Wagner broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore, having a solid debut as the Badgers right tackle. He started 10 games on the other side from left tackle Gabe Carimi.
Wagner moved to left tackle in 2011 to replace Carimi, and he had an excellent season. Throughout the year, Wagner opened up holes for running backs Montee Ball and James White; all the while being a reliable blind-side protector for quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Badgers had a high-scoring offense last year and averaged 235.6 yards per game on the ground. Ball had one of the most prolific seasons in college football history for a running back. His tremendous offensive line played a huge role in that success.
Wagner played well against Wisconsin's better opponents like Nebraska and Michigan State - the first meeting. The only games where he had some issues were with Illinois and defensive end Whitney Mercilus, and the second battle against Michigan State. Wagner produced a fine season for the most part. He was a consensus All-Big Ten honorable mention.
2012 Season Outlook:
Overall, Wagner has a pretty easy slate of pass-rushers to take on as a senior. Wisconsin always plays cupcakes the first four games of the season and that is no different this year.
The first significant test will come against Illinois and defensive end Michael Buchanan. Last year, Wagner had an ugly game taking on Mercilus, so the senior should be out for revenge this year. The Illini have some good athletes who should provide a nice early season barometer for Wagner against speed-rushers.
Perhaps the best defensive end Wagner will see all season will come in the form of Michigan State's William Gholston. He was suspended for the first meeting and challenged Wagner in the Big 10 Championship. The Wisconsin senior is one of the better tackles that Gholston will face, so there will be a lot of NFL talent evaluators watching that game.
Wagner will be challenged by Ohio State defensive end John Simon and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins in the penultimate game of the regular season. The Buckeyes shuffle their linemen around, so Wagner should take on both defenders.
The Badgers have a solid squad returning, and Wagner could see another quality draft prospect in his bowl game. Outside of those three games and potential bowl opponent, it looks like he can coast through a lot of games against weak opponents.
Helping Wagner will be an excellent left guard next to him in junior Travis Frederick.
There are a lot of questions that needs to be answered about Wagner in his senior season. Is he a top-32 pick? Can he handle NFL speed rushers? Can he handle big, powerful defensive ends like the kind a NFL 3-4 defense features? Is he a right tackle or left tackle at the next level? Does he fit a power man-blocking scheme or zone scheme? All of these questions are up in the air right now.
There are times when Wagner is an overwhelming run blocker. Wisconsin had a lot of success running behind him the past two seasons on each side of the line. Against lesser opponents, he bullies his way around at the point of attack.
Wagner also has good quickness and athletic ability to move out for blocks on the second level. He does a really nice job of hitting blocks downfield on linebackers and defensive backs. Wagner is better than expected getting on screen passes, and he should be an asset at that in the NFL.
Against stronger defenders, Wagner battles and his share of wins and losses. He had a great block against the big, powerful Hankins last year to open a touchdown run for Ball near the goal line. There are other times where those some heavy linemen shed Wagner's block earlier than offensive coaches would like to see. That often ends with the end making a tackle in the run game or pressuring the quarterback.
Wagner needs to work on sustaining his blocks in both run and pass blocking for the NFL. He needs to improve his ability to maintain contact on defensive ends and hold onto them longer. That could come with time, especially after Wagner gets in an NFL strength and conditioning program. He would benefit by redistributing some weight from fat to functional strength.
Wagner has underrated athleticism as a pass-blocker. Many Wisconsin offensive linemen are viewed as power road-grading blockers who aren't as athletic as other linemen.
That isn't the case with Wagner. He is pretty agile and quick on the edge. Wagner gets back quickly in his pass drop and is able stop speed-rushers or ride them around the pocket.
The senior looks like an intelligent blocker. Wagner reads defensive linemen well and seems ready for whatever move they attempt. He has a nice base as a pass-blocker for NFL offensive line coaches to work with.
Wagner is difficult to bull rush because of his big powerful base. The occasions where bull rushes work against him are when he stands up too high and doesn't maintain good pad level. Maintaining proper pad level and knee bend are two technical issues that the Badgers tackle could stand to improve.
Wagner needs to improve his overall game this year. His run blocking and pass blocking need to be more consistent. NFL sources have raved to Walterfootball.com about Wisconsin's run scheme and how good a job it does at preparing offensive linemen. Wagner should be a quick starter as a pro.
2013 NFL Draft Expectations:
Wagner looks like a first- or second-round pick heading into the 2012 season. If the senior makes improvements as a run- and pass-blocker, he could grade out as a first-rounder. The demand for the position helps him. If Wagner has dominant games against Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State, he will probably land in the top 32 next April.