1. Alex Hornibrook, Sr.
2. Jack Coan, Jr.
Name to watch: Graham Mertz, Fr.
Mertz comes to Madison as a high four-star prospect, broke records for passing yards and touchdowns at the prestigious All-American Bowl last weekend and will enroll early at UW this month. Considering the play of the Badgers’ quarterback position in 2018, it would be naive to think Mertz has no chance of starting as a true freshman.
That being said, he’ll first have to prove himself capable of such a leap. Hornibrook’s a three-year starter and may have been hampered by injury last season, while Coan showed improvement over his final two starts against Purdue and Miami. Hornibrook’s health continues to be in question after he struggled to overcome a head injury over the second half of the season.
1. Jonathan Taylor, Jr.
2. Garrett Groshek, Jr.
Name to watch: Nakia Watson, R-Fr.
Taylor will enter another season with some of the shortest odds to win the Heisman Trophy. After two years, he sits just 2,235 yards shy of breaking the FBS career rushing record.
Expect Groshek to handle passing-down work again. The departure of Taiwan Deal opens the door for Watson, senior Bradrick Shaw or true freshman Julius Davis to work into the early-down rotation behind Taylor.
1. A.J. Taylor, Sr., and Kendric Pryor, Jr.
2. Danny Davis, Jr., and Jack Dunn, Jr.
Name to watch: Aron Cruickshank, So.
After disappointing production throughout 2018, this entire group returns and will attempt to prove there’s plenty of talent here to turn things around in the passing game.
Cruickshank could ultimately replace Dunn in the two-deep, while junior Adam Krumholz or redshirt freshman Taj Mustapha may factor in as well.
1. Jake Ferguson, So.
2. Kyle Penniston, Sr.
Name to watch: Luke Benzschawel, Jr.
Ferguson ranked second on the team in catches last season and showed improvement as a blocker. He could be in for an even bigger year in 2019.
It’ll be the final chance to Penniston to leave his mark at UW. Benzchawel, known more for his blocking, saw his playing time increase later in the season.
1. Cole Van Lanen, Jr.
2. Tyler Beach, So.
1. Jon Dietzen, Sr.
2. David Moorman, Sr.
1. Tyler Biadasz, Jr.
2. Jason Erdmann, Sr.
1. Kayden Lyles, So.
2. Josh Seltzner, So.
1. Logan Bruss, So.
2. Logan Brown, Fr.
Name to watch: Joe Tippmann, Fr.
Biadasz’s decision to wait on the NFL and Lyles’ move back to offense (from defensive end) could lessen the blow of losing three All-American players — guards Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel and right tackle David Edwards.
Erdmann could compete with Lyles for a starting spot, or rotate with Dietzen if Dietzen experiences the same health restrictions that saw him split time with Van Lanen at left tackle last season. Brown comes to Madison rated by some as a five-star prospect and can’t be counted out of a potential competition with Bruss.
1. Mason Stokke, Jr.
2. Quan Easterling, Fr.
Name to watch: John Chenal, So.
Stokke moved to fullback from inside linebacker a week before the 2018 season began and immediately became the No. 2 guy at the position behind senior Alec Ingold.
No player at this position has much, if any, experience, and with Ingold gone, Stokke’s now the favorite to start. Others could challenge for the top spot this offseason.
1. Isaiahh Loudermilk, Jr., and Garrett Rand, Jr.
2. Matt Henningsen, So., and David Pfaff, Sr.
Name to watch: Isaiah Mullens, R-Fr.
The return of Rand, who tore his Achilles last May, could do wonders for a position group held back by inexperience last season. He hopes to participate on some level this spring before his full return to the field this fall.
Loudermilk could emerge as a defensive star if he stays healthy, and Henningsen showed improvement as the former walk-on’s redshirt freshman year progressed in 2018. Mullens or sophomore Aaron Vopal could work into the rotation and provide added depth.
1. Bryson Williams, So.
2. Gunnar Roberge, Sr.
Name to watch: Gio Paez, Fr.
A season-ending injury to senior Olive Sagapolu forced Williams into the top spot at nose tackle for the final five games of 2018, and he could benefit from that experience heading into a sophomore season that should see him as UW’s no-doubt No. 1 guy at the position.
With a lack of depth at this spot, keep an eye on Paez and fellow true freshmen Keeanu Benton and Rodas Johnson, although UW listed Johnson as a defensive end when he signed in December.
1. Zack Baun, Sr., and Tyler Johnson, Sr.
2. Christian Bell, Jr., and Noah Burks, Jr.
Name to watch: Izayah Green-May, So.
Pass rushing from this position could take a major hit with the departure of Andrew Van Ginkel. Baun returns as a sure starter after getting better throughout his junior season, but Johnson could have competition for the other starting spot.
Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard mentioned Burks, Green-May and redshirt freshman Jaylan Franklin among young defensive players who impressed him in practice during the latter stages of the 2018 season.
1. Chris Orr, Sr., and Jack Sanborn, So.
2. Griffin Grady, Jr., and Mike Maskalunas, Jr.
Name to watch: Leo Chenal, Fr.
Senior inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly were arguably UW’s two best defensive players last season, but the Badgers have talent waiting to replace the pair.
Orr’s started 16 games throughout his career and has a chance to reestablish himself as one of the top players at the position as a senior. Sanborn didn’t redshirt as a true freshman in 2018 and spent the last 11 games earning playing time as the team’s fourth inside backer. Grady and Maskalunas have remained on the fringes of contributing at the position for a while and could finally get their opportunity.
1. Faion Hicks, So., and Rachad Wildgoose, So.
2. Caesar Williams, Jr., and Deron Harrell, So.
Name to watch: Donte Burton, R-Fr.
This is a deep group with every cornerback returning from last season — so deep that junior Madison Cone isn’t even listed above despite playing a significant role at times. The position worked through some growing pains in 2018, but that experience could help moving forward.
There’s plenty of talent behind Hicks and Wildgoose for starting spots to be up for grabs. Even Burton earned a start at Purdue last season, and UW also worked in Alex Smith for a few games as a true freshman.
1. Scott Nelson, So., and Eric Burrell, Jr.
2. Reggie Pearson, R-Fr., and Collin Wilder, Jr.
Name to watch: Titus Toler, Fr.
UW enters 2019 without a ton of experience at safety, although Nelson likely enters his second year as a starter and Burrell earned some valuable playing time when Nelson and senior D’Cota Dixon were sitting out with injuries.
Pearson looked impressive in his one start at Michigan last season but hardly saw the field otherwise in order to redshirt. Wilder, a transfer from Houston who sat out in 2018, garnered some praise from Leonhard last month.
1. Collin Larsh, So.
2. Zach Hintze, Sr.
1. Anthony Lotti, Sr.
2. Connor Allen, Sr.
1. Adam Bay, Jr.
2. Josh Bernhagen, Jr.
Name to watch: Blake Wilcox, Fr.
Rafael Gaglianone’s departure could open up a place kicking competition this offseason, while Lotti and Allen could continue to battle for punting duties as seniors.
Keep an eye on Wilcox, rated as one of the top kickers and punters in the 2019 recruiting class by Kohl’s Kicking.