NSD Grades: Defense

Fresno (CA) City College safety Donnell Vercher

MADISON - Signing nine defensive players with an average Fox Sports Next star rating of 2.78, Wisconsin filled some gaps and built for the future as it transitions to new schemes. Badger Nation hands out the grades based on personnel, needs addressed and overall recruiting performance.

Defensive Line

Brookfield Central has a long standing tradition of being the University of Wisconsin's best in-state pipeline. That holds true with defensive end Chikwe Obasih, a talented defensive end who picked Wisconsin over seven other schools, but the Badgers will likely that phrase to all of Brookfield after securing East's Alec James.

With Obasih's intelligence and James' athleticism, Andersen has two gifted runners to be the bookends of his defense.

"It's great to have Alec and Chikwe in that spot to be able to build two freshmen defensive ends," said Andersen. "The good thing about both those young men, speaking of Alec and of Chikwe in the same note, they're both athletic enough to be able to get involved into the zone blitz scheme.

"When we do get into the odd front versus the even front, they're defensive ends that can play with the hands on the ground if need be. They can also get back and drop out in coverage. Both of them can drop out in coverage, and they're both very, very smart young men. They can handle the mental part of the game, and they're going to blossom and grow physically as they get into the conditioning program as we move forward."

As successful as Wisconsin was recruiting the defensive ends, UW was less successful on the interior. The Badgers lost four-star recruit Darius Latham, who de-committed from Wisconsin to commit to Indiana, and failed to add a full scholarship defensive tackle; a huge need considering UW loses its starting two defensive tackles following the season.

Wisconsin also failed to successfully recruit Milton (Wis.) four-star defensive end A.J. Natter throughout the coaching chance.

The Badgers did add West Des Moines (IA) Sam Raridon, who was originally on a full scholarship until this week when he was put on a grayshirt.

Grade: B

Linebackers

Linebacker wasn't a huge area of need for Wisconsin entering this cycle, but the Badgers couldn't pass up Garret Dooley. The first commit in the 2013 class, Dooley projects to be a middle linebacker, a position he made 132 tackles, including 18.0 for loss and 14.5 sacks, as a senior.

When Wisconsin new staff arrived, the Badgers recognized from a quick player evaluation that the defense needed another outside linebacker who could thrive in the 3-4 defense. That player turned out to be Leon Jacobs, who defensive coordinator Dave Aranda found.

"Leon is a young man that played two years of football," Andersen said. "Unbelievable basketball player (who) did some tremendous things. He decided he was going to try football, the high school coaches did a great job in talking him into playing football and it was the right move. His best days are definitely ahead of him. He's a tremendous, tremendous young man, comes from a great home, high expectations of him academically. The education at the University of Wisconsin is something that family couldn't say no to."

Jacobs could be the steal of the class, and we're not saying that because he's one of only two two-star athletes in the class.

Grade: A-

Cornerbacks

Losing both starting cornerback following last season, Wisconsin needs depth behind Devin Gaulden, Darius Hillary, Peniel Jean and others. Charlie Partridge found Sojourn Shelton, who was committed to Florida State, and helped convince him to give Wisconsin a closer look. Shelton has speed, confidence and is starting to add weight to his frame now that he's on UW's campus.

"He's been here two weeks and he's already gained eight pounds," said Andersen. "He's moving in the right direction. He's very gifted. He's very talented. How he handles it mentally is the next step. At some point, does it become too much for him to get on the field as a freshman? I don't think it will. I have great expectations for him as a player to come in and compete early. I feel very good about that."

Wisconsin also convinced one-time Minnesota commit Keelon Brookins to flip his commitment. Brookins, who is on campus to rehab his second ACL tear, impressed Ben Strickland with his speed during UW's high school camp.

Bielema's staff were close with Devin Butler (Notre Dame), Cameron Walker (California) and Darius Allensworth (California), and also were involved with Adrian Baker (Clemson), Tre Bell (Vanderbilt), but couldn't close the deal.

Still looking to add speed after taking the job, secondary coach Bill Busch found cornerback Jakarrie Washington and his sub-4.4 40-yard dash time in Massachusetts.

"He's a very, very fast, athletic, tough minded young man," said Andersen. "We got in on him late through this recruiting process. He was here last weekend with his mom and his grandmother and they were very excited to be here."

Shelton has the opportunity to play right away, but Brookins and Washington will likely need at least one season before figuring into the plans.

Grade: B

Safeties

The success or failure of this group will fall on whether Donnell Vercher can step in and play right away. A junior college prospect with two years of eligibility left, Andersen and Aranda cited Vercher's ‘ball-hawking' abilities after the sophomore finished with eight interceptions last season.

"He was on our radar in our past, we got back on him late after he came back from what was going to be his last trip and we asked him up to come out on the last weekend," Andersen said. "He handled himself very, very well. I am excited about him. We expect him to come in and compete in the safety position."

In-state prospect Matt Hubley was compared to former Brookfield Central standout and cornerbacks coach Ben Strickland by Andersen. Hubley played on both sides of the ball for Waukesha Catholic Memorial and projects as a safety down the road.

"Matt Hubley (is) tough, gritty, does it all, runs the ball, he's physical," said Andersen. "He can tackle you. His football mind is very impressive … Matt's a tremendous, tremendous player and excited about what he brings to the table."

No position suffered more in the turnover than the safety position, as all three de-commitments came from players who had the potential to fill major roles. Tiquention Coleman was expected to come in and compete right away from the junior college ranks, but he flipped to Arkansas before Andersen was even announced.

Tyler Foreman was on the fence about his decision, but decided to go to UCLA after the current staff told him he could eventually be moved to a linebacker depending on his body developed. On signing day, Marcus Ball made it known that he would be playing at Arizona State.

The players Wisconsin received aren't bad, but could have been a lot better.

Grade: C-

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