Football is coming, but probably not soon enough for you. In an effort to get you through the down time in the summer, we’re starting our offseason look at Wisconsin as it prepares for another year of chasing a Big Ten title. First up, four players that could have breakout seasons like wide receiver Quintez Cephus, running back Jonathan Taylor and safety Natrell Jamerson had in 2017.
WR Danny Davis
2017 season stats: 21 catches, 362 yards, 4 TDs
You could probably say this about any of Wisconsin’s young wide receivers, but Danny Davis’ ceiling is very high and he seems to be just scratching the surface. He had eight catches in the Badgers’ first nine games, before picking up the slack in the wake of Cephus’ season-ending leg injury. Over the final five games, he had 18 grabs and four touchdowns, three of which came in the Orange Bowl against Miami. And those catches weren’t just of the ho-hum variety. Nearly every week down the stretch (Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and the Hurricanes) Davis made a circus catch look easy. And he did it despite being relatively inexperienced as a wide receiver after being more of a running back in high school.
Davis has a myriad of skills that make him special, and the Badgers found a way to exploit most of them in 2017. Expect him to have an even bigger role this fall.
TE Jake Ferguson
2017 stats: N/A
The redshirt freshman really stood out in the spring, catching nearly everything thrown his way and making the hard grabs look easy. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Ferguson is in the mold of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and could provide the perfect balance of blocker and receiver.
Though his consistency needs work — multiple coaches mentioned it throughout the 15 sessions in spring — all signs point to Ferguson playing a significant role in filling the void left by Troy Fumagalli. And while senior Zander Neuville and junior Kyle Penniston will also figure heavily into Wisconsin’s plans this fall, it certainly seems as though Ferguson has the highest ceiling of the three, and many believe he’s in line to be the next great tight end for the Badgers.
S Scott Nelson
2017 stats: N/A
Like Ferguson, Nelson turned heads as a true freshman while playing on the scout team. So much so, he, along with Ferguson and guard Kayden Lyles, traveled to Minnesota for the season finale even though there was no chance they’d play. It was just to get them used to traveling, something that has historically served as an indication of what the team expects of freshman in their second season.
From almost Day 1, senior D’Cota Dixon has taken Nelson under his wing and served as a mentor on and off the field. You rarely saw one without the other after games and practices last season. Nelson ran with the first-team defense for much of the spring while Dixon was out, but when he returns there’s a good chance that duo will be the starting safeties against Western Kentucky.
CB Dontye Carriere-Williams
2017 stats: 30 tackles, 6 PD, 1 INT
With Nick Nelson and Derrick Tindal no longer around, Carriere-Williams is suddenly the most experienced cornerback on the roster. Used almost exclusively as the Badgers’ third CB last season, the South Florida native is in the same position as the likes of Garret Dooley, T.J. Watt and Leo Musso once were. All three were solid contributors before taking their games to the next level and becoming key pieces in Wisconsin’s defense. That’s what the Badgers need Carriere-Williams to do and he seems more than capable of getting done, especially now that he’s fully healthy.
The redshirt sophomore played much of last season with an abdominal injury that required surgery after the season. He missed much of spring practice, which he called frustrating, saying he knew how important those practices were. But he’s good now and most expect him to step into that No. 1 CB role and for there not to be much of a drop-off, if any, from what we saw last year.