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4 Most Slept-On Wisconsin Football Players Entering the 2023 Season

Here’s a look at four Wisconsin football players being slept-on entering the 2023 season.



Wisconsin football; Badgers right tackle Riley Mahlman
Nov 5, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Riley Mahlman (71) blocks Maryland Terrapins defensive lineman Tommy Akingbesote (99) during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

As I sit here and write this, it’s the middle of August, which is when Wisconsin football fans, bloggers, and media pundits endlessly speculate on how good the Badgers will be this fall.

I’m on record saying I think the University of Wisconsin wins the Big Ten West in their first year with Luke Fickell at the helm. Anything more than that seems a little unrealistic for my taste — but to each their own.

Much of the offseason is spent discussing recruiting, the transfer portal, star players, and potential breakouts. However, I thought it was worthwhile to identify some of the Badgers players that aren’t getting enough attention — the glue guys of the football team, if you will.

Here are the four most slept-on Wisconsin football players entering 2023.

Alexander Smith, Cornerback 

I get why you might raise an eyebrow about me listing the Badgers’ top cornerback as a slept-on player, but I challenge you to find a key player getting talked about less than Alexander Smith

Smith is entering his sixth season with the program. Because of his ability to shadow wideouts on the boundary, players like Ricardo Hallman are getting the chance to become playmakers for Wisconsin’s defense. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Smith was the highest-graded cornerback on the Wisconsin football team last season (72.8) and only gave up 14 catches in 185 coverage snaps. 

Even if he isn’t a stat stuffer, Smith is the clear-cut CB1 for UW, and if he can remain healthy, the California native could be one of the most important players on the entire defense. He’s sticky in man coverage.

Chimere Dike, Wisconsin Football WR

Chimere Dike seems like another one that’s entering the season flying under the radar because so much of the attention has gone to the transfers. 

But Dike is likely Wisconsin’s top wideout and is coming off a nice season where he finished No. 8 in the Big Ten with 689 yards on 47 catches and had six touchdowns (No. 7 in the conference) en route to Honorable Mention All-Big Ten accolades by the media. 

That happened in a stale Wisconsin football offense with inconsistent quarterback play. Now, he’s arguably the top dawg in a talented WR room, and playing in a more passing-friendly scheme led by Tanner Mordecai.

Dike might not be elite in any one area, but he’s rock solid across the board and doesn’t have a glaring weakness in my eyes — which could lead to him having a terrific final season in Madison.

Riley Mahlman, Wisconsin Football Right Tackle

Entering his redshirt sophomore season, Riley Mahlman is someone Wisconsin football fans could feel very differently about by the end of the year. 

The 6-foot-8, 320-pound right tackle made six starts last season, playing 397 total snaps, 169 of which came in pass-blocking sets. According to PFF, Mahlman finished with a grade of (58.1) which is average. However, he only allowed one sack last season — which was encouraging. 

He missed time due to an injury he suffered in the season opener, but I saw enough on tape last season to suggest the Wisconsin Badgers might have something in the Minnesota native. 

He’s the unquestioned starter at right tackle entering the 2023 season, and Mahlman is a more proficient pass-blocker at this point in his career. So when you pair the Badgers scheme change with Brady Collins‘ weight room regimen, I think we’ll get a glimpse at his immense upside this fall. 

Chez Mellusi, Running Back 

Last but certainly not least, I have Braelon Allen‘s counterpart, Chez Mellusi, as my final slept-on player entering the season. 

When the other half of your 1, 2 punch is one of the top running backs in college football, it’s understandable that he gets lost in the shuffle. But let’s not forget that Mellusi is a well-above-average tailback in his own right. 

In 18 games playing for the Wisconsin football program, Mellusi has registered 285 carries for 1,288 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s also caught nine passes for 91 yards and another score. 

If Wisconsin’s going to reach its full potential, Phil Longo will continue leaning on Mellusi to keep Allen fresh and the offense humming along

The Badgers are very fortunate to have another starting-caliber tailback in their running back room, even if he doesn’t garner as much attention. 

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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.