Jacob Pedersen leads impressive group of Badgers tight ends

BY foxsports • July 29, 2013

This is the fourth in a series of 11 previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 5 start of practice.


Rating (1-to-10 scale): 8

Projected starter: Jacob Pedersen (redshirt senior)

Key backups: Brian Wozniak (Redshirt senior), Sam Arneson (junior), Brock DeCicco (redshirt senior), Austin Traylor (redshirt sophomore), Austin Maly (redshirt sophomore), T.J. Watt (freshman)

The breakdown: When people think of Wisconsin's offense, the first position groups that come to mind are usually running backs and offensive linemen. But the Badgers' tight ends continue to state their case as one of the most reliable and important components to the offense.

One again, the tight end group begins with Jacob Pedersen, a redshirt senior who has accomplished quite a bit already. Pedersen was named the Big Ten Tight End of the Year and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches. He enters 2013 as a preseason candidate for the Mackey Award, given to the nation's best tight end.

Pedersen's numbers have been consistent over the last two seasons, but Wisconsin fans probably hope he can take an even bigger jump in his final year. After all, he has only averaged just over three catches per game in 2011 and 2012. Pedersen's 27 catches last season ranked him tied for 38th among all tight ends in the FBS. Five tight ends in the Big Ten alone tallied more catches than Pedersen a season ago.

Part of the reason for Pedersen's lack of touches comes from Wisconsin's focus on running the ball, particularly the past two seasons with Montee Ball in the backfield. The Badgers have another loaded backfield with James White and Melvin Gordon, but perhaps Wisconsin will try to use tight ends more with a new coaching staff in place.

Though Pedersen has more accolades than any other tight end on the team, Wisconsin has the depth of talent to rotate at least three tight ends. Last season, Brian Wozniak recorded nine catches for 94 yards. And Sam Arneson had four catches for 19 yards, including two touchdowns -- one against Indiana and one in the Big Ten championship game against Nebraska.

Best position battle: We already know Pedersen has a starting spot locked up for the Badgers. So the intrigue will come in which tight ends emerge as second options to Pedersen. Wozniak and Arneson would appear to have the inside track based on last season, but several tight ends on Wisconsin's roster could make a push as well.

Brock DeCicco could get some repetitions, and he has experience playing tight end at Pittsburgh. In 2010, he caught two touchdown Panthers for the Panthers before decided to transfer to Wisconsin in 2011. Austin Traylor also had a solid spring camp and is a physical specimen from Columbus, Ohio. Traylor was one of the top tight ends in the country out of high school.

Best of the Big Ten: 1. Penn State: 2. Wisconsin; 3. Iowa

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has a host of talented tight ends, and their production on the field last season is what separates them from Wisconsin's group. Penn State is led by sophomore Kyle Carter, who caught 36 passes for 453 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. Carter could arguably be the top tight end in the Big Ten when the season is over. Jesse James (great name, it's worth mentioning) added 15 catches for 276 yards and five touchdowns, while Matt Lehman tallied 24 catches for 297 yards and three touchdowns.

Wisconsin comes in just behind Penn State, but the Badgers have three tight ends capable of putting up big numbers. The question is whether UW is willing to throw to tight ends more, which should take some pressure off the running game. Pedersen, Wozniak and Arneson accounted for 40 catches last season.

Iowa doesn't have the depth of Penn State or Wisconsin, but the Hawkeyes do have C.J. Fiedorowicz. He caught 45 passes for 433 yards and a touchdown and is Iowa's second-leading returning pass catcher.

Jacob Pedersen says: "I feel bad for the coaches. You've got so many quarterbacks, and a lot of them are playing really well, doing a lot of good things.  . . . When the new guy gets here this summer, we'll see. But I'm really pleased. I think either (Stave or Phillips) can lead us going into next fall."

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