The other group on defense that loses a rock-solid leader and playmaker is safety. D’Cota Dixon is out of eligibility in Madison after 2018, but he’ll be handing off his leadership role to somebody Wisconsin fans already love.
Nelson will be a sophomore next year and is already every bit of a playmaker as his mentor Dixon. He has broken up five passes, has 2.5 tackles for loss, and trailed Dixon by just a handful of total tackles on the season. Nelson is more of a deep field safety than Dixon but his impact will be just the same.
My vote for who will replace Dixon’s role as a box type of safety is Pearson. We saw him in his first ever playing time in the Big House against Michigan and he balled out. Pearson is a missile attacking the football and he’s going to make a lot of opponents feel his presence. Pearson should have maintained his year of eligibility thanks to the new redshirt rule, so his career is just getting started in 2019.
Burrell started with Pearson against Michigan as both Nelson and Dixon were out. Burrell played outstanding football that week coming up with 11 tackles. He may be more of a third wheel at the safety position in 2019 but if anybody knows how to work an extra safety into a game plan it’s Jim Leonhard.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference.