Scott Nelson comes in at No. 13 in our Key Badgers series.
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Key Wisconsin Badgers: No. 13 - Safety Scott Nelson

Wisconsin's 2021 football season is right around the corner, so BadgerBlitz.com ranked the top 30 players who we think will be the keys to success for Paul Chryst's squad this year.

Playing time, past performance and positional depth all factored into our staff rankings.

STRENGTHS 

Scott Nelson is expected to start at safety this season.
Scott Nelson is expected to start at safety this season. (Kelli Steffes/UW Athletics)

It didn't take long for Scott Nelson to make his presence felt on the field this past season.

Nelson, who suffered a torn ACL in the 2019 opener against South Florida, picked off a throw from Michigan's Joe Milton on the first defensive snap of the game against the Wolverines. The play kicked off an impressive season for the now redshirt senior. Starting in all six he played in 2020, Nelson tallied 21 tackles, including four for a loss, one sack and a pair of interceptions. He has appeared in 16 games and started in 15 contests since becoming a starter in 2018.

Nelson, 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds, turned into a reliable playmaker this past season for Wisconsin. He showcased an ability to come up and stop the run, along with a nose for the ball when playing as a deep safety. He is slated to start alongside his roommate, Collin Wilder.

"I think he had a huge year last year.You look back at what he was able to do, it's unfortunate that it got cut short because you just don't see players sustain it for that 12-, 13-, 14-game full season, and I think he was ready to do that," defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard told reporters in the spring. "You just look at the Michigan game and you get an interception the first play of the game, get the TFL in the backfield. He was playing so much faster and confident than he was even that year before. He felt he was ready to make that transition but obviously that got cut short."

WEAKNESSES 

Heading into his fifth season with the program, the playbook and scheme are not an issue for Nelson. Over the offseason, his focus has been on his footwork and the finer details of the safety position. Nelson mentioned that he has been working on his open-field tackling and putting himself in position to make more plays by recognizing different cues from an offense through film study.

"I think the one thing me and Coach Leonhard talked about was cleaning up my footwork. A lot of it sometimes I freestyle it, just working on a steady pedal, getting to a challenge, crossover and then a clean breaks," Nelson told reporters this spring. "Not hopping around as much because even in practice I can get myself in trouble so cleaning up my footwork was the main thing. Open-field tackling is always a work in progress for anyone who plays in space so consistently trying to make that easier and smoother and then just finishing plays."

Scott Nelson: 2020 Numbers
Games Played Tackles Solo Sacks PD INTs

6

21

17

1

1

2

WHY HE'S No. 13

Nelson will be the anchor on the back end of Wisconsin's defense. With continued development, he can provide splash plays on a consistent basis for the Badgers, whether in the form of a tackle for loss or an interception.

OVERALL

After starting early as a redshirt freshman, Nelson has battled all the way back from injury and showed the kind of dynamic playmaker he can be at safety. With another step in his development, Wisconsin's defense can possess an elite safety.

"He learned from his freshman year when he was playing a lot of football, it took a while to come to fruition and he's carried it over this spring," Leonhard said. "From a physical aspect, I think he broke every record in the weight room from before he tore his ACL, so I think you're starting to see the confidence in his body and he's able to push himself and do things that maybe even last year he was not quite sure he was ready for.

"Making plays helps with that confidence. Now you're really starting to see that belief that he's not only where he was before that ACL but he's significantly past it and the consistency in his play and his playmaking is showing up everyday."

Key Wisconsin Badgers 2021 Countdown
RANK PLAYER J.M. J.K. R.V. Total Points

No. 30

Collin Larsh

1

1

1

3

No. 29

Andy Vujnovich

2

2

2

6

No. 28

Jack Dunn

3

0

3

6

No. 27

Josh Seltzner

5

3

6

14

No. 26

Jack Eschenbach

7

4

5

16

No. 25

Hayden Rucci

6

6

4

16

No. 24

Jack Nelson

9

7

7

23

No. 23

Chimere Dike

8

8

8

24

No. 22

Dean Engram

4

11

11

26

No. 21

Noah Burks

10

10

10

30

No. 20

Collin WIlder

11

9

12

32

No. 19

Isaiah Mullens

12

16

9

37

No. 18

Tyler Beach

14

12

13

39

No. 17

John Chenal

13

15

14

42

No. 16

Chez Mellusi

17

14

15

46

No. 15

Kendric Pryor

19

13

19

51

No. 14

Caesar Williams

18

18

16

52

Voting panel included Jon McNamara, Jake Kocorowski and Raul Vazquez