Wisconsin Position Analysis: Badger Receivers

Wisconsin Position Analysis: Badger Receivers

Football

Wisconsin Position Analysis: Badger Receivers

Main Story – So Much Depth!

For years, the ineptness of past Wisconsin coaching staffs to recruit, develop and utilize scholarship wide receivers handcuffed an offense, forcing the running backs and tight ends to consistently carry the burden. That fact is now a thing of the past.

Thanks in no small part to Wisconsin wide receiver Ted Gilmore’s ability to identify under-the-radar talent or multi-position athletes who could succeed at one task, Wisconsin’s receivers have gone through a youth-movement renaissance the last two seasons.

Think about this – Wisconsin entered last season with two senior wide receivers. Jazz Peavy was UW’s No.1 option out of camp but became slowed by an ankle injury early and played in only five games before leaving the team. George Rushing suffered a leg injury in camp, never saw the field after recovering from the injury and left the team.

Those misfortunes allowed now-juniors Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor, redshirt sophomore Kendric Pryor and sophomore Danny Davis to command a bigger role in the offense and take advantage of it.

So while Wisconsin loses All-America tight end Troy Fumagalli and his 46 receptions for 547 yards, the Badgers will return those top four receivers who combined for 100 catches, 1,573 yards and 17 touchdown receptions. Those TD catches represent the No.2 mark in school history for the receiver group, and the first time in program history that the top three wide receivers finished with at least 400 yards.

Equally impressive, it wasn’t one player whom opposing defenses could key on. Taylor led the unit in catches (31), was second in receiving yards (475) and tied for second in touchdown receptions (5). Cephus finished second on the unit in catches (30), first in receiving yards (501) and first in touchdown catches (6) despite missing the final five games with a broken leg.

As a true freshman, Davis was third in catches (26) and receiving yards (418) and tied for second in touchdown catches (5). Pryor got off to a slow start after suffering a facial injury in a moped accident during fall camp but finished with 13 catches for 179 yards and one touchdown.

Even more important than the numbers were how Davis, Pryor and Taylor elevated their play after Cephus broke his leg in a road win at Indiana Nov.4. Considering Cephus will begin the 2018 season suspended from team practices and games because of two charges of sexual assault, Wisconsin knows it can survive without him.

*After battling through injuries the first half of the season, Davis had 18 catches for 248 yards and four touchdowns in the last five games. In Wisconsin’s 34-24 win over Miami in the Orange Bowl, three of Davis’ five catches were touchdowns. He’s eligible to return in week three after a suspension.

*After averaging 25.7 yards over the first nine games, Taylor was elevated to the No.1 receiver spot and upped his average to 48.8 yards per game. After having 14 catches for 231 yards and two TDs in the first nine games, he finished with 17 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns in the last five.

*Pryor delivered a nice boost of seven catches for 99 yards and a touchdown without Cephus in the lineup, but the speedy Illinois native partly took over Peavy’s role of the jet sweep, delivering touchdown runs against Iowa and Michigan.

As a result of Cephus’ absence, a strong contingent of walk-ons like Jack Dunn and Adam Krumholz, the group enters 2018 with plenty of experience. Taylor has played in 27 games and Davis and Pryor delivered big contributions to the offense’s production over the second half of the season.

Subplot – Where does Aron Cruickshank Fit?

At a position where the top four players from a year ago return, there’s not going to be a lot of room for advancement. That’s bad news for scholarship players Cade Green and Emmet Perry, both of whom redshirted last season and missed time in the spring because of injuries (although Green played well in the final camp scrimmage). True freshmen receivers A.J. Abbott and Taj Mustapha also will likely have to wait to contribute meaningful reps in the offense, although Mustapha participated in spring drills and played on special teams Friday.

Aron Cruickshank appears to be a different story. Although listed at only 5-9 and 154 pounds, Cruickshank is a stellar all-around athlete. As a high school quarterback, he finished with 24 touchdowns and 1,009 rushing yards as a junior. As a track and field standout, Cruickshank ran the 100- and 200-meter dash, worked on relays and did the long jump, having leaped one time at 23 feet, 2¾ inches.

Enrolled early for spring practices, Cruickshank unofficially caught six passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns (30 and 53 yards) in a full-contact spring scrimmage. The true freshman also had a 48-yard catch that set up a touchdown.

Cruickshank’s quickness and speed appear to have earned him a package on offense and if he can pick up the nuances of the role, an opportunity to return kicks on special teams (he had one return for 30 yards against Western Kentucky).

Stat to Know

Per Pro Football Focus, Taylor leads the returning class of Big Ten wide receivers in catch rate on deep passes from a season ago. On passes over 20 yards thrown at him, Taylor caught 61.5 percent of the attempts (minimum eight attempts). When working in the slot, Taylor averaged 11.18 yards per target last season – the seventh-highest average among all returning FBS receivers.

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