What the future holds: Running back

With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for Wisconsin. Over the next few days we’ll be going position-by-position to see what the future holds for the Badgers.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to the players’ class in terms of what they’ll be in 2018. If someone was a sophomore in 2017, they will be called a junior here.


Running back:

Returning: Jonathan Taylor (SO), Chris James (SR), Bradrick Shaw (JR), Garrett Groshek (RS SO), Alec Ingold (SR), Sam Brodner (RS SO), Hunter Johnson (RS FR).

Leaving: Rachid Ibrahim

Arriving: Nakia Watson

Season grades

Biggest question: What can Jonathan Taylor do for an encore?

Jonathan Taylor was as impressive of a true freshman as Wisconsin has ever seen. He ran for an FBS freshman record 1,977 yards and added 13 touchdowns. He earned All-American honors, was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and was finalist for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the best running back in the country. The only thing more stunning than his move up the depth chart from fifth-string to first-string in fall camp was the astonishing array of broken tackles and breakaway runs that dominated the first half of Wisconsin’s season.

But this year is now behind him and everyone is wondering what he’ll do next. Historically, at least at Wisconsin, besting what a player has done in his first year hasn’t been easy. In fact, only one running back that rushed for at least 1,000 yards as a freshman ended up running for more in their second year — Anthony Davis in 2002. But it’s unrealistic to expect Taylor to one-up himself in 2018. Not only is the 1,977 yards the most by a freshman in FBS history, it’s the 10th-best mark in Big Ten history.

So, what is realistic to hope for? Well, one, watching Taylor become a three-down back. Most young players struggle in pass protection and he was no different. The good part is that the willingness is there. Now, it’s just a matter of technique. If he’s able to stay on the field for all three downs, he becomes an even bigger threat.

However, his biggest focus should be on ball security. Taylor lost six fumbles in 2017, the most of any running back in the country. That can’t continue if he’s going to reach the lofty heights that so many think he’s capable of.

Other notes:

No one quite knew what to expect when Wisconsin added Rachid Ibrahim as a graduate transfer last summer, but he proved to be very valuable. His ability as a third-down back covered for the injury to Chris James, and he contributed more than anyone thought he would. With him gone, James steps back into that role for his final year, along with spelling Taylor on early downs.

Junior Bradrick Shaw and redshirt sophomore Garrett Groshek provide depth.

At fullback, Alec Ingold steps into a starting role in place of the graduate Austin Ramesh. Wisconsin will need to identify a backup to the senior.

Depth chart:
1) Jonathan Taylor (SO)
2) Chris James (SR)
3) Bradrick Shaw (JR)
4) Garrett Groshek (RS SO)

1) Alec Ingold (SR)

What the future holds: