Badgers positional preview: Tight ends

Sam Arneson is clearly the top returning tight end on Wisconsin's roster, having played in 36 games with five starts.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports


This is the fourth in a series of 11 previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team’s Aug. 4 start of practice. You can find the entire series here.

Today’s position: tight ends

Rating (1-to-10 scale): 7

Projected starter: Sam Arneson (senior)

Key backups: Derek Watt (redshirt junior), Austin Traylor (redshirt junior), Troy Fumagalli (redshirt freshman)

Badgers positional preview series

The breakdown: Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak and Brock DeCicco are gone, and that means so are 46 catches and 600 yards. Wozniak finished second on the team in touchdown catches with four, and Pedersen was third on the team with three. Pedersen tied for second with 39 catches, while Wozniak added six and DeCicco one.

Tight end has been one of the most reliable position groups at Wisconsin for years, and despite the departures, the Badgers seem to be in a pretty good spot. Sam Arneson returns for his senior season after making six catches for 57 yards with two touchdowns. The rest of the tight ends don’t have much game experience, but they appear ready to step in.

One of the most interesting developments will be the use of fullback Derek Watt in tight end spots. Watt spent his first two seasons playing fullback, but coaches see value in him touching the ball and being on the field more. He spent the entire spring working in the tight ends meeting room for the first time. Austin Traylor and Troy Fumagalli also could step in and contribute, particularly in formations in which Wisconsin uses three tight ends.

Wisconsin obviously plays physical, downhill football, and tight ends are necessary to block. Not every tight end winds up catching passes, but they are all important to the team’s success.

Best position battle: Arneson is clearly the top returning tight end, having played in 36 games with five starts. But it remains to be seen how the rest of the tight ends are used. Watt will be busy playing fullback as well, but he could make the biggest impact on the tight end group if coaches throw him the ball. He caught only three passes for 20 yards with a touchdown last season but is smart enough and talented enough to bring so much more to the team. Fumagalli has impressed the coaching staff thus far and could wind up as the next great Wisconsin tight end.

Best of the Big Ten: 1. Penn State; 2. Ohio State; 3. Rutgers

Penn State’s tight end trio is one of the best in the country, and with Allen Robinson now in the NFL, they’ll be the target of even more passes. Jesse James led the tight end group last season with 25 catches for 333 yards and three touchdowns. James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman collectively caught 58 passes for 741 yards with seven touchdowns.

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Ohio State is on this list thanks largely to Jeff Heuerman, who is a preseason first-team all-league pick, according to college football guru Phil Steele. Heuerman caught 26 passes for 466 yards and four touchdowns last season. Nick Vannett also should see more throws after catching eight passes for 80 yards with a touchdown.

Rutgers comes in third because of tight end Tyler Kroft. It isn’t often when a tight end leads a team in receptions and yards, but that’s what happened to the Scarlet Knights last season. Kroft caught 43 passes for 573 yards and four touchdowns. Big Ten teams will quickly become acquainted with Kroft in Rutgers’ first season in the league.

Derek Watt says: "I think I’m going to play mostly fullback with an ability to go in there at tight end, but it keeps the defense on their toes. I’m not coming off the field. With me standing at tight end, they don’t know what play is coming at them. If I line up as a fullback, I’m going to be running different plays than if I’m at a wing, tight end position.

"It’s good to keep the defense on their toes and have them prepare a little bit harder. It kind of gives our offense some versatility."

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