Much of the Wisconsin Badgers Football hype for 2023 has been around the offense, and rightfully so. When things change as drastically as they have, it’s impossible not to run with the excitement. Unfortunately, that means the defensive side of the ball has been overlooked a bit, at least in comparison.
By all accounts, the defense looked great during spring practices, with that group being the star of the show in the spring scrimmage. Most of the talking points have been about the young secondary and the need to add a corner or two with experience. We also heard plenty about how Hunter Wohler has been all over the field making players. A position group that has gotten little attention, but may be the best this season, is inside linebacker.
Pro Football Focus Ranks Maema Njongmeta the Top Returning Linebacker
Wisconsin Badgers football has been a linebacker factory over the last handful of years. Whether it be pass-rushing linebackers or inside linebackers, the NFL is littered with Wisconsin football products. Based on last season’s Pro Football Focus grades, the Badgers likely have another future linebacker draft pick ready to have a huge junior season.
Maema Njongmeta was a 3-star recruit out of Illinois that finally got his chance to shine last season. After spending his first season stuck behind future NFL players, he blossomed in a big way as a sophomore. Not only did he lead the team in tackles with 95, but he was third in sacks with 3.5 while recording an interception.
The 6-foot, 230-pound defensive playmaker was everywhere last season, and it showed in the Pro Football Focus rankings as he rated out as 89.9 out of 100. That’s the top score among Power 5 linebackers returning for 2023. Pro Football Focus grades aren’t the end all be all, but seeing his ranking match up with the eye test is encouraging.
Inside linebacker was a big question mark heading into last season after Leo Chenal and Jack Sandborn left for the NFL. Njongmeta and Jordan Turner stepped in and performed admirably, considering their lack of reps. Admirably might be selling it short as expectations have skyrocketed for Mjongmeta heading into this season. He has a new defensive coordinator, a new scheme, and young potential all around him.
With inexperience in the secondary, at pass rusher, and along the defensive line, the middle linebacker duo will be relied on to anchor a defense with plenty of upside. If Njongmeta improves on his 2022 season, he could be next in a long line of Wisconsin linebackers to make play on Sundays.
Wisconsin Badgers football is in a great spot heading into their first season under new coach Luke Fickell. Even though the national hype and spotlight is on the offense and Phil Longo, there is plenty of potential and talent on the defense. Losing Wisconsin Jim Leonard hurts, but a defense led by Maema Njongmeta keeps the floor high with a limitless ceiling.
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