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Wisconsin Football Offensive Line Room Season Outlook & Player Expectations

A quick look at the Wisconsin football offensive line room heading into fall camp and analyzing their individual expectations for the season.



Wisconsin football offensive line
Apr 11, 2023; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Brunner (56) is shown during practice Tuesday, April 11, 2023 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

With fall camp just around the corner for new head coach Luke Fickell and the Wisconsin football program — BadgerNotes continues our rollout of position previews. We’ve already done QB, RB, WR, and TEs, thus far. 

But I want our position previews and season outlook write-ups to be different than a regurgitated version of what every outlet is putting out. 

I want to approach this breakdown by establishing individual player expectations heading into the season so we can more effectively evaluate each player at the end of the season—that way, we can avoid being a prisoner of the moment. 

So, let’s review the breakdown of how we define player expectations:

  • No expectations (walk-ons, true freshmen, practice bodies).
  • Low expectations (roster fillers, third team players, next man up situation).
  • Moderate expectations (key backups & role players *how well are you playing the role asked of you).
  • High expectations (core players of the team you expect to make a big impact in their role or statistically). 

Let’s continue our series with the Wisconsin football offensive lineman. 

High Expectations 

  • Jack Nelson (RS JR)
  • Tanor Bortolini (RS JR)
  • Riley Mahlman (RS SO)
  • Joe Huber (RS JR)
  • Jake Renfro (RS JR)

I’m placing Jack Nelson, Joe Huber, Jake Renfro, Tanor Bortolini, and Riley Mahlman in the high-expectations group because this is who I think will be in the starting five for the Badgers this season.

Wisconsin football finished as the No. 15 pass-blocking offensive line last season and the No. 27 run-blocking unit in CFB. The results were good but could have been better.

This season, UW is far more experienced. Nelson has 25 career starts under his belt, Renfro has 19, Bortolini has 16, Huber has 13, and Mahlman has six. And if they can stay healthy, a little continuity could go a long way this season.

Nelson has what it takes to be an NFL-caliber offensive tackle, and a fully healthy Renfro could be the x-factor on the offensive line. His health allows players like Huber and Bortolini to stay in one spot and lock it down. For Mahlman, this will be a big season for his development. The Minnesota native was average at best last season, but all the tools are there for Mahlman to be an absolute DUDE — I think he’ll take a big step.

The new up-tempo air raid system will be a stark change for a group that’s been asked to maul in the run game for decades, but the Badgers won’t be able to reach their ceiling in 2023 if the offensive line doesn’t play like one of the best units in the conference.

To meet expectations, everyone in this group needs to hold down their starting spot while healthy and grade no worse than the above-average to high-quality range by Pro Football Focus next season (no, the stats are not perfect, but they’re one of the best data points we have as fans to evaluate offensive line play from).

Wisconsin Football O-Lineman With Moderate Expectations

  • Nolan Rucci (RS SO)
  • Trey Wedig (RS JR)
  • Michael Furtney (RS SR)
  • Joe Brunner (RS FR)

I’m lumping Michael Furtney, Trey Wedig, Nolan Rucci, and Joe Brunner in the moderate expectations group because they’re all shoo-ins to see the field in some capacity this season. 

Wisconsin football has a lot more experience and upside in this group than most Power 5 programs. Furtney has 11 career starts under his belt, and Wedig has eight — the two of them will almost assuredly be the top options off the bench to see snaps at the interior and swing tackle spots. Wedig has played tackle, guard, and even center during his career, so that kind of versatility will be invaluable. 

We already know there will be in-game rotations with the new offensive system, and this is a pairing that Badger fans can feel good about. 

Then there is Rucci, who I still see as a player with NFL upside once he takes over left tackle when Jack Nelson goes league. The former five-star recruit appeared in two games last season, playing 28 snaps, and graded out elite (89.0). You can’t take too much away from such a small sample size, but he looked tremendous in his opportunities and even better during The Launch. If he gets a few more snaps this season, there is All-Big Ten potential in 2024 and beyond. 

Finally, Brunner is a redshirt freshman who is everything you could want in a guard prospect and then some. He’s flat-out nasty and will be a mover of men in the run game for years to come. He’s closer than people realize to being one of the top five players on the offensive line. Brunner appeared in three games in 2022, playing 38 snaps and grading out high-quality (81.1). He has big-time potential for Wisconsin football. 

To meet expectations, everyone in this group needs to crack a spot in the two deep and maintain it throughout the season. Everyone in this tier should theoretically see the field in 2023, so they all need to look competent and ensure there is no visible drop-off in production when the starter gets a breather. In the case of Rucci and Brunner, I’d love to see them position themselves to push for starting jobs next season and be core members of the offensive line in 2024.

Wisconsin Football O-Lineman With Low Expectations

  • Dylan Barrett (RS JR)
  • JP Benzschawel (RS SO)
  • Barrett Nelson (RS FR)

In this low-expectations group, I will put Dylan Barrett, JP Benzchawel, and Barrett Nelson because we have yet to hear or see much from the players from this tier.

Barrett is the one that has the best chance to crack the two-deep, considering he plays center. On the flip side, he seems like a solid but unspectacular option the Wisconsin football staff doesn’t want to commit to as their backup (just my two cents). He played 28 snaps last season and graded out below average.

Benzschawel was a four-star recruit coming out of high school that seems to be in a similar boat — played 21 snaps and graded out slightly above average. There’s plenty of depth ahead of him, so opportunities are limited, but this is year three, so it’s time to make a jump.

And finally, Nelson, the younger brother of star left tackle Jack Nelson is coming off a redshirt year for the Badgers. In rewatching the tape from The Launch more times than I care to admit, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. Conversely, a source that would undoubtedly know ensures me that Nelson has shown major flashes in practice and could be a stud with some more time to season.

To meet expectations, everyone in this tier needs to prepare like an injury will happen and be ready to see the field if they crack the two deep. Otherwise, development and adding weight will be key for this tier.

No Expectations 

  • Kerry Kodanko (RS JR)
  • James Durand (FR)
  • Max Rader (RS FR)
  • John Clifford (RS FR)
  • Drew Evans (RS FR)
  • Sean Timmis (RS JR)

Finally, I’ve got walk-ons Kerry Kodanko, Max Rader, John Clifford, Drew Evans, Sean Timmis, and scholarship freshman James Durand in the no-expectations group. 

Wisconsin football is O-line U and has a lot of high-end talent, so it’s borderline impossible to envision someone from this group breaking through into another grouping this season. 

To meet expectations, this group needs to focus on the weight room, their assignments, overall development, and giving everyone the best ecosystem to thrive in while they develop into the type of player that will log snaps for the Badgers. 

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Dillon Graff is a Substack Newsletter Best Selling Author and the Owner of, 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.