What the future holds: Wide receiver

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.

Wide receiver:

Returning: Quintez Cephus (JR), A.J. Taylor (JR), Danny Davis (SO), Kendric Pryor (RS FR), Adam Krumholz (RS SO), Jack Dunn (RS SO), Cade Green (RS FR), Emmet Perry (RS FR), Deron Harrell (RS FR)

Leaving: George Rushing

Arriving: A.J. Abbott, Taj Mustapha, Isaac Guerendo, Aron Cruickshank

Season grades

Biggest question: How will Wisconsin use its abundance of wide receivers?

This is definitely a good problem to have, especially with the Badgers feeling like a one-man bad at the position from 2012 to 2016. But it does present a challenge for wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, who must mix and match a unit that is as deep as anything Wisconsin’s had in recent memory.

Before getting hurt at the beginning of November, Quintez Cephus was clearly quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s favorite weapon. He was on pace for 47 catches, 779 yards and nine touchdowns. He should be ready for summer workouts.

With Cephus out, A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor stepped up. Taylor had three of his five touchdowns in the final five games of the year, Davis capped his impressive freshman year with three scores in the Orange Bowl and Pryor, who was slowed early in the year after a moped accident in August, scored three vital touchdowns over a two week period against Iowa and Michigan.

The quartet gives Wisconsin one of the better units in the Big Ten. Now, the Badgers need to figure out a way to best utilize them.

Other notes:

If the future wasn’t bright enough for Wisconsin, there are several more incoming players that have people excited.

Isaac Guerendo and Aron Cruickshank further increase the athleticism at the position, with the latter likely having a chance to contribute in the return game and potentially in specialized offensive situations.

The other two incoming freshmen — A.J. Abbott and Taj Mustapha — were high school teammates in Michigan and will bring size and big-play potential to the table.

Cruickshank and Mustapha will both enroll early, allowing them to go through winter conditioning and spring practice.

Walk-on Adam Krumholz saw time when injuries hit in 2017, and the redshirt sophomore held his own.

Cade Green is another guy to keep an eye on. The redshirt freshman had a strong first few days of fall camp before getting injured. He suffered a foot injury during the year and was in a walking boot at the Orange Bowl. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get an opportunity as Wisconsin’s punt returner with cornerback Nick Nelson now off to the NFL.

Predicted depth chart:

1) Quintez Cephus (JR), Kendric Pryor (RS SO)
2) A.J. Taylor (JR), Aron Cruickshank (FR)
3) Danny Davis (SO), Taj Mustapha (FR)

What the future holds:
Quarterback
Running back

Grading the Badgers: Wide receivers

The wide receiver position at Wisconsin was one that came into the season with high expectations. Senior receivers Jazz Peavy and George Rushing were supposed to lead the group while Quintez Cephus would have been great to watch develop.

Things didn’t pan out that way on the outside for the Badgers. Rushing didn’t play a snap all season and by the end of the year wasn’t around the team, Peavy played in the first four games before an injury and personal issues ended his season. He was also not with the team by the end of the year.

Cephus, however, took great strides in developing his game. He was Wisconsin’s most explosive threat on the outside. Cephus had 30 grabs for 501 yards and six touchdowns on the season before he suffered a leg injury requiring surgery against Indiana.

The absence of Cephus meant that Wisconsin was missing three of their scholarship wide receivers and had to rely on much younger players at that position than previously anticipated.

Sophomore A.J. Taylor, redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor, and freshman Danny Davis became the go-to threats for Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook.

Taylor was the only one of the three to play in all 13 games for Wisconsin this season. Both Pryor and Davis missed time due to injury. Pryor was involved in a moped accident during the preseason that caused him to miss time and Davis suffered a leg injury keeping him out of a game.

Of the three, Taylor had the best season. He finished with 23 catches for 370 yards and four touchdowns. Davis was close behind him, finishing the year with 21 catches, 362 yards, and two touchdowns.

Davis and Taylor did more damage through the air than Pryor, although the redshirt freshman was still effective. Pryor had 11 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown through the air. He was also utilized in the team’s rushing attack, collecting 63 yards and two touchdowns on five carries this season.

The group grew quite a bit during the season, transforming from an experienced group with an explosive playmaker in Cephus to an inexperienced group of talented athletes. The future is really bright at this position, especially if Cephus can return to the level of play he was at during the season before he saw his season end prematurely.

GRADE: B+ — This group faced one of the more difficult transformations on the 2017 Badgers. They stepped up to the plate at the end of the season and have a very high ceiling, especially when Cephus returns. Davis might have the highest ceiling of the young trio playing at the end of the season, but Taylor and Pryor should certainly be significant contributors moving forward at the wide receiver position.

Tough test on tap for Wisconsin’s receivers

MADISON – The Wisconsin Badgers are coming off one of their better offensive performances of the season against Minnesota in their regular season finale. To say they were flawless would be a false testimony, but it was an effort that was certainly repeatable, and one they’ll likely need to attempt to improve upon this week against Ohio State.

The Buckeyes present a much more talented defense than the Gophers did, and there isn’t an argument on that front. It’s no secret that Wisconsin has struggled to take care of the ball at times. That’s something they can ill-afford to do when they square off with Ohio State. The Buckeye defense is filled with big named playmakers more than any other unit the Badgers have gone against this season.

“They’re a good defense, man,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph told the media on Tuesday. “Their defensive line, they’re so deep and there are so many guys to study and watch. Their backers can fly around and run, they can step up and play press on you all day. They’re just really good and they’re really well coached within their scheme. I said this about Michigan’s defense, was a defense that was similar, but every guy can make the play. You know what I mean? They’re a field full of playmakers, which is difficult. You’ve got to be on, and every guy has to be on. They’ll be quite a challenge.”

The Buckeyes have the eighth best total defense in the FBS this season. They only give up 291.8 yards per game while holding opponents to slightly under 20 points per game. The Buckeyes have also been stout in the passing game, keeping opponents to an average of only 179 yards per game though the air. They’re also fifth in yards allowed per play at a miniscule 4.4. On the other end, Wisconsin’s defense actually ranks first in both yards per game and per play, at 236.9 and 4.0, respectively.

On offense, Wisconsin has relied on freshman running back Jonathan Taylor to be one of the best players in the country, but recently new playmakers have started to establish themselves. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has played better over the past two games and wide receivers Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor, and A.J. Taylor have done a remarkable job filling in for the injured Quintez Cephus.

Against Minnesota, Hornibrook had his first interception-free game in the Big Ten this year and those three receivers combined for 11 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. That group will be facing a huge test when lining up against Ohio State corner Denzel Ward.

“Playmaker,” Rudolph said as soon as Ward’s name was mentioned in a question about Ohio State’s defense. “We saw that against us [with Iowa’s Josh Jackson]. I think you’ve got great talent on the edges there. You give them an opportunity to make a play and they can make it.”

Ward was named a first-team All-Big Ten defensive back on Tuesday by the media as well. He’s been a regular in the first round of many mock draft experts and one of the best corners the Badgers have seen all season, only Iowa’s Jackson compares.

“He’s got good feet, he’s athletic, he’s quick,” Taylor said about Ward. “It’s going to be a competition, it’s going to be a fight. He’s a good corner. It’ll be a fun matchup.”

“I feel like he may be a little more faster and quicker with his feet,” Pryor said comparing Ward to Jackson.

If the Wisconsin offense was faced with this challenge shortly after Cephus went down for the year with a right leg injury it may be too tall of a task. Even though Cephus has only been out for three weeks, they’re more seasoned on the outside at this point than they were right after his injury.

“We keep saying each game we get better and better but I really think we’re a lot more comfortable,” Taylor said. We are a lot more comfortable as a group going out there and just doing our thing. Nobody is really nervous to go out there and maybe run a route or catch a ball in a big-time moment. We’re all more comfortable and we can think now, we feel like the game is starting to slow down. I’d say that’s how we’ve gotten it. The game is slowing down to us and it’s not as fast and intense as it would be.”

The young group will be facing a tough test on a stage larger than one they’ve previously been on, but it’s a challenge they’re ready for.

Wisconsin WR Quintez Cephus to miss the rest of the year

The expectation became reality today for the Wisconsin football team.

On Thursday’s injury report, wide receiver Quintez Cephus had gone from out for Saturday’s game against No. 20 Iowa to out for the season. It comes five days after he suffered a leg injury against Indiana that required surgery.

“You feel bad for him, certainly,” coach Paul Chryst told reporters. “[Quintez] will bounce back.”

Wisconsin is losing its No. 1 receiver in Cephus, who is tied with Troy Fumagalli with the most catches (30) on the team and leads the Badgers in receiving yards (501) and touchdowns (6). In fact, with Cephus out, along with seniors Jazz Peavy and George Rushing likely not playing again, Wisconsin must finish the year without three guys that have amassed 120 catches, 1,761 yards and 11 touchdowns in their careers.

That said, the Badgers have become accustomed to dealing with injuries and other guys filling in. In this case, that means sophomore A.J. Taylor, freshman Danny Davis and redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor. That trio has combined for 31 catches, 534 yards and three scores in their careers, most of which has come this season.

“I’m excited for them and their opportunity,” Chryst said. “Every time you say that it’s not like you’re not going to miss [the guy you lost]. You miss all the people. But, absolutely, I feel confident about the guys in that room stepping up and those around stepping up.”

Here’s a look at the full injury report in advance of Wisconsin’s game with No. 20 Iowa.

A pair of Wisconsin freshmen star in their Big Ten debuts

By: Danny Cunningham

MADISON — With a roster littered with upperclassmen all across the two-deep, Wisconsin was propelled to a 33-24 win Saturday in its Big Ten opener over Northwestern by two freshmen, as Jonathan Taylor and Danny Davis both came up big for the Badgers in their conference debuts.

Taylor had been a workhorse for the team in the first three games of the season, entering the day averaging 146 yards per game, which was tops in the Big Ten. Against Northwestern he was unable to break free for any long runs, but did set the tone early. He gave Wisconsin its first touchdown in the first quarter on a 7-yard scamper up the middle to cap off a 7-play, 47-yard drive on which he accounted for 26 yards on five carries.

The New Jersey-native didn’t put up the same kind of numbers on Saturday that Badgers fans had seen in the first few weeks, finishing with 80 yards on 19 carries, but finding the end zone twice was crucial.

“Definitely expected to come out with a win. We’re a great team when we come out and rally around each other.” Taylor said following the game. “The guys said [playing a Big Ten game] was going to be fun and it definitely was.”

Wisconsin trailed at halftime, but both Taylor and Davis were keys to helping get the Badgers back on top early in the third quarter. Following a 61-yard reception by wide receiver Quintez Cephus, Taylor scored from 11 yards out, his seventh touchdown on the year.

The Badgers took a 14-10 lead on that drive, and Davis was pivotal in expanding it to 21-10 on the very next possession. He had a 32-yard catch and run to put Wisconsin in scoring position before hauling in a 6-yard touchdown from quarterback Alex Hornibrook two plays later.

“We have a bunch of guys that can score.” Davis told reporters after the game. “This week it just happened it was me and [Jonathan Taylor].”

Wisconsin opening up Big Ten play with a win is something that was expected this season, the method in which it was done, however, was not.

When asked about the performance of himself and Davis, Taylor offered this:

“Just a true testimony to how hard we work. It’s about trusting the man next to you and making sure that we all do our job together.”

A look at Danny Davis, Jack Coan and more headline makers on National Signing Day

MADISON — Wisconsin rarely makes big splashes on National Signing Day. And until 1:30 Wednesday afternoon, it was business as usual, with all 17 of the Badgers commitments in the class of 2017 already having sent in their national letters of intent. But just as coach Paul Chryst was stepping down from the podium after meeting with the media to talk about his third recruiting class, the Badgers got one of the biggest gifts they ever have, as 4-star wide receiver Danny Davis picked up the Wisconsin helmet from a table inside the Springfield (Ohio) High School gym, signifying he would be the 18th scholarship member of the class, even signing it as if to make it official.

“I feel great,” Davis told the Springfield News-Sun. “I had a fun time with the recruiting process but it’s stressful. I’m glad it came to the end, and I picked the right school.”

Long thought to be headed to Kentucky, the Badgers ramped up their recruiting of the No. 2 wide receiver in the state of Ohio, beating out the Wildcats and West Virginia for his services.

“We had a pretty good feeling, yet you don’t know for sure,” coach Paul Chryst told the Big Ten Network on their level of confidence that Davis would choose Wisconsin.

“(We) really spent (most of our time in) January on Danny. It was exciting to get the news that he chose Wisconsin.”

Davis is the highest-rated wide receiver the Badgers have signed since Kraig Appleton in 2009, and he becomes the second-highest rated recruit in Wisconsin’s 2017 class. He garnered that lofty status by rushing for 1,195 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior, while also grabbing 22 passes for 559 yards and six touchdowns.

Coan the future?

Jack Coan always wanted to play college football, but when recruiters stayed away from Long Island, he was forced to consider other options. It’s why, when he was a freshman at Sayville (N.Y.) High School, he committed to play lacrosse at Notre Dame. But even then, his goal, and that of his coach, Rob Hoss, was to keep the focus on finding a home where he could play quarterback.

“Right when I committed to Notre Dame for lacrosse, Coach Hoss was like, ‘Alright, that’s great. You’re going to play football, though. Don’t worry about it,’” Coan said on Wednesday inside the McClain Center. “I did have some doubts. You don’t see anyone coming off (Long) Island to play football, so I didn’t think I was really going to get recruited. But I was always hoping for it and it was always my dream.”

An offer from Miami jump-started the 6-foot-3, 200-pound, Coan’s recruitment, including an offer from Wisconsin last January. Admitting he knew little about the program, Coan visited Madison during spring practice in March and fell in love.

“Within the first 15 minutes I knew I wanted to come here,” Coan said. “Everyone was talking when I was visiting schools like, ‘You’re going to get to a place and you’re going to know right away.’ And I got here and right away saw the atmosphere of this place. I walked into a room full of all the coaches and right away I just felt welcome. I felt like this place was home.”

Coan comes to Madison after being named the Gatorade Player of the Year in New York as a senior, finishing his career with a Long Island-record 9,787 yards passing and 128 touchdowns. He also ran for 2,551 yards and 33 scores. Asked if he considered himself a dual-threat quarterback, Coan had no interest in labeling himself one thing or another.

“I feel like I’m just a football player,” Coan said. “I can make the plays that need to be made. If I have to run, I’m going to run. If I got to pass, I’m going to pass. If they want me to punt the ball, I’ll do that. I don’t really care.”

Redshirt sophomore Alex Hornibrook started nine games last year and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph made it clear on Wednesday that they liked what he did. But they need depth at the position, and with Coan arriving in January, he’ll likely get plenty of reps in spring practice to make his case for early playing time.

“The opportunity is really up to me,” Coan said. “Everyone’s got an equal opportunity to play. Doesn’t matter if you started last year or not. I’m just going to try to work my hardest and we’ll see.”

Stocking up

When you look at the position rundown of Wisconsin’s class of 2017, it’s pretty clear what the Badgers tried to do in this recruiting cycle. Of the 18 scholarship players, eight of them are either offensive linemen or wide receivers. But this wasn’t done with the idea of bringing in as many as possible just to give them a better chance of hitting on one or two of them. Chryst genuinely thinks all of them are players.

“They had to be the right guys,” Chryst said. “We were able to accomplish balancing out some of the position group numbers, and yet, I do think (we got) a really good group that fits this place.”

In addition to Danny Davis, the wide receivers Wisconsin brought in were 3-star recruits in Cade Green (Austin, Texas), Emmet Perry (Grand Prairie, Texas) and grayshirt Deron Harrell (Denver, Colo.).

Meanwhile, 2017 proved to be a really good year for offensive linemen in Wisconsin. All four of the kids that signed are from the state and all of them are highly thought of, especially Kayden Lyles out of Middleton.

The son of former Wisconsin tight end Kevin Lyles, and the brother of redshirt freshman quarterback Kare Lyles, Kayden is the highest-rated recruit in the class and had scholarship offers from some of the best programs in the country.

“He’s big,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said with a laugh when asked what he liked about the 6-foot-3, 320-pound, Lyles. “He’s strong and really is a fluid athlete for being such a large and powerful man. I think that gives him a pretty good shot.”

And that shot could come early, as an injury to starting guard Jon Dietzen will keep him out of spring practice.

“He’ll get meaningful reps,” Rudolph said. “He’s probably physically mature enough to truly compete. We’ll see where he’s at. There’s a big learning curve. Our guys will do a great job and take care of him and help him along the way. It’ll be a great spring for him.”

Notes

— Wisconsin needs to replace Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale at running back next season, and while redshirt sophomore Bradrick Shaw and junior transfer Chris James appear to be the front runners to get the carries, running back coach John Settle had high praise for 4-star running back Jonathan Taylor out of New Jersey and thinks he might be able to play early.

“We had a young man (Corey Clement) that just left here, (Taylor) broke all his (high school rushing) records (in New Jersey). I wouldn’t put anything past him.”

— The lone tight end Wisconsin signed in the class is from football royalty. Jake Ferguson is the grandson of former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez, and his brother, Joe, will be a senior this year for the Badgers.

At 6-foot-5, 220-pounds, Ferguson stands out physically for tight ends coach Mickey Turner, but it was something else about the Madison Memorial product that really has him excited.

“He’s competitive. He’s got a demeanor about him. He’s not just happy go lucky, like, ‘cool, I’ll go play college football.’ He likes playing football. He likes hitting people. He likes catching the ball and making plays in the moment. He wants to be that guy.”

— The Badgers rarely go to the junior college ranks to fill their roster, but felt it was worth it this cycle to bring in outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel.

From Iowa, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Van Ginkel started his career at South Dakota where he was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year in 2015. With a desire of playing in the FBS, he transferred to Iowa Western Community College last season and caught the eye of Wisconsin, who must replace starters Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt.

The coaching staff, including outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, expects him to compete for playing time this fall.

“(We) saw him doing on tape all the things that we want our outside linebackers to do, and he was doing it at a high level against college competition. That’s the thing that jumped out at us. That’s why we go and recruit a guy like that, who’s really a two-for-two kind of guy that we think can come in and contribute for us right away.”

As for the rest of the class, Wisconsin had seven early enrollees for the 2017 recruiting class. Wisconsin finished with the 7th ranked class in the Big Ten and the 40th ranked group in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.

Stars below indicate the number of stars given to each player by most national publications.

Early enrollees:
*** Jack Coan | QB | Sayville (West Sayville, N.Y.)
*** Madison Cone | CB | East Forsyth (Kernersville, N.C.)
*** Izayah Green-May | DE | Bolingbrook (Bollingbrook, Ill.)
*** Deron Harrell | WR | Denver East (Denver, Colo.)
*** Faion Hicks | CB | Charles W. Flanagan (Hollywood, Fla.)
**** Kayden Lyles | OG | Middleton (Middleton, Wis.)
*** Andrew Van Ginkel | DE | Iowa Western Community College (Council Bluffs, Iowa)

Signing Day Commits:
** Adam Bay | LS | Desert Ridge (Mesa, Ariz.)
*** Tyler Beach | OT | Port Washington (Port Washington, Wis.)
*** Logan Bruss | OG | Kimberly (Appleton, Wis.)
*** Alex Fenton | OG | Menomonie (Menomonie, Wis.)
*** Jake Ferguson | TE | Madison Memorial (Madison, Wis.)
*** Cade Green | WR | Lake Travis (Austin, Tex.)
*** Scott Nelson | S | University of Detroit Jesuit (Detroit, Mich.)
*** Emmet Perry | WR | DeSoto (Grand Prairie, Tex.)
*** Jonathan Taylor | RB | Salem (Salem, N.J.)
**  Danny Vanden Boom | QB | Kimberly (Kimberly, Wis.)
*** Aaron Vopal | DE | De Pere (De Pere, Wis.)
PWO Michael Balistreri | DE | Univ. School of Milw. (Grafton, Wis.)
PWO Ethan Cesarz | ILB | Delavan-Darien (Delevan, Wis.)
PWO Jake Collinsworth | ILB | Merrill (Merrill, Wis.)
PWO Sam DeLany | WR | Kettle Moraine (Delafield, Wis.)
PWO Matt Henningsen | DE | Monomonee Falls (Menomonee Falls, Wis.)
PWO Hunter Johnson | RB | Darlington (Darlington, Wis.)
PWO Collin Larsh | K | Monona Grove (Marshall, Wis.)
PWO Josh Seltzner | OT | Columbus (Columbus, Wis.)
PWO Blake Smithback | OG | Waunakee (Waunakee, Wis.)
PWO Coy Wanner | ATH | Preble (Green Bay. Wis.)

PWO = Preferred Walk-On