Author: Wade Flavion
MADISON- In the last few days, Wisconsin has been rocked by some big announcements involving its receiver core.
Quintez Cephus has surprisingly declared early for the NFL draft after having a solid 901 yards and seven touchdowns for the Badgers this season. This season Cephus was the guy at receiver; he seemed to constantly be making big plays and gave the Badgers a way to stretch the offense that wasn’t seen in the 2018 season. This can be seen in his 15.3 yards per catch, which is unheard of coming from a Wisconsin wide receiver. After some off the field issues, many thought Cephus’s career was over, but he proved everyone wrong. He seems to be doing the same thing in declaring early for the draft in a stacked wide receiver class. However, his production will surely be missed by UW next season.
The next news that was even more of a surprise was the loss of star kick returner, receiver, and wildcat quarterback Aron Cruikshank. Cruikshank announced his entry to the transfer portal on Wednesday, amid questions about his underutilization in the Rose Bowl Game. Although Cruikshank didn’t see the field a lot last season, when he did he made big plays. He only made three receptions during the season, because of limited targets, but when used in the wildcat or on jet sweeps he averaged 10.6 yards a carry. He also was named second-team all-big ten for his work as a kick returner. His explosive speed was surely in the plans for Wisconsin next season, and it will be interesting to see who will be filling his role.
I should also mention the impact of graduating senior AJ Taylor this season who had a phenomenal year until his injury against Iowa. His production will also need to be replaced going into this season.
The good news for the Badgers is that they will be returning starting receivers Danny Davis and Kendrick Pryor for next season. Both had solid years and will look to build on that next season, but both of them are missing the ability of Cephus and Cruikshank to stretch the field for Wisconsin. Pryor has been the slot receiver for Wisconsin the last two years, while Davis has been the main possession receiver, which leaves an obvious hole on the roster for the third starting receiver.
If you are looking at the current roster the options do not look all that appetizing with Jack Dunn and Adam Krumholz as the two other receivers with relevant experience on the roster. Dunn has caught a couple of unexpected touchdowns this season, but neither has shown anything to suggest that they can fit this role. Their strengths lie in special teams where Dunn is a punt returner, and Krumholz is a gunner on both sides of the ball. Looking past Dunn and Krumholz, Cam Phillips and AJ Abbott stand out as guys who could grow into a deep threat for the Badgers next season. Both are over 6 feet tall and have the high-end speed to get past defensive backs. Both are rs freshmen and will be looking to see the field next season.
Lastly, I’m going to talk about some players who saw or could see some action out of position at receiver next season. In the Rose Bowl, many may have noticed that there was oftentimes a #20 lining up at receiver. This was rs freshman running back Isaac Guerendo, and his usage in this game at receiver might foreshadow a possible position change going into next season. Another player I could see making this switch is the freshman running back from Menominee Falls, Julius Davis. His entry to the program came with excitement about his future, but after a full redshirt season, he hasn’t gained the weight to be able to be an every-down back for Wisconsin. I could see his explosive speed being used in an Aron Cruikshank type roll for Wisconsin, and he could possibly develop into the deep threat receiver that Wisconsin so desperately needs. These are both just speculation but after the commitment of highly touted, all-American running back Jalen Berger the backfield is looking very crowded with talented players like Berger, Nakia Watson, Garrett Groshek, and Brady Schipper. The latter three all played significant minutes last season. Position changes might be coming for some of these players so that they will be able to see the field.
I personally think that playing with the starting three of Davis, Pryor, and Abbott, as well as Cam Phillips or Julius Davis as the 4th receiver, would give the Badgers the best chance at replicating the success they experienced this season. Other than Kendrick Pryor, and Danny Davis there is no sure answer at receiver for next season. We will get a better idea in Spring Camp who will fill this role.
Below I’m going to have diagrams to show possible combinations for the receiving core next year.