With the 2018 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2019 for Wisconsin. Over the next few weeks 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 each player’s class in terms of what they’ll be in 2019. If someone was a sophomore in 2018, they will be called a junior here.
Returning: Jonathan Taylor (JR), Garrett Groshek (JR), Nakia Watson (RS FR), Bradrick Shaw (SR), Hunter Johnson (RS SO)
Leaving: Chris James, Taiwan Deal
New arrivals: Julius Davis
Biggest question: Who backs up Jonathan Taylor?
We know all about the greatness of Jonathan Taylor. The 2018 Doak Walker Award winner has more yards in his first two college seasons than any running back in FBS history and became just the third player in Wisconsin history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. His 606 carries over the last two years are also the most in the country. And while he’s been remarkably durable in playing all 27 possible games, having other options behind him would seem advantageous.
With Taiwan Deal (545 yards) and Chris James (108 yards) no longer around, who will play that role?
Certainly junior Garrett Groshek will continue to be involved in the gameplan, having accounted for 588 total yards this past season. But he’s more of a third-down and passing downs type of player, not someone you’re going to line up in the I-formation or other single-back sets. So, if not him, who?
The first name is Nakia Watson. Some thought heading into 2018 he could be a potential contributor but that never materialized. Instead, he spent plenty of time on the scout team and we heard very little about him for much of the season. But during the bowl practices, when the younger players got a lot of reps, he started to make some plays. Watson’s name was among those brought up by offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph when discussing younger players that were standing out, even mentioning an impressive long run the redshirt freshman had in a scrimmage. With a year under his belt and feeling more comfortable, the 5-foot-11, 231-pound, Watson could be a nice compliment to Taylor.
Another option would be Julius Davis. A 3-star recruit in the 2019 class, he became the first in-state tailback to earn a scholarship from Wisconsin in six years and turned down offers from the likes of LSU, Notre Dame and USC. Listed at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Davis had a big junior season at Menomonee Falls, rushing for 1,762 yards and 17 touchdowns. An injury as a senior limited him to two games, but he still rushed for 537 yards and six touchdowns.
“(Taylor is) going to need some people to carry the weight when he comes out to get a quick breather. You don’t want the pace of the game to change when he leaves,” Davis said on The Camp podcast in December. “I’m definitely hoping to get some playing time and prove myself. [I want to] be one of those backs they can use even though I’m a freshman. [My goal is] just to come in, play early and help (Taylor) out, learn from him and be the best running back I can be.”
One wildcard is Bradrick Shaw. He suffered two significant injuries in the 2017 season finale against Minnesota and did not play in 2018. It’s unclear if he’ll be able to resume his career or if he’s played his final snaps. The senior has played in 21 games, rushing for 822 yards and nine touchdowns.
As for fullback, Wisconsin loses the ultra productive Alec Ingold, who scored 21 touchdowns during his career. The most likely replacement is redshirt sophomore Mason Stokke. He’s still relatively inexperienced at the position but Taylor called one of his plays in the Pinstripe Bowl — when he blocked two guys on one snap — very Ingold-like.
Sophomore John Chenal and true freshman Quan Easterling could be options behind Stokke.
Projected depth chart:
1) Jonathan Taylor (JR)
2) Nakia Watson (RS FR)
3) Julius Davis (FR)
1) Garrett Groshek (JR)
1) Mason Stokke (RS SO)
2) John Chenal (SO)