With so many departures from last year's Wisconsin football team, depth becomes something of an issue throughout the team. As the Badgers' talent level continues to increase, who fills in those key backup spots will be important as they look to improve off last year's 9-4 season.
With a lot of the starting spots still up for grabs, let's take a look at four players without a home in the starting lineup that will be vital to the Badgers' success if they are to return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship and potentially progress to the inaugural playoff.
DE Alec James
While Alec James may be the odd man out when it comes to a starting spot, his skill set as either a linebacker or on the end will prove extremely valuable for the Badgers this season. Both him and Chikwe Obasih are incredibly talented and will prove a formidable tandem going down the road, but for this season, James can provide the type of pressure defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is looking for.
James was highly touted out of high school. A 3-star player out of Brookfield, Wisconsin, he held offers from a number of top programs, choosing to stay in-state over Oregon.
If James can rotate in along the line and provide some hurries on the quarterback to go along with strong run support, he will quickly find himself in the situation that Tyler Dippel was in as the third defensive end that played as much as the starter.
WR Robert Wheelwright
Robert Wheelwright could find himself on the outside to start the season; however, injuries throughout the spring will probably hold him back from taking that role. With that being said, Wheelwright is far and away the most talented of the returning receivers.
Wheelwright had two catches last season for nine yards, and with a dearth of proven receivers, he will show in due time that he can be a solid option for whomever ends up at quarterback—whether it's Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy.
Depth at this position will become even more important with the report that both Chris Jones and Dareian Watkins will not join the team due to various reasons, as per Benjamin Worgull of Scout.com:
TE Austin Traylor
With the departures of Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak, both of whom currently find themselves vying for a spot on the Atlanta Falcons, the depth at the tight end position will be tested this season. Sam Arneson will likely be the starting tight end, leaving Austin Traylor as the key backup at this position.
The Badgers employ quite a few two-tight end sets, and Traylor is certainly in line to pick up his first career grab. The 3-star recruit looked pretty good in the spring and has the frame at 6'3", 243 pounds, to provide a big body and a good target in the passing game.
CB Devin Gaulden
With the departure of Nate Hammon, depth in the secondary could be a concern, but at cornerback, the Badgers have depth beyond their wildest dreams. Sitting behind the dynamic duo of Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary is Devin Gaulden.
Gaulden has struggled with injuries, tearing his ACL in 2012 and sitting out 2013; however, throughout the spring, Gaulden looked like one of the best and most experienced players on the field. Gaulden in the nickelback role, where he can both line up in coverage and as a blitzing corner on the edge, will be an invaluable asset to the Badgers defense.
Recruiting star rankings and information via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.