Wisconsin football all-time roster: Defensive starters and backups

Wisconsin football is known for their defense, and a number of legends have helped to build that reputation over the years.

For this all-time team, we went with the 3-4 defense that has become Wisconsin’s standard during the Jim Leonhard era. As a result, there are three defensive lineman and four linebackers that represent some of the best to ever wear the Badger uniform.

Does Wisconsin’s current defensive coordinator also find himself on the list as a player? Of course he does. Without spoiling any other entrants, here is a look at Wisconsin’s all-time defensive team as chosen by our BadgersWire staff.

See the all-time Wisconsin offense here.

Check out our other College Wire all-time defenses: Alabama / Arkansas / Auburn / Clemson / Colorado / Florida / Georgia / Iowa / LSU / Michigan / Michigan State / Nebraska / North Carolina / Ohio State / Oklahoma / Oregon / Penn State / Rutgers / Tennessee / Texas / Texas A&M / USC


Starting DE: J.J. Watt

Wisconsin Badgers defensive tackle J.J. Watt (99) celebrates while holding a rose following the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium. Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Was there ever any doubt about this one? J.J. Watt easily takes the first spot on our all-time defense team led by his 2010 season for the ages. He followed up being a Firs-Team All-American and All-Big Ten performer in 2010 by becoming a three-time NFL Defensive player of the Year.

Starting DE: Erasmus James

Erasmus James Wisconsin
Erasmus James Wisconsin

A. Messerschmidt / Getty Images

James finished his Badger career with 18 sacks, seven forced fumbles, and 28 quarterback hurries while being nicknamed “The Eraser” for how he was able to get to the quarterback. He earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 2004.

Backup DE: O'Brien Schofield

Sept 13, 2008; Fresno, CA, USA; Fresno State Bulldogs quarterback Tom Brandstater (7) is sacked by Wisconsin Badgers defensive lineman O’Brien Schofield (50) in the third quarter during the Bulldogs 13-10 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, CA. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

While Schofield played linebacker at the NFL level, it was at defensive end where he was at his best as a Badger. As a fifth year redshirt senior defensive end in 2009 he was a First-Team All-Big Ten player while coming in second in the Big Ten conference in sacks.

Backup DE: Alec James

Nov 25, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers defensive end Alec James (57) celebrates with the Paul Bunyan axe after defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Since the beginning of Wisconsin playing Jim Leonhard’s 3-4 defense, no defensive end has had more sacks than James in a single season. The former Badger had 6.5 sacks as a senior on his way to earning an All-Big Ten Second Team selection.

Starting DT: Tim Krumrie

13 Jan 1991: Defensive lineman Tim Krumrie of the Cincinnati Bengals looks on during a playoff game against the Los Angeles Raiders at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The Raiders won the game, 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Mike Powell /Allsport

Krumrie is a lifetime Badger, and was a three-time All-Big Ten selection at Wisconsin. The Tim Krumrie Award is now given out annually to the best high school defensive lineman in the state of Wisconsin.

Backup DT: Wendell Bryant

Wendell Bryant Wisconsin
Wendell Bryant Wisconsin

Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

Bryant played in back to back Rose Bowls during his first two years as a Badger, and was named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2000 and 2001.

Starting LB: Chris Borland

Nov 10, 2012; Bloomington, IN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Chris Borland (44) during the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium. Wisconsin defeats Indiana 62-14. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Before becoming one of the first NFL players to retire early due to health concerns surrounding brain damage, Borland was the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year in 2013. He was a three-time First-Team All-Big Ten selection as a Badger after being just a three-star recruit.

Starting LB: Joe Schobert

Oct 3, 2015; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Joe Schobert (58) during the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Iowa won 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Schobert was the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year in 2015, and led the NFL in tackles in 2017. He is yet another story of a Wisconsin walk-on finding outstanding success at the collegiate and professional level.

Starting LB: Pete Monty

16 Sep 1995: Pete Monty of the University of Wisconsin back pedals during the Wisconsin Badgers 24-24 tie with Stanford University at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, California. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule Jr. /Allsport

Monty is still Wisconsin’s all-time leader in tackles, and helped the Badgers to their 1994 Rose Bowl victory. He would go on to be drafted in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.

Starting LB: Leo Chenal

Purdue wide receiver Milton Wright (0) runs the ball against Wisconsin inside linebacker Leo Chenal (5) during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette.
Cfb Purdue Vs Wisconsin

Fine, maybe there is some recency bias here, but the 2021 Big Ten Linebacker of the Year just put together one of the best seasons at the position in program history.

Backup LB: T.J. Edwards

Oct 14, 2017; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker T.J. Edwards (53) celebrates following a missed field goal attempt by the Purdue Boilermakers during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Edwards was a two-time First-Team All-Big Ten performer at Wisconsin in 2017 and 2018. He was also the MVP in Wisconsin’s 2016 Cotton Bowl victory.

Backup LB: Ken Criter

Ken Criter (53) Denver Broncos linebacker, steps out of diving tackle by Jim Thrower (49) Philadelphia Eagles cornerback for 10-yard punt return in first period of Broncos – Eagles game in Philadelphia on Nov. 1, 1971. Criter was downed by linebacker Bill Hobbs (56) (behind Criter). In background is Eagles’ Ike Kelly (51). Eagles won, 17-16. (AP Photo/Bill Ingraham)

Criter was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection in 1967 and 1968 before a six-year professional career with the Denver Broncos. He is still top-10 all-time in tackles at Wisconsin.

Backup LB: Mike Taylor

November 24, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Mike Taylor (53) during the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Taylor was a First-Team All-Big Ten performer in 2011 and 2012, and earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors multiple times in both seasons.

Backup LB: Dave Crossen

Nov 11, 2017; Madison, WI, USA; The Wisconsin logo at mid field prior to the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Crossen holds Wisconsin’s all-time record for tackles in a game with 28 vs Purdue in 1977. He is still on Wisconsin’s all-time leading tacklers list at No. 5 all these years later.

Starting CB: Jamar Fletcher

Rose Bowl: Jamar Fletcher returns a fourth quarter interception for a touchdown. Photo by David Joles

Wisconsin’s all-time leader in interceptions begins the secondary on our team. He was a two-time All-American as a Badger and totaled 21 interceptions in his career which ties him at the top of the leaderboard with another member of this all-time secondary to be named later.

Starting CB: Ed Withers

Nov 11, 2017; Madison, WI, USA; The Wisconsin logo at mid field prior to the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We are dating ourselves back to the 1950’s here, but Withers is on this list for more than just his accomplishment’s on the field. He was a first-team defensive player on the All-America Team but also broke barriers as one of the first African-Americans to ever start for the Badgers.

Backup CB: Troy Vincent

January 20, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent speaks during the Pro Bowl Kickoff Press Conference at The Arizona Biltmore. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Currently serving as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the NFL, Vincent’s on-field career was as impressive as his post-football work. He was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American in 1991.

Backup CB: Mike Echols

Badgers head coach Barry Alvarez hugs DB Mike Echols after being dunked with water after the Badgers beat the UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1999.
Barry Alvarez Mike Echols

A Second-Team All-Big Ten player in 2000, the Rose Bowl champion recorded 12 interceptions as a Badger.

Starting S: Jim Leonhard

MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 02: Wisconsin defensive coach Jim Leonhard looks on in the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium on October 02, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator is also one of the best to ever suit up for the Badger defense. He is the co-leader in all-time interceptions with 21 during his career.

Starting S: David Greenwood

Learning the hard way – David Greenwood has learned a lot in his freshman year as the starting safety for the University of Wisconsin Badgers’ football team. But he has learned a lot of things the hard way – through mistakes. Purdue’s offense should be a strong test for freshman (David Greenwood)

One of the hardest hitters in program history, many see Greenwood as one of the best high school athletes in the history of the Badger State.

Backup S: Michael Caputo

Jan 1, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Wisconsin Badgers safety Michael Caputo (7) celebrate a missed Auburn field goal in overtime of the 2015 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. The Badgers defeated the Tigers 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Caputo was a two-time All-Big Ten selection in 2014 and 2015 and was known as one of the toughest players on the Badger roster.

Backup S: Aaron Henry

January 2, 2012; Pasadena, CA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers safety Aaron Henry (7) runs the ball after intercepting a pass against the Oregon Ducks during the second half during the 2012 Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Henry started all 13 games as a junior while leading the defense in fumble recoveries and coming in second in interceptions.

Story originally appeared on Badgers Wire