Defensive Rookie of the Year – Scott Nelson
Like Ferguson, Scott Nelson has largely delivered on the promise he showed in preseason practices.
The redshirt freshman safety has had his ups and downs through Wisconsin’s first five games, to be sure. Nelson has struggled at times with missing tackles and has also made a few costly mental errors that you would expect a young player to make here and there. In particular, I’m sure he would like to forget the rough outing he had last week against Nebraska. He struggled a bit in coverage against the Huskers and was also ejected from the game after being flagged for targeting.
That being said, the positive contributions Nelson has made to this defense this season far outweigh the negative, and he will only continue to learn from his mistakes as he gains more experience. An incredibly cerebral and rangy player at free safety, he has been every bit the ball-hawk he appeared to be in fall camp, as it seems as though he is in on almost every tackle. Nelson is fifth on the team in solo tackles and fourth in total tackles, and also has recorded an interception and a forced fumble.
Overall, it has been a solid start to what should be a prolific college career for Nelson, who is slated to be a four-year starter if all goes according to plan. The Detroit native has the talent, competitiveness, and leadership ability to be an all-time great at Wisconsin.
There will undoubtedly be more hiccups as the season continues to unfold, but Nelson is the type of player who will continue to learn from his mistakes and fine-tune his game a bit more with each game he plays.
Runner-up: Faion Hicks
Faion Hicks has had the struggles you would expect from a redshirt freshman and first-year starter at cornerback, one of the most difficult positions in the game and the one that might require the steepest learning curve going from high school to Power 5 college football.
The last couple of games have not gone all that well for Hicks. Against Iowa, he committed a costly pass interference penalty and had his share of headaches in coverage. Like most of the players on Wisconsin’s defense, he also did not have a great performance against Nebraska, though he was playing through an arm injury in that one.
That being said, Hicks’ play so far this season has offered plenty of reason for optimism.
At the moment, Hicks is sixth on the team in both solo and total tackles and also recorded an interception against Western Kentucky, one of the several plays he has made this season that tease at his potential.
Though smoothing out those freshman bumps is still a work in progress, Hicks’ overall performance this season has been good enough for Badger fans to be confident that he is Wisconsin’s best option on the outside right now, and there have been plenty of glimpses that suggest he could one day be that lockdown cornerback for this defense.