm injury, only appearing in 2 games. Because of that injury, Mullens was able to get more experience than he otherwise would have for defensive line depth, and he will likely be in the starting lineup as a fourth-year player.
Left tackle: Logan Brown replacing Cole Van Lanen
What you need to know: Any time Wisconsin needs to replace a player who is expected to be selected in the NFL Draft, it should be newsworthy, but the Badgers figure to have a solid replacement for left tackle Cole Van Lanen, who figures to be a Day 3 draft pick. Logan Brown projects to be the man to step in to protect Mertz’s blindside, and the 2019 5-star recruit was the highest-ranked Badgers prospect according to 247Sports since Josh Oglesby (2007).
It takes awhile for linemen to be ready, especially at a place like Wisconsin that has depth and quality players at those positions. After a couple years in the system, Brown figures to be ready to step in and prove his recruiting hype. Wisconsin’s line loses 2 starters, but the Badgers develop the position as well as any team in college football.
Safety: Collin Wilder/Reggie Pearson replacing Eric Burrell
What you need to know: It will be interesting to see where Wisconsin goes at the safety position, as Eric Burrell needs to be replaced. Scott Nelson figures to be the other starting safety but the other spot is up for grabs.
Collin Wilder is going to return for his sixth year in college football, and then there’s an interesting case with Reggie Pearson. He started as a freshman in 2019 but was ruled out all of last season with an undisclosed medical situation. It seems like he could be back on the roster for 2021. If so, I believe he’s going to start in Week 1.
Wide receiver: Healthy Kendric Pryor/Danny Davis replacing injured Kendric Pryor/Danny Davis
What you need to know: A crucial part of Mertz’s development will be how much separation the wide receivers can get. I’m willing to give the Badgers’ passing game a pass in a season in which everything went against them. Even if Mertz puts together a solid offseason and is ready to go, it won’t matter if the Badgers cannot develop playmakers.
The biggest question mark about this offense going into last season was at wide receiver. When Quintez Cephus left for the NFL, it was unclear how the Badgers would replace his production. One offseason later, and we still don’t know because starters Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis missed most of the season. Both are back for 2021 and their development will be critical for what this passing game can be.
Fullback: John Chenal replacing Mason Stokke
What you need to know: This is Wisconsin. This place cares about beer, cheese and fullbacks and not necessarily in that order. When there’s a fullback named Mason Stokke (pronounced stocky) on the move, it needs to be mentioned.
After 5 years, Stokke has moved on. John Chenal is next in line. He has enough experience going into his fourth year to ensure a relatively smooth transition. Chenal should see a decent amount of short-yardage work with the occasional reception but mostly will be used as clearing a path for running back Jalen Berger.
If you’re a Wisconsin fan and want to impress your fellow Badger backers, here’s a fun trivia question. Who had the longest run for Wisconsin in 2020? The answer is John Chenal with a 43-yard rush against Michigan. Let’s hope a running back leads the Badgers in that category in 2021.