All-Decade Team: Wisconsin Badgers Defense
A decade of dominance is about to come to a close for the University of Wisconsin.
Putting the bow on the winningest decade in program history, Wisconsin went 102-33 (.756 winning percentage) from 2010-09, enjoyed seven double-digit winning seasons, won three Big Ten championships, had 10 consensus first-team All-Americans and brought home bowl victories in the Cotton, Holiday, Orange, Outback and Pinstripe. You don’t accomplish those feats without having great players.
With that in mind, BadgerBlitz.com does its best to name our Wisconsin all-decade team. There are sure to be some snubs or disagreements, but bottom line is that the Badgers would win a ton of games with this 22-man lineup.
In part two of our series, we look at our first-decade defense.
Defensive tackle - Beau Allen
A major recruiting score for Wisconsin, beating out the in-state Gophers and Stanford for the four-star recruit, Allen was a key cog in the middle of the defense during its transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Players will rarely put up large statistical numbers at the nose position, but Allen delivered 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks in his final three seasons. A seventh-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles, Allen won a Super Bowl with Philly in 2017 and earned himself a three-year, $15 million contract from Tampa Bay in 2018.
Defensive ends - J.J. Watt and Conor Sheehy
It’s hard to imagine Watt – one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL over the last decade – beginning his career as a walk-on transfer tight end. Watt’s 2010 season was one of the greatest by a defensive player in Wisconsin history – 62 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, seven sacks and an interception. He led the Badgers in tackles for loss, sacks, quarterback hurries, forced fumbles and blocked kicks. No UW defender has come close to matching that stat line since he left in 2010. Watt earned several All-American honors, including a first-team nod from Pro Football Focus.
Sheehy was a top in-state prospect coming out of high school and turned down multiple Power 5 offers, including one from Michigan, to play at Wisconsin. Sheehy was a versatile weapon for the Badgers with his ability to play multiple positions across the d-line. His solo tackles and his tackles for loss increased as his career went on.
Outside linebackers - Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt
The No. 73 overall player in his 2012 recruiting class by Rivals.com, Biegel started 40 of his 54 games at Wisconsin and was involved in 41 wins, 26 Big Ten wins and three consecutive bowl wins. More importantly, he was part of a defense that allowed just 16.6 points per game and 292.5 total yards per game over four years from 2013-16, the No. 2 marks in the FBS over that span (Alabama: 15.1 ppg, 287.6 ypg). The Wisconsin Rapids native finished his career ranked No. 7 all-time at UW with 21.5 sacks and ranked No. 10 with 39.5 tackles for loss, not to mention recording 191 total tackles, five pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
The third Watt to make our list, T.J. was a struggling tight end with constant lower-body problems during his early tenure. A switch in fall camp in 2015 changed his career. Playing in all 13 games in 2015, Watt exploded on to the scene in 2016 with 63 total tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss. A consensus first-team All-Big Ten pick and a first-team All-American, Watt skipped his senior season and was a first-round selection by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Inside linebackers - Chris Borland and T.J. Edwards
Two unheralded, under-the-radar recruits, Borland and Edwards are on the list of the best linebackers to ever play at Wisconsin.
Borland was a first-team All-American, the 2013 Big Ten defensive player of the year, the 2013 Big Ten linebacker of the year, the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the year and a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection. He finished his career with a Big Ten-record 15 forced fumbles, second-most in FBS history, and sixth at UW with 417 tackles. From 2011-13, Borland had at least 100 tackles. His 50.0 career tackles for loss ranked fourth at Wisconsin.
Edwards was also a first-team All-American and runner-up for the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. He recorded four interceptions in 2017, the most by a linebacker from a Power-Five conference. He led Wisconsin in tackles in 2015, 2016 and 2018, closing last season as UW’s team leader in tackles (113), tackles for loss (11.5) and interceptions.
Cornerbacks - Nick Nelson and Sojourn Shelton
Another great transfer pickup for Wisconsin, Nelson was Wisconsin best lockdown corner during the 2017 run to the Orange Bowl. He started all 14 games at cornerback and set a single-season school record with nation-leading 21 pass breakups. To go along with his 35 total tackles, Nelson returned 24 punts for 206 yards (8.6 average), including a touchdown against Michigan. With Nelson on the field, Wisconsin finished the year ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense (262.1 yards per game), No. 3 in scoring defense (13.9 points per game), No. 3 in rushing defense (98.4 ypg) and No. 1 in pass efficiency defense (96.4).
Shelton was on the opposite end of the experience spectrum. He started his first game as a true freshman and a primary starter all four seasons, even registering the game-clinching interception in his final game against USC. Shelton started a school-record 51 games and had 32 pass breakups, nine interceptions and 41 passes defended. His sophomore and junior seasons were inconsistent, but he finished on a strong note with career-highs in interceptions (four) and pass breakups (12) during his 2016 senior season.
Safeties - Michael Caputo and D'Cota Dixon
When it came to leadership, Wisconsin couldn’t do much better than these two. Caputo started 40 of his 53 career games and led Wisconsin’s defensive backs in tackles in 2013, 2014 and 2015 (his 106 tackles in 2014 were the best on the team). Dixon played in 51 games with 32 starts at safety, recording 177 total tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, five interceptions and 16 pass breakups.