Wisconsin Badgers’ Top 10 Returning Players in 2024 Include Chez Mellusi, Tyler Van Dyke

    The Wisconsin Badgers enter a new era in the Big Ten, and these top 10 returning players continue a regime transition under Luke Fickell.

    Luke Fickell came to the Wisconsin Badgers with a tough task. Keeping some old traditions of the program and combining them with a new era of college football wasn’t easy last fall, but the staff is already off to a good start in that transition.

    Year 2 under Fickell will add to the intrigue of this program, and their top 10 returning players make for an exciting 2024.

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    Wisconsin Badgers’ Top 10 Returners in 2024

    Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes on each team’s roster page to open spring camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.

    10) Will Pauling, WR

    It’s no secret that the Wisconsin Badgers passing attack isn’t where they want it to be, but it has at least taken a step in the right direction. Phil Longo’s arrival changed expectations for this part of the offense, and we’ve already seen changes made. The wide receivers returning should make for an exciting year too, starting with the leader from last year.

    Will Pauling took a chance when he followed Luke Fickell from Cincinnati to Madison, and he quickly showed why the staff was high on him coming out of high school. He led the Badgers with 74 receptions, the most since 2015, and six touchdowns.

    Pauling’s speed helped him compete in the Big Ten, and his fit in Longo’s system makes him a great candidate for a 1,000-yard season. If he finds chemistry with his new quarterback, the Badgers are in great hands for 2024.

    9) Leon Lowery, LB

    Fickell’s staff found multiple new defenders in the transfer portal, which is significant considering their top three linebackers departed. Leon Lowery was one of the more coveted playmakers at the position in the portal, but he chose the Badgers over multiple other schools.

    Lowery is 6’4″ and 225 pounds and brings good size and physicality to the Badgers defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Tressel’s scheme expects the linebackers to make plays, and he has a talented player in Lowery at his disposal.

    8) Jake Chaney, LB

    With Jordan Turner, C.J. Goetz, and Maema Njongmeta all gone, the Badgers knew that the linebacker group would enter a transition period. Fortunately for this group, Jake Chaney returned after a huge year.

    Chaney finished second on the team with 80 tackles last year but also recorded seven tackles for loss and three sacks. With so many new faces entering the program at the position, the staff could turn to him to help everyone get up to speed.

    7) Tawee Walker, RB

    Oklahoma’s backfield was crowded last year, meaning players needed to be efficient with their touches. Tawee Walker was one of those options and found a way to stand out within the group. Ultimately, however, he decided to enter the portal with freshman Gavin Sawchuk leading the way for the Sooners and landed with the Badgers.

    Walker ran the ball 102 times last year, producing 513 yards and seven touchdowns. He’ll still share a backfield at his new school, but it’s a new start with a Badgers’ program needing to replace Braelon Allen.

    6) Tyler Van Dyke, QB

    Travel back to 2021, where draft analysts had Tyler Van Dyke going in the top 10 of many mock drafts. A big season under Rhett Lashlee had the Hurricanes quarterback at the top of the quarterback discussion, but it all quickly came crashing down.

    MORE: 2025 Big Ten Recruiting Class Rankings

    Two inconsistent years saw him enter the transfer portal, hoping a new school could resurrect his NFL dreams. When he’s playing his game, Van Dyke can move the ball all over the field. If he can settle into Longo’s system this year, the Badgers’ passing attack could reach levels we haven’t seen since the Russell Wilson days.

    5) Jack Nelson, OT

    Fickell’s most significant challenge coming to Madison was balancing the new-look Badgers with an old-school mentality. The fanbase wasn’t going to suddenly embrace a new identity, but there were certain things the staff could do to ease that transition. Producing quality offensive linemen helps both old and new, and the Badgers have that this year.

    Jack Nelson had a quiet year in 2023 but is still an all-conference caliber player. Wisconsin still wants to run the ball efficiently, and the offensive line plays a huge role — just like it did under the old regime.

    4) Riley Mahlman, OT

    With Jack Nelson, Joe Huber, and Riley Mahlman returning to the Badgers offensive line, the offense should be strong up front. Mahlman was a College Football Network second-team All-Big Ten selection and returns 20 games of experience to the Badgers line.

    The Badgers finished 62nd in rushing offense last year, but the offense improved from 91st in 2022 to 70th last year. Running the ball will still be important, but the new look will involve the passing attack much more. Mahlman and his teammates are getting used to the change, and they should be ready to go once the season begins.

    3) Hunter Wohler, S

    The defense learned they could rely on their defensive backs to make plays last year, but they’re hoping to produce fewer tackles in 2024. Hunter Wohler led the team with 120 tackles in 2023, but the staff is banking on him being more of an impact player in the passing attack than near the trenches.

    Tressel’s safeties at Cincinnati were factors in stopping the run, but less than Wohler was last year for the Badgers. If the defensive line and linebackers become more disruptive this year, Wohler can play more coverage deep instead of filling run lanes.

    2) Jaheim Thomas, LB

    A reunion for Arkansas linebacker Jaheim Thomas with his former head coach should cause excitement within the Badgers program. After spending three seasons with the Bearcats, Thomas took his talents to the SEC and now joins his former head coach and defensive coordinator in Madison.

    Thomas has improved his production every year that he’s played. Last year, he posted career bests in tackles (90), tackles for loss (6.5), and sacks (3.5). With Wisconsin needing multiple new starters at linebackers, Thomas’ addition was big for the Badgers.

    1) Chez Mellusi, RB

    If Chez Mellusi can play a full season, the Badgers will be competitive. Injuries hampered his career in Madison and at Clemson, which is why the staff added Tawee Walker to the mix.

    KEEP READING: 2024 Big Ten Power Rankings

    Mellusi was off to a great start last year before an injury cut his season short after four games. He rushed for 306 yards and four touchdowns in those games and now gets a chance to be the go-to guy with Braelon Allen off to the NFL.

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!

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