As we head into July and voluntary workouts continue for Wisconsin, AllBadgers.com looks 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 Thursday, we dive into another position in the program where the team will need to replace some significant production from the 2019 season.
That would be at outside linebacker, as Zack Baun exhausted his eligibility on way to becoming a third-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints. The Brown Deer, Wis., prospect left his mark during his final year in the program, claiming consensus All-American and first-team All-Big Ten status with his 12.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.
One member of that position group who will be called upon to step up is Noah Burks. The redshirt senior from Carmel, Ind., emerged as a full-time starter throughout the 2019 season. He recorded 36 tackles, seven for loss, and two sacks in 14 games (12 starts). Of course, he also intercepted a pass and ran it back 68 yards for a touchdown against Northwestern on Sept. 28.
For Wisconsin's defense to continue its success, pressure in the backfield is a must. It could all start with the veteran in Bobby April III's room.
In this scenario, Burks ascends in Baun-like fashion between his junior and senior seasons. Remember, Baun only recorded 2.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2018 before the breakout year.
I imagine Burks rolling up to around a double-digit sack total while registering around 15 tackles for loss. The defense may not get to the school-record 51 sacks it tallied last season, but it averages between 3.5 to four a contest to keep opposing offenses on their heels.
This avenue would also mean that others opposite Burks off the edge, and potentially from the inside linebacker position and around the defense, emerge to create havoc in the backfield.
For this hypothetical path, Burks increase his totals from a year ago where he jumps the tackles for loss to just above double digits, and his sacks work their way to the upper single digits (remember that Garret Dooley and Andrew Van Ginkel only had 7.5 and 5.5 to lead the team in 2017 and 2018, respectively).
It is hard to replace the aforementioned sack production and the 91 tackles for loss the unit had as a whole from last season, but Burks and others find ways to rack up around three sacks a contest or a little bit higher.
As called out in a BadgerBlitz.com article last season, he maintains his consistency.
Again, this category really may be more of a team-based performance as seen in previous installments of this series. This scenario shows the sack totals likely are not as low as 2018's 19, but the difference in pressure is very noticeable.
Burks likely increases his output from 2019, but who else steps up in at outside 'backer? Unlike 2018, UW has a veteran defensive line and secondary to help.
Again, I am a positive guy. You saw glimpses of Burks's abilities last year with the pick-six against the Wildcats, along with racking up a season-high 2.5 tackles for loss (1.5 sacks) against Ohio State in Columbus during that lopsided, late October road defeat.
His calling card may be consistency, as mentioned in that BadgerBlitz.com article written last season, but I think he continues to improve upon that in bumping up a level in terms of production.
That will be much needed where despite returning starters at all levels of the defense in 2020, Orr and Baun's production will be missed.