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Wisconsin Football Has an Upperclassman Linebacker Ready to Breakout

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Wisconsin badgers football linebacker Maema Njongmeta
Wisconsin linebacker Maema Njongmeta arrives before a NCAA Big Ten Conference football game against Iowa, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

Wisconsin football inside linebacker Maema Njongmeta has been steadily improving since joining the team in 2019. However, 2023 could be the year he breaks out as an impact, playmaking defender for the Badgers defense and vaults himself onto the NFL’s radar

“Honestly, my mindset is that whatever I did last year wasn’t enough,” Njongmeta said. “That’s kind of fueling me.”

At 6 feet and 240 pounds, Njongmeta has the size and athleticism to be a dominant force in the middle of Wisconsin’s defense. He has already shown flashes of his potential, leading UW with a team-high 95 tackles, adding 25 pressures, 12.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, and an interception en route to Third-team All-Big Ten honors.

The redshirt senior from Buffalo Grove, Illinois, has a solid foundation to build on, considering he has the highest Pro Football Focus grade among returning linebackers across the country (89.9). However, he knows consistency and playing freely without thinking as much is the key to taking his game to the next level.

“I think last year I was so worried about not making mistakes that I got kind of robotic,” Njongmeta said. “There is an element of sport that is art. That creativity needs to showcase itself. Just letting myself do my thing. I think that’s a big place where I can step up.”

The Skinny 

Taking the jump from lightly used reserve linebacker playing behind the likes of Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal was no small feat. According to PFF, Maema Njongmeta appeared in six games in 2021, playing a grand total of 58 snaps. That number ballooned to 587, playing next to Jordan Turner this past season–both of which experienced trial by fire. 

At the end of the year, the game appeared to slow down for Njongmeta, who logged sacks in four straight games to close the regular season. He also compiled at least eight tackles in seven of the 12 regular season games, so he was around the ball quite often. 

But what sets Njongmeta apart is his instincts and football IQ. He has a knack for reading plays, playing aggressively, and quickly getting to the ball carrier, highlighted by his team-high 47 stops last season.

His ability to diagnose and react to plays contributed to him finishing with the second-highest pass-rush win rate on the team last season (35.7%), another area that makes him a valuable asset for the Wisconsin football defense.

Wisconsin Football Has Its Next Star LB on Tap

Maema Njongmeta has been praised for his work ethic and vocal leadership on and off the field. He sets a high standard for himself and his teammates, and his dedication to improving his game is evident in his progress over the past few seasons.

With Wisconsin football losing several key defensive players to the NFL draft, including nose tackle Keeanu Benton and outside linebacker Nick Herbig, Njongmeta will have an even more prominent role in 2023. He will likely be asked to take on a larger share of the playmaking void and be the thumper in run defense.

Fortunately for the Badgers, Njongmeta appears to be up to the challenge. He has already shown that he can be a disruptive force in the middle of the field, and with another year of experience under his belt, he should only continue to improve.

If Njongmeta can build on his promising 2022 campaign and take his game to the next level in 2023, he could emerge as one of the top inside linebackers in the entire Big Ten. His breakout season could also help Wisconsin football win the West and contend for a conference championship.


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Dillon Graff is a Substack Newsletter Best Selling Author and the Owner of BadgerNotes.com, your go-to source for in-depth coverage of the Wisconsin Badgers. His work has been featured in top media publications like USA Today, Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, B5Q, Saturday Blitz, and Fansided.

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