Wisconsinâ€™s run of NFL-caliber tight ends may have run dry, but a new crop of younger players appears ready to re-take the mantle of producing NFL draft picks at the position. Considering the Badgers like to run two tight end sets a lot in head coach Paul Chrystâ€™s offense, you can bet there are chances for this group to be Wisconsinâ€™s biggest feature in the passing game.
The question is, where will a second and third option emerge from at tight end. With one departed starter and one injury-plagued returning starter things have to progress for the youth at this position if it wants to be a prominent part of UWâ€™s offense in 2016.
Letâ€™s take a look at what is in store at the tight end position for the Wisconsin Badgers this spring.
Returning Starter(s):Â Troy Fumagalli (28 receptions, 313 yards, 1 TD)
Departing Players:Â Austin Traylor (14 receptions, 210 yards, 4 TDs)
Coming in to Program:Â Jake Hescock
Biggest Storyline:Â Is there a star ready to emerge?
After producing the likes of NFL draft picks Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks, the Badgers have hit a dry spell at tight end over the last five years or so. However, 2015 may have given hope for another star to emerge in the form of now-junior Troy Fumagalli.
He led all tight ends with 28 receptions and 313 yards receiving, and was often a go-to player to bail out the Badgers in 3rd-and-long situations. Now the question is if he can turn in to an every-situation player for this team? Just one touchdown last year suggests he has some things to work on in short-yardage situations.
Behind him as a true pass-catching option is where things could get really interesting. Wisconsin was able to redshirt 4-star 2015 recruit Kyle Penniston and he could be in line to be a star by the time he leaves Wisconsin, if not much quicker than that. By all accounts heâ€™s added enough size to be viable in the blocking game, but can be split out and is likely the fastest of all tight ends that UW has. His abilities are unique to this group and it might be hard to keep him off the field by the end of 2016.
However, a lot of that ability and production is likely to hinge on the health of Fumagalli, who is going to need to prove he can be available on a weekly basis to be a true star.
Who Starts Against LSU:Â Troy Fumagalli, Eric Steffes
Fumagalli is lauded as having the best hands on the team, and he became a great option over the middle or up the seams when healthy in 2015. He did have a few drops, but overall the production level and talent were noticeable from him. No way heâ€™s not a starter as long as heâ€™s not injured. As for the blocking tight end, Steffes seems the most logical given his body type and his experience in that role when Austin Traylor went down with injury last season.
Projected Depth Chart:
TE1: Troy Fumagalli, Kyle Penniston
TE2: Eric Steffes, David Edwards
If Jake Hescock was in spring camp this may be a very interesting battle for the second spot at the blocking tight end position behind Steffes. However, Edwards appears to be in the mold of the perfect combo tight end for the Badgers and getting his feet wet this spring after sitting out last fall will certainly be helpful. Look for Penniston to become the breakout player of the spring after coming in as one of the highest-rated tight ends in the 2015 recruiting class.