College Football’s Best 2018 Offensive Lines: Wisconsin Badgers

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Throughout the remainder of the off-season, I will be previewing the best returning offensive line units in college football. These previews will give us the opportunity to scout some of the top offensive line prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft, while also highlighting those whose names we will likely see in 2020 and beyond.

You know that old saying, the one where they name the three things in life that you can always be certain of? I think the first two are death and taxes but it’s become a very common joke to change the third option to whatever point you’re trying to make in order to really hammer it home. For this article, of course I plan to be cliche as all hell and maximize the unoriginality of that saying.

*ahem*

There are only three things you can be certain of in life: Death, Taxes, and the University of Wisconsin churning out NFL offensive linemen every damn year.

There have been so many over the last decade that it makes it difficult to recall them all but there’s a good handful currently in the top-5 of their respective positions across the NFL.

Travis Frederick with the Cowboys.

Rob Havenstein with the Rams.

And until this year, Joe Thomas, arguably one of the best to ever do it, with the Cleveland Browns.

It’s absolutely remarkable.

Teams such as Notre Dame, Alabama, and Iowa come to mind as well when thinking about other OL factories, but none have been as consistent as the school up in Madison.

“You hear them, like a herd of cattle,” said UW athletics director Barry Alvarez in a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports. Recalling a visit to another school’s football program, Alvarez claimed he need to ask another bystander where the team’s offensive line was on the field. “When you come to Wisconsin you don’t have to ask where our line is. When you look at that group, you know that’s an offensive line, now.”

The former Badger coach fondly refers to the kinds of players they get at the position as “big-boned kids of German and Scandinavian descent.” Not surprising when you look at the depth chart and see names like Beauzschawel, Biadasz, and DIetzen.

Left Tackle: #71 Cole Van Lanen / 6’5 307lbs. / Redshirt Sophomore

Van Lanen was the team’s sixth-man on the offensive line in 2017. Often used as a swing tackle, Van Lanen occasionally came into the game donning a jersey with a number in 80’s as he played the role of a heavy-set tight end.

A former four-star recruit out of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Van Lanen was a two-time First-Team All-State selection and a U.S. Army All-American in his final year at Bay Port High School. After taking a redshirt year in 2016, Van Lanen won the backup job behind consensus All-Big Ten performer Michael Dieter for the 2017 campaign. He played in all 14 games and was named an Academic All-Big Ten selection.

As the team prepares for the 2018 season, Van Lanen looks to get the nod at left tackle, as Dieter is pegged to kick inside to left guard as analysts view that to be his optimal position for the NFL.

Left Guard: #63 Michael Dieter / 6’6 321lbs. / Redshirt Senior

The Curtice, Ohio native is back for one more go-around in his final year in Madison. Dieter has been a foundational piece of this Badger offensive line since his redshirt freshman year in 2015, where he was named to the Big-Ten All-Freshman squad by ESPN. In that season, Dieter started all 13 games, collecting seven starts at left guard and the other six at center.

In 2016, Dieter started all 14 games while spending time at left guard (10 starts) and center (4 starts), once again. Dieter officially switched to left tackle prior to the 2017 season and he never looked back. Through all 14 starts, #63 played an integral part in helping freshman phenom Jonathan Taylor set the FBS record for single-season rushing yards by a freshman with 1,977. Dieter was named a consensus First-Team All-Big Ten selection and a Second-Team All-American pick by Sporting News for his efforts.

Although Dieter is fairly tall for a guard in general, I agree that a kick inside is best for him and his future at the next level. At 325 pounds, Dieter is a massive individual with the core strength and overall mass to help control the depth of the pocket and move interior defensive linemen at will. With another step forward in his senior season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dieter as the #1 draft-eligible guard come next April.

Center: #61 Tyler Biadasz / 6’3 322lbs. / Redshirt Sophomore

Having a talented player at the pivot cannot be understated in overall team and OL unit success. They are the quarterback of the offensive line and can help set the nucleus of the entire offense by having a close relationship with the actual quarterback. Minus the occasional cup-check, of course.

Wisconsin is incredibly lucky to have a complete offensive line from one side to the other. Having the young Biadasz in the middle allows some of the older, seasoned veterans to handle duties at other positions, as it’s common for some coaches to use their best linemen at center even if their best position is elsewhere.

Biadasz was a Third-Team All-Big Ten selection after starting every game in his redshirt freshman season. His selection to the ESPN Freshman All-American team was just the perfect cherry on top of a phenomenal year for the Amherst, Wisconsin native.

At a stout 322 pounds packed into a 6-foot-3 frame, Biadasz possesses a physical stature that thrives in the kind of run heavy offense that the Badgers like to employ. In a zone-heavy attack with plenty of power and big-on-big schemed runs, Biadasz has proven he can handle his own against some of the elite interior linemen that run rampant throughout the Big Ten conference.

Right Guard: #66 Beau Benzschawel / 6’6 322lbs. / Redshirt Senior

Throw on the the Benzschawel tape and you might think you’re staring at a prototypical offensive tackle instead of a guard. At least, that’s how the Big Beau looks to me with his rather lean frame at 322 pounds. With some lengthy limbs and eye-catching movement skills, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Benzschawel’s draft stock soar following a likely invite to the Senior Bowl next year.

Another Wisconsin native, he joins Dieter as the two most experienced of the bunch. Since redshirting in 2014 and getting the starting nod for the final eight games of 2015, Benzschawel has started 36 consecutive games for the Badgers with the last 30 all coming at right guard. After starting all 14 games as a sophomore, he was named a Second-Team All-Big Ten by the coaches and a Third-Team member by the media.

After a sensational 2017, combined with the emergence of Jonathan Taylor as a future star, Benzschawel was showered in postseason accolades by the media. #66 was named a consensus First-Team All-Big Ten selection, a Third-Team All-American by the Associated Press, and a First-Team All-American by Sports Illustrated.

Not too shabby for a former three-star recruit from little Grafton, Wisconsin.

Right Tackle: #79 David Edwards / 6’7 319lbs. / Redshirt Junior

After his redshirt freshman season where the only accolade Edwards collected was a spot on the Academic All-Big Ten team, the big man blew the gates wide open in 2017.

Although he was only a consensus member of the Big Ten’s Second Team, Edwards was selected to a handful of All-America teams that included a Third-Team nod by the Associated Press, a Second-Team selection by FWAA and Walter Camp, and a First-Team selection by the AFCA.

That’s quite the resume for a former high-school quarterback that was recruited to Madison as a tight end.

Edwards is another monolithic tackle for the Badgers that can seemingly have his way with whomever happens to line up across from him. Tall and brutish, he possesses the stereotypical traits you would expect in an NFL right tackle: Not as twitchy in pass protection, usually the “stronger” tackle, better in the run game, etc.

But where he may lack in elite-agility, he makes up for in functional strength and technique, especially with his hand-placement (see the play above).

Overall, Edwards has 26 consecutive games for the Badgers with the last 19 at right tackle. If another standout year is on horizon for the redshirt junior, I’m not sure what will stop Edwards from declaring early and chasing that paycheck in the NFL.

Looking Ahead

The forecast for the Badgers offensive line in 2018 is about as crystal-clear a it gets for a position group. The Badgers will run the football, a lot, and they will be successful at it no matter who lines up in front of them. Expect more of the same when it comes to the Badgers offense this year as they look to ride the shoulder pads of Jonathan Taylor as much as possible. Small splits, tight and heavy formations abound, with a plethora of motions to throw defenses off balance. The success of the passing game will also rely on keeping defenses perpetually ready to stop the run.

Offensive line coach Joe Rudolph understands what this unit has always meant to the success of this football team so he has zero reason to fix something that hasn’t been broken for the last three decades. The Badgers return all five members from last year’s group, including four that started all 14 games, four All-Big Ten performers, and two All-American selections. They also return an insane 150 starts along the line. You just can’t ask for much better than that.

Up is the only direction this unit can go and there shouldn’t be a doubt in anybody’s mind that this is the best offensive line in all of college football heading into 2018.

Follow Michael on Twitter @ZoneTracks. Check out his other work here, such as his preview of the Notre Dame offensive line and why Isaiah Wynn and the Patriots are an ideal match

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