There has been a lot of focus on the Wisconsin Badgers football 2024 recruiting class, and rightfully so. It’s shaping up to be one of the best in school history, but we can’t overlook the 2023 class. Luke Fickell and the rest of the staff did a fantastic job of salvaging a class that could have been a disaster. Any time a coaching change happens, it’s very common for players to back off their commitments.
The new regime retained the majority of commits and added a few more. Although this won’t go down as Luke Fickell’s first official recruiting class, a lot of talent has been added to the team this season. I’ve mainly covered the 2024 recruits and beyond, but I wanted to give a breakdown of this year’s class, as we’ll be seeing them in action very soon.
Wisconsin Badgers Football 2023 Class Breakdown
I’m not going to go through all 15 recruits, but I want to break it down into categories. My goal is to highlight the players we may see this coming season and names to look out for in the next couple of years.
Biggest Opportunity for a Year No. 1 Impact
I think these players will have an opportunity in year No. 1 and could make an impact. Luke Fickell filled in a lot of the holes through the transfer portal, but that doesn’t mean the roster is perfect. Whether from injuries or ineffective play by others, we could see these players contribute early in their careers.
Jamel Howard (Defensive Line)
Jamel Howard was the last addition to the 2023 class. He was a high priority for Paul Chryst, which stayed true when the new staff came in. With Keeanu Benton heading to the NFL, a ton of defensive line production went with him. Senior Gio Paez is likely to get the first opportunity to fill that role, but the production for him hasn’t been there yet.
Redshirt Freshman Curt Neal will also get a look, but he is still on the raw side after missing his senior season due to injury. Enter Jamel Howard. The 3-star Illinois native is a massive human at 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds. Not only does he meet the size requirements, but his game fits as well. There is a ton of power coming from that frame and surprising burst and short-area quickness. If he can hold up against B1G offensive linemen, he has the athleticism to be a difference-maker for the Wisconsin Badgers.
A.J. Tisdell (Cornerback)
Unlike the defensive line, the cornerback position was addressed during the offseason for the Wisconsin Badgers. Luke Fickell used the transfer portal to his advantage to bring in players to help a position group that not only struggled last season but lost players due to graduation.
I had to add Tisdell to this list because cornerback is still a question mark for this team. There is plenty of potential on the team as redshirt sophomore Ricardo Hallman has impressed, but graduate student Alexander Smith and senior transfer Jason Maitre are the only two with a true seniority advantage on the Wisconsin Badgers.
Tisdell doesn’t have incredible size but looks extremely comfortable covering in the open field. He’s able to change direction easily with good hip flexibility and has the straight-line speed to keep up with the vast majority of receivers he’ll face in the B1G. With little proven talent ahead of him on the depth chart, he may be one of the first names called if an injury happens.
Tucker Ashcraft (Tight End)
Wisconsin Badgers Football has a wide-open tight end room heading into this season. Yes, there is a lot of experience there, but not much in terms of high-end production. Clay Cundiff has gone down the last two seasons with season-ending injuries, Hayden Rucci scored his first career touchdown in the bowl game last season, and Jack Eschenbach is a depth player.
One of those players could rise above the rest in the new offense, but none have looked like game-changers on tape. There are some exciting young options at the position on the team, but none seem to be more physically ready than Ashcraft. At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, the Seattle, Wash. native has the size and physicality to see the field early. He also moves very well for his size and has soft hands. Being able to block at a high level will get him playing time, and having the ability to make plays downfield will keep him there.
The beauty of the 2023 Wisconsin Badgers recruiting class is its potential. I could see a few of them contributing this season, but there is real potential for some of them to develop into NFL prospects.
Tyler Jansey (Middle Linebacker)
If the middle linebacker position wasn’t stacked this season, he would have made the list above, but he’s blocked by proven college players at the moment. Wisconsin Badgers Football has done a great job of recruiting and developing outside and inside linebackers over the years, and Jansey looks like he could be up next.
At the time of signing with the Wisconsin Badgers, the Illinois native was 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds. He’ll likely put on more weight in college, but he has the size, speed, and instincts to be a game wrecker. Senior Maema Njongmeta will be gone after this season, while Jordan Turner and Jake Chaney are juniors. We could see a middle linebacker core of Bryan Sandborn and Tyler Jansey in 2025, if not sooner.
Braedyn Moore (Safety)
Much like middle linebacker, the safety position for the 2023 season is loaded for the Wisconsin Badgers. Hunter Wohler and Kamo’i Latu will lead the way, with a finally healthy Travian Blaylock pushing for playing time as well. With Wohler being the only one of the three with a year of eligibility left after this season, opportunities will be there in spades in 2024 and beyond.
It’s looking like sophomore Austin Brown will be a major piece moving forward, but Braedyn Moore is also in a good position to be a program cornerstone starting as early as next season. Moore did it all in high school as he played corner, safety, and receiver. That experience puts him in a great spot to be an impact safety at Wisconsin. The 4-star recruit out of Ohio has the size Fickell covets at 6-foot-2, along with the ball skills and physicality to wreak havoc in the secondary.
Trech Kekahuna (Wide Receiver)
The wide receiver room looks vastly different heading into the 2023 season than it did in 2022 for the Wisconsin Badgers. Although familiar faces in Chimere Dike, Keontez Lewis, and Skyler Bell are still here, four receivers were added through the transfer portal, with virtually all of them looking like immediate or near-future contributors.
That may not seem like an ideal situation for an incoming freshman, but Kekahuna has the versatility to force his way onto the field. He likely fits best in the slot, but in a Phil Longer offense, we could see him lined up all over the field. Kekahuna is a great route runner who is quick off the line and very smooth out of his breaks. He also shows good elusiveness in the open field with impressive lateral quickness. I can see him wracking up first downs in this air raid offense in two years.
Toughest to Judge
Predicting the development of recruits is tough, but every class has a couple of players that are tough to predict due to how raw they are or their schematic fit. They could evolve into NFL prospects or struggle with consistency and finding a role. These are the members of the 2023 Wisconsin Badgers class that fall under that category.
Amare Snowden (Safety)
Amare Snowden is a player I considered putting under the biggest upside category, but I think he fits better here. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound defensive back out of Michigan has all of the potentials in the world. After choosing football over baseball at the next level, it’ll be interesting to see how he develops with all of his focus going to one sport.
Snowden has the ideal size to play safety at the next level and has the ball skills to cause a lot of problems. With that said, I don’t know what to think of his speed. In a straight line, he’s fine but doesn’t look overly fluid when changing directions. He seems like the type of player that could crush the weight room and develop into a pass rusher of some kind if safety doesn’t work out. In a 3-3-5 scheme, however, a hybrid safety linebacker may make the most sense.
Jordan Mayer (Defensive End)
Jordan Mayer is a tough player to forecast, and it’s not because I don’t think he’s a good football player. He seems like a tweener to me. He doesn’t have the speed or athleticism to be an outside linebacker but currently doesn’t have the size or strength to be a defensive end in a 3-3-5 scheme.
He reminds me a bit of JJ Watt as a recruit for the Wisconsin Badgers because you can see the potential, but a lot of physical growth is needed. He has the frame to be able to add a lot of good weight, and I don’t see him losing much mobility while doing so. In a more traditional 4-3-4 scheme, I can see the development and fit more clearly, but it’ll be interesting to see how he develops with the Wisconsin Badgers and what position fits him best.
Nate White (Running Back)
Nate White will be in an interesting position the second he steps on campus for the Wisconsin Badgers. He’s a homegrown product that won’t be pressured to play in year one but could have a huge opportunity to play in year two. Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi are expected to handle the vast majority of the load this season. The third running back is up in the air at the moment, but it sounds like redshirt freshman Cade Yacamelli has impressed.
With Mellusi set to graduate after this season and Allen likely heading to the NFL, next season could be a huge opportunity for White. He has to use this season to improve physically, although his 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame won’t hinder him. White is a fast back with great feet, good change-of-direction abilities, and underrated power.
I do like White’s potential on the field, but his window for opportunity is going to be small. With the 2024 class having three running back commits, two of them being highly touted, White needs to establish himself as the next man up this season. That likely doesn’t mean playing time, but that means gaining the trust of the coaching staff and putting himself in a spot to lead a young position group next season.
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