As we head into July and voluntary workouts continue for Wisconsin, AllBadgers.com look at a few potential key contributors on the football roster.
During these evaluations, we will hypothesize just exactly what a stellar, standard and subpar season could be for each individual player. On Monday, let's start off the series at inside linebacker with junior Jack Sanborn.
Of note: Shoutout to Wolverine Digest's Brandon Brown for the idea, and he has given his blessing for AllBadgers.com to use this idea.
Sanborn's role in 2020 for Wisconsin's defense could be huge, but even last season, he led the team in tackles (80) and tied for first in interceptions (three). He also placed third on the team in tackles for loss (nine) and sacks (5.5).
Gone will be Zack Baun and Chris Orr, who combined for 24 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss in 2019. The latter formed a formidable duo with Sanborn at inside linebacker on way to reasserting UW's defense as one of the best in the FBS.
In April, Orr told AllBadgers.com his enthusiastic thoughts about Sanborn.
"I think Jack is gonna take another leap forward," Orr said. "I think Jack's gonna have a big, breakout year."
Wisconsin listed Sanborn at 6'2 and 238 pounds on its spring roster. The Deer Park, Ill., native seems to be heading towards a big campaign during his third year in the scheme of defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
In this situation, I feel Orr's prediction comes to fruition in a huge way for Sanborn, who explodes for a monster junior year. That would mean that despite not having Orr and Baun contributing on the unit, he surpasses his totals from 2019 in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. Opponents begin to key in further on him and how to contain his production, and he becomes the discussion of high-end all-conference honors at the very least.
Not only that, but a stellar 2020 for Wisconsins's defense likely means both Leo Chenal and Mike Maskalunas emerge and give Wisconsin a solid three-man rotation at the inside linebacker spots. AllBadgers.com will look at Chenal later on in this series, but in a hint of foreshadowing in this scenario, the 'backer backs up his mind-boggling bench press numbers with a breakout sophomore season of his own in mirroring Sanborn's trajectory from a year prior.
I think the precedent set from 2019 is a good one to follow here for Sanborn, and even a "standard" season very well may match what Orr describes as a "breakout" year. With his efforts, I think he -- along with a very experienced group of players on the line and in the secondary -- paces the defense to another top-10, top-15 finish in major categories.
Sanborn also lands in the top two on the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks, but I still think in this case he increases his totals in the latter two statistics (double digits for TFLs and closer towards that mark in sacks).
At the moment, it currently is really hard to foresee a subpar year for Sanborn based on his jump in play from his freshman to sophomore seasons. Things can always happen, however (injuries and unforeseen circumstances).
If there is a significant drop off from 2019 both individually and as a whole on defense (and the stats may not say it all), that could be described as a "down year."
I definitely trust Orr's judgment here from April. He showed as a second-year player that he was able to step up and contribute often in Wisconsin's 3-4 defense in 2019. The inside linebacker position in recent years has seen production from T.J. Edwards, Jack Cichy, Ryan Connelly and Orr.
I think Sanborn rises up his game again to become a major player on the unit.
What do you expect out of Sanborn in 2020? Let AllBadgers.com know in the comments section below.