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A Decade in Wisconsin Badgers Recruiting: Top 5 Wide Receivers

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The days are getting longer, but the countdown to national signing day is getting shorter. It means time to crank up the look back at the last decade in Wisconsin Badgers recruiting.

If there is one position that has been up and down throughout the history of Badgers football, that would be wide receiver. There have been greats, but there have also been periods of nothing at the position as well.

Previous Positions: Quarterback | Safety |

The last decade is a great microcosm of exactly that, so who did the Badgers hit on in the 2007-2016 recruiting classes?

5. David Gilreath

Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 76 at WR, No. 3 in Minnesota(2007)
Career Wisconsin Stats: 67 receptions, 1,077 yards, 4 TD’s

While the receiving numbers alone may not be super impressive, there were few more dangerous weapons on the field than when Gilreath stepped on it to return kicks or punts.

Gilreath will always be remembered for giving everyone the signal that the upset of Ohio State was in the making back in 2011:

His explosive ability came at a perfect time, with Brandon Williams off to the NFL and kick/punt returner needed badly. There was no hesitation and Gilreath became a valuable playmaker for this team — so much so that other teams began to have to game plan around him on special teams or in other areas.

4. Jeff Duckworth

Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 110 at WR, No. 45 in Ohio
Career Wisconsin Stats: 39 receptions, 498 yards, 4 touchdowns

When you make one of the most historic catches and are part of one of the most iconic moments in Big Ten history, you get on this list. Duckworth may not have been this eye-popping receiver most of his career, but he was a steady hand in a loaded receiver corp. when he arrived as part of the 2008 class.

Let’s just all remember his moment of brilliance…because Badgers fans are sure to never let him go a day without being asked about it.

3. Alex Erickson

Recruiting Info: NR
Career Wisconsin Stats: 141 receptions, 1,877 yards, 6 TD’s

Wisconsin high school football prospects are seemingly never getting the respect they deserve. No one is a better example of that than Alex Erickson out of Darlington. He never was on the radar of the recruiting services and never got ranked, but the Badgers gave him a scholarship anyway.

He made that faith in his potential pay off in a big way as the go-to receiver for the Badgers during a difficult period of transition. He even went through some tough times in 2014, missing the entire season and coming back for a senior year that saw him rack up 77 receptions and rank No. 2 in program history for single-season receptions.

It was an incredible feat considering everyone and anyone knew that Erickson was really the only big weapon for the Badgers passing game. Yet, he came through time and again when called upon. Few players have risen faster and been more consistent at the receiver position than Erickson.

Following his days at UW, Erickson has become a kick return specialist for the Cincinnati Bengals.

2. Jared Abbrederis

Recruiting Info: walk-on
Career Wisconsin Stats: 202 receptions, 3,140 yards, 23 touchdowns; 291 yards, 2 TD’s rushing

Few football programs have the walk-on tradition that Wisconsin has built. Don’t believe me, I suggest checking out the great read that is Walk-On This Way – The Ongoing Legacy of the Wisconsin Football Walk-On Tradition then.

One of the better stories in the past decade is that of Jared Abbrederis, who went from small town quarterback to arguably the biggest star at wide receiver in decades. Of course, Abbrederis didn’t sing on the dotted line on national signing day back in his recruiting process, but the coaching staff identified him as a preferred walk-on and eventually he earned his scholarship.

He also eventually earned his way in to the record books — tied at the top with 202 career receptions, No. 2 in receiving yards and touchdowns and No. 1 in single-season receptions with 78 back in 2013.

It is safe to say few walk-on’s have had the impact on a skill position the way Abbrederis has done.

1. Nick Toon

Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 54 at WR, No. 3 in Wisconsin (2007)
Career Wisconsin Stats: 171 receptions, 2,447 yards, 18 TD’s

There isn’t a more famous last name at wide receiver for the University of Wisconsin than Toon. Simply put, Al Toon was an all-time great, period. It didn’t matter what school he represented.

So, living up to that kind of pressure could be hard. However, the younger Toon did just that and then some. He was part of championship football teams and became a go-to player as part of the most difficult one-two punch we’ve seen in some time between himself and former walk-on Jared Abrederis.

After a promising sophomore campaign, Toon struggled through some injury issues and wasn’t the breakout player most expected. He only played in nine games and caught just 36 balls for 459 yards and three touchdowns in 2010.

But, his senior season was a magical one thanks to one Russell Wilson in the mix at quarterback. Wilson and Toon were in sync for a lot of that campaign and it showed with 64 receptions for 926 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Toon wasn’t just great because of the numbers, he was great because he brought something to the table that few did to UW before him or after him. His ability to high-point a football and concentrate a catch right in to completion were sights to behold.

But, the numbers don’t hurt either and Toon can be found all over the career lists at UW. He is No. 4 in receiving yards and receptions, No. 6 in career touchdowns and his 64 receptions in 2011 put him No. 5 on the single-season receptions list in the Cardinal and White.

Safe to say there were few better than him, ever, and had he been fully healthy in his junior season he may have been a top just about every career mark.

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Chryst excited by Graham Mertz’s future with Badgers

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No recruit has ever been as hyped as quarterback Graham Mertz has been in Wisconsin Badgers history.

Normally that would lead to coaches tempering their words and expectations. Given head coach Paul Chryst’s history of exactly that, it was a bit surprising to hear him speak with excitement about what Mertz may bring to the table in Madison.

So far, Chryst has been very impressed with how Mertz is handling everything on and off the field.

“Yeah, Graham has got a great personality,” said Chryst at Big Ten media day on Friday. “I think he’s done a nice job of — he came in the spring, and getting to know our teammates, and I think he’s handling — there’s a lot of buzz and talk about him, and I think he’s handled it well, and I think the team has handled it, as well.”

What has impressed the head coach most about his freshman quarterback? Chryst says it is how he is handling everything that has been thrown at him since he entered school in January.

“They’re experiencing a lot for the first time, going to school and being away from home, and there’s obviously a ton of football with it, and I think all three have handled it, and Graham has handled it well, and I’m excited for those three, Graham in particular, that went through spring and then you have summer and now they’ll be able to go into fall camp and it’s not all new to them,” said Chryst.

“But I’ve been impressed with how Graham has handled himself, and I think he’s — again, cares a lot about teammates and is a good teammate himself, a good person, and I think that’s a great place to start.”

Perhaps the most telling statement from Chryst during his time at the podium on Friday, was the one where he actually used the words “excitement” and “Graham” in the same sentence.

“And certainly we’re excited, really excited about Graham,” Chryst said to the media. “He’s early in on the process, and so I like the group that we have. I’m thankful that we’ve got Jack coming back that’s played in games, and certainly looking forward to fall camp and seeing the growth and development of all of them.”

Does that mean Mertz is the immediate savior of the Badgers offense? No.

But, unlike years past, Chryst is at least willing to go out on a limb and live in the excitement of what could happen in the future.

This type of talk should only serve to continue to spark the speculation and the spotlight on the quarterback position in Madison in the next few weeks.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers quarterbacks in 2019

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Believe it or not, the start of the Wisconsin Badgers fall camp is right around the corner and we’re hitting the home stretch of our preview season as well.

Previous Positions:Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker | Inside Linebacker |

No position has had more of the spotlight and taken up more of our conversation than what is happening at quarterback. After watching the QB play go from ok to disaster in 2018, it is back to the drawing board in many ways.

With Alex Hornibrook off to Florida State for his final season and the highest rated quarterback recruit in Badgers history on campus, this offseason has been full of intrigue.

But, what will the 2019 season look like for the most critical position on this offense? Let’s take a look at exactly that.

Best Case Scenario

The Badgers find out they hit the jackpot with Graham Mertz and he’s spent the time between spring and fall ball getting up to speed on the offense. Mertz immediately shows this is his job and the coaching staff sees it quickly as well.

Either that or Jack Coan comes in and commands the position and the offense with accuracy and an ability to hit the deep ball. The offense gels around him and heading in to the opener at South Florida, Coan is the man behind center by a wide margin.

Yes, there are two best-case scenarios at play. But, that’s because Wisconsin’s coaching staff would really love for someone to flat-out win the starting job early on in fall camp. Will that happen? That’s the million dollar question and don’t count out Chase Wolf from this competition either. He came on strong as spring went along and his abilities give the Badgers offense some different wrinkles that could be intriguing.

No matter whom wins the battle in fall camp, the best case scenario is that that person wins the battle early, the offense can focus on installing around that quarterback and said quarterback shows why he won the job with quality play during the season.

Worst Case Scenario

If we go in to week three of fall camp and there is no winner to the quarterback job, I’m not so confident in this group. Yes, it’s the job of everyone to compete at a high level, but the coaching staff not being able to separate between the bunch isn’t good news.

My worst-case scenario would be no winner coming out of fall camp, we see quarterbacks splitting time in the fall and this offense stalling out in the pass game once again.

Musical chairs at quarterback never seems to work at Wisconsin and that especially played out last season with Coan clearly thrown to the wolves before he was ready to make a full impact after Hornibrook’s injury.

As long as the Badgers can avoid having to play multiple quarterbacks because none of them have wrestled the position for themselves, UW’s offense should be in a better position in 2019 than it was in 2018.

Most Likely to Happen

As much as the fans want to see Graham Mertz come in and be this game-changing quarterback out of the gate, the most likely scenario is that Mertz gets some game action in the non-conference games and Jack Coan is your regular starter.

I can foresee the scenario playing out much like Coan’s true freshman season. The only difference being that Mertz won’t have to give up his redshirt to play in a single game.

It seems like the most likely to happen scenario is that Coan is your starter for the year with Mertz as the man getting the early season reps behind him and then Chase Wolf being the other option to get reps during conference play.

Let’s not forget that Coan is the only quarterback on this roster that has seen more than a complete mop-up duty. Danny Vanden Boom could be an option too, but it seems like Wolf and Mertz passed him up in the spring competition.

As much as Mertz is the future, coaches are paid to win games now and that likely means playing it safe with Coan.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019

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We hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday, but it is time to get back to some business and that means continuing our series looking in to every position group for the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker |

Since we went outside the last time around, today we will focus on a position that has long been a strength of the Badgers program — inside linebacker.

What could happen with this group in 2019? Let’s find out.

Best Case Scenario

Yes, the Badgers face life without an All-American and a steady veteran thanks to the graduations of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. But, the good news is that this group was one of the deepest and most productive overall last season.

Veteran Chris Orr will get one starting spot and former 4-star recruit Jack Sanborn will step in to the other starting role. So, the best case scenario for this group is that Orr, who started as a freshman, gets back to that kind of form, and we see quality play from a combination of younger players like Sanborn and freshman Leo Chenal.

No one had a bigger breakout this spring than Chenal did. He came in as an early enrollee, but well under the radar. By the end of spring ball, it looked very much like he won’t be redshirting and will be challenging for a lot of snaps in the fall.

It would be great to see that happen, because Orr has just one year left in the Cardinal and White.

Worst Case Scenario

What would really hurt this group is if Orr or Sanborn were to go down with an injury here. Yes, Chenal looked good in spring ball like I mentioned before and yes Mike Maskalunas has shown flashes of ability, but are they really ready to be thrust in to the majority of snaps at inside linebacker together?

Experience is an issue for this group and I could see an injury exposing that lack of experience in a big way. Even if the Badgers wanted to go with an older player, the only other option would be Seth Currens and he just converted from safety in the spring himself.

Other than that it would be Hunter Johnson or two walk-ons that were here in the spring.

The Badgers only inside linebacker recruit in the 2019 class was Chenal too, so there will be no more help coming in to fall camp.

Most Likely to Happen

The good news is that I don’t see the worst case scenario actually happening, at least not in a major way. Orr’s medical history suggests he could be prone to missing a game or two with a nagging injury, but don’t expect anything crazy to happen.

I also believe we will see the emergence of Sanborn and Chenal as the future of this position for the Badgers. In fact, Sanborn has looked so good in spring and in his limited playing time last season, that I suspect he could be a darkhorse for All-Big Ten honors at season’s end.

Look for this group to be a downhill, hard-hitting and more athletic group than we saw last season and that could make a major difference for those playing behind them.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff have a lot to figure out, but they should feel safe with the talent that is available to them at inside linebacker.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019

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This time next month, the pads may be popping and the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers fall practices will be under way. It’s so close we all can almost taste it.

But, as we look forward to the 2019 season we’re going to try something a bit different. Gone are the usual ways of looking position groups and giving you a fall preview that last’s a week.

Well, that’s because this season is vital to the Paul Chryst era. There’s a changing of the guard going on. After a disappointing 2018 season that saw UW drop Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 15 years and not win the Big Ten West, the question is if that’s a sign of decline or a blip on the radar.

In order to best answer that question, we’re actually going to start with a look at what needs to happen, what the Badgers need to avoid and what is really likely at every position.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver

Up today is a look at the outside linebacker position.

Best Case Scenario:

Last year, the outside linebackers contributed just 8 total sacks to a team total of 19. That’s a lot of contribution to the effort, but the effort was far below expectations set by previous groups. Additionally, the graduation of Andrew Van Ginkel means just 2.5 sacks return from the outside linebacker position in 2019.

Those sacks belong to Zack Baun, who got his feet wet as a starter last season and is looking for big things to happen in 2019. The good news is that Baun was one of Wisconsin’s best run-stoppers on the edge.

Ideally, Baun not only is a leader of this defensive group in 2019, but becomes much more disruptive behind the line of scrimmage too.

Wisconsin has a lot of potential that could start opposite of him. Former Alabama transfer Christian Bell, former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady all had their moments of shine in spring ball.

In a best case scenario, the Badgers have more than one of that group step up as contributors to an overall group of outside linebackers that don’t have a lot of in-game experience or depth.

Getting this group to contribute double-digit sacks as a whole would be a great step forward.

Worst Case Scenario:

Noah Burks or Christian Bell don’t live up to their enormous potential. It’s as plain and simple as that.

Wisconsin needs them to become pass-rushing specialists in a big way if this defense is going to be as aggressive as it is designed to be. Often times last season, the inability of the front seven to get pressure really hung an inexperienced secondary out to dry.

If UW experiences more of that, it could really be trouble in 2019. The Badgers need this defense to step up its game, and having both of the expected top contenders in replacing Van Ginkel flame out would be a disaster all the way around.

Most Likely to Happen:

Given all the unknowns surrounding the outside linebacker position, this is a difficult position to predict. However, I will say this — Zack Baun will end up as an All-Big Ten performer.

I believe he just scratched the surface of his potential last year, especially since he was just coming off an awful injury history prior to it. If he stays healthy in 2019, I predict he becomes a surprise player to many outside observers in the Big Ten.

That said, I also believe we will see Christian Bell and Noah Burks become a handful for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Both have been patient with the talent that was in front of them, but they are bursting with potential when they have seen the field.

So, to answer the question most want to know…I believe this all signals a position group ready to be a major force once again after that down year in 2018.

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