Wisconsin Badgers beat writer Jesse Temple will be analyzing the 30 most important players to the Badgers’ success in the 2015 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list.
Note: This is not a list of the team’s 30 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Wisconsin will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered. The list does not include incoming freshmen because their potential impact is unknown at this time.
No. 20 — Troy Fumagalli, tight end
Why he’s No. 20
Wisconsin’s tight ends are particularly valuable in its pro-style offense, and now it’s Fumagalli’s time to shine as the go-to pass-catching threat. Gone is Sam Arenson, who ranked second on the team a year ago in receptions (29) and yards (387) and first in touchdown catches (four). And though there is a list of tight ends who could emerge, Fumagalli is the only one that has already proven himself.
Expectations for 2015
Last season, Fumagalli caught 14 passes for 187 yards and tied for fifth on the team in receptions. He is the team’s second-leading returning receiver behind Alex Erickson, but expectations will increase this season.
Consider that since 2006, a Wisconsin tight end has ranked no worse than third on the team in total receptions every season. In fact, the only year in which the Badgers didn’t have a tight end ranked in the top two came in 2011, when Jacob Pedersen was third behind receivers Jared Abbrederis and Nick Toon. Given Wisconsin’s departures in 2014, Fumagalli figures to continue that string of tight end success.
It seems reasonable to think Fumagalli would rank second on the team next season in receptions, with Erickson earning the bulk of the throws. For a point of reference, the average number of catches by Wisconsin’s leading tight end the past four seasons is 31.
What would they do without him?
Austin Traylor has more experience than Fumagalli, and he’s worked plenty hard to be known as more than simply a blocking tight end. If Traylor continues to develop the way he did in spring practice, he could take some of the throws away from Fumagalli. Still, Fumagalli has natural gifts and can move exceptionally well for a 6-foot-5, 246-pound player. If he is unable to play for some reason next season, the Badgers could struggle.
In addition to Traylor, several other tight ends have an opportunity to prove something. That list includes T.J. Watt, Eric Steffes, John Damrow, Sam Eckert and Kyle Penniston.