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Wisconsin football recruiting: Discussing strengths, weaknesses of Badgers' 2015 recruiting class

A roundtable discussion of the highs and lows of the past recruiting cycle.

Jon Dietzen anchors a promising group of offensive line recruits in Wisconsin's class of 2015.
Jon Dietzen anchors a promising group of offensive line recruits in Wisconsin's class of 2015.
UW Athletic Communications

What's your overall first impression of Wisconsin's class of 2015?

Andrew Rosin: The first impression is that I was surprised by just how well the offense held together. Sure, they lost Sam Madden, and ending up in Georgia shows just how well Madden was regarded. But outside of receiver, they found pieces that could be impact players and find their way onto the field quickly. It could have been a top-25 class, but there's less disappointment than one would have expected with all the attrition.

Jim Dayton: I have mixed reviews for the Class of 2015. There were 12 decommitments, 11 of which came following the coaching change. The defense was particularly gashed, losing nine commits. But there were still some positives. Nabbing running backs Jordan Stevenson and Bradrick Shaw and getting three outstanding offensive linemen in Jon DietzenDavid Moorman and Kevin Estes will keep the running game strong. And bringing in quarterbacks Austin Kafentzis and Alex Hornibrook brings competition to a position group that desperately needs it.

Luke Mueller: I agree with Jim completely. I think the offense had one of its best recruiting classes in years. Sure it could have been even better if the Badgers could have kept Madden, Davon Crookshank and Brandyn Lee, but they get a top-15 ranked quarterback, two outstanding running running backs, a wide receiver/returner and a stout offensive line as always. That side of the ball did well. Now moving to the defensive side, the squad struggled with losses in the recruiting class. The group saw two defensive ends, three cornerbacks, a defensive tackle and a highly touted inside linebacker leave because of the coaching change. I think the class was saved by the somewhat surprising committment of Arrington Farrar. He is an impact player on this side of the ball, which they had lacked previously. When all is said and done, I think this recruiting class will be remembered for its walk-ons. Some of these guys will be impact players later in their careers and with 11 making up the group, you're bound to hit on one or two of them.

Evan D. Brown: I think it's tough to separate the end result from the string of decommitments down the stretch, but setting that aside we see a solid class that's very strong in the traditional areas (OL, RB, TE, in-state talent) and brings some interesting additions elsewhere, particularly at quarterback. The losses on the defensive side of the ball hurt, but Nick Thomas and the late addition of Farrrar will give Dave Aranda some talent to work with at linebacker. Having lost several defensive back commits also stung, but I think Titus Booker could provide some depth this year and will do well in that position down the line. Looking at the big picture, the most encouraging aspect of this year's class might actually be on the coaching side, with the stellar efforts of Thomas Brown. I'm already excited to see who he can reel in next year.

Who are the one or two players from this class who will have the greatest impact at Wisconsin?

Andrew: There are several directions that I can go here. But I'm going to go with the last commitment of the class. Farrar looks like he could be the field linebacker or the Michael Caputo replacement as soon as next season. He's got good speed and had over 100 tackles as a senior playing safety. He's going to be nasty. Also? Chris Orr is a literal tackling machine. The Badgers' linebacking crew lost a great piece in Jordan Griffin, but there's going to be impact there.

Jim: I'll go with Dietzen. He's an absolute tank, standing 6'5 and weighing 330 pounds. He was the No. 1 player in Wisconsin and has already joined the team. Dietzen could even challenge for a starting spot next fall. The offensive line lost three starters to graduation, and while Ray Ball and Hayden Biegel are likely candidates to fill two of those holes, the Badgers could theoretically move Dietzen inside to guard if he's deemed ready to play. Still, he'll eventually become the next great Wisconsin offensive tackle. And his hair is incredible.

Luke: Again, I like Jim's point. I will, however, go with a combo of Stevenson/Braderick Shaw. If one of them wins the No. 2 running back position, he will get a ton of carries over the course of his career. The other guy I see making a long lasting impact is Estes. This kid was basically born to be a left tackle and depending on if he redshirts, he could be a starter for the offensive line for three or four years.

Evan: I agree that Dietzen, Stevenson and Shaw look set to make major contributions during their time in Madison. Taking a slightly different angle, two other players I see having a big impact on the program, one way or another, are Kafentzis and Hornibrook. I'm confident that, even if a few individuals don't pan out, UW will continue to have success on the offensive line and in the backfield. However, if one of this pair can step up and give the Badgers quality production from the quarterback position for several years, it would really open up possibilities on offense and give the the team a weapon in a spot where they haven't always had one.

Which commit will have the quickest impact?

Andrew: Kyle Penniston. The Badgers have always managed to run two or three-tight end sets on a regular basis, and sure it could be T.J. Watt that ends up being the third tight end, but Penniston is already on campus and a strong blocker with good athleticism. Penniston will get packages early, and I wouldn't be surprised if he supplants Austin Traylor to be the second tight end by the end of the season.

Jim: I'd say Dietzen, but I just wrote about him, so I'll go with Stevenson. While no one should expect Stevenson to supplant Corey Clement next year in the starting backfield, the No. 2 running back role has been an important one at Wisconsin for the past several years. Clement, Melvin Gordon, James White and Montee Ball all put up big numbers as backups.

Behind Clement, Dare Ogunbowale, Caleb Kinlaw and Taiwan Deal could all slot into the No. 2 role. But Ogunbowale is a converted cornerback, Kinlaw's skill ratings from scouting sites don't match up to Stevenson's and Deal is coming off a hand injury. Expect the coaches to give Stevenson a long look as Clement's primary backup.

Luke: I think it is Thomas. The Badgers need help at inside linebacker and he is a tier above Orr especially with his ability to enroll early. I think he will see the opportunity he has in front of him and take full advantage of it. Don't be surprised to see him get significant playing time or even start next season.

Evan: I'm interested to see how quickly Andrew James gets into the mix. On special teams, he could definitely break open some returns, and I could see a burner like him contributing a few big plays on offense as well.

Which recruit loss/decommit hurt this class the most?

Andrew: The story of Jake Pickard hurts as much as Nate Howard. Howard is a more physically gifted player, but Pickard's commitment came around the same time that the Badgers were chasing Ellenwood, Ga., defensive end Gus Cumberlander. They looked close to getting a commitment with him, and with Brown still on campus, they would have absolutely been able to close here. But Pickard committed during the run in July. There was no space for Cumberlander. He ended up going to Oregon. National championship-playing Oregon.

Jim: Definitely Howard. Wisconsin really hasn't had a dynamic edge rusher since the J.J. Watt days. While Watt is certainly an uncommon talent, the Badgers have struggled to find anyone who can fill that role adequately. Howard, a 6'5, 225-pound four-star recruit out of St. Louis, offered potential as either a defensive end or stand-up outside linebacker in Aranda's system. While I could see Vince Biegel having a big season as a pass rusher this fall, Howard could have been a long-term solution to what's been a problem for the past several years.

Luke: I think it is Jordan Griffin. The Badgers will desperately need an inside backer this season and he is a much more proven player than Thomas or Orr. They also needed him for depth reasons. Losing him to Vanderbilt hurt as well because it showed that while the Badgers took steps forward in getting guys from other states to buy into Wisconsin Football, guys like Griffith wanted to come for the coach and not so much the school. It would have been nice to pull a guy like him from SEC territory and bring him to the Big Ten. This is a guy who clearly did not decommit because of the "big" academics problem. If the guy can get into Vanderbilt, you know he is a great student and had no issue getting in here. He purely decommitted because he didn't think Wisconsin was a good fit. While I understand his decision completely, he had everything he looked for in a school with Wisconsin because of the chance to play early, great academics and a more prestigious football program, yet chose to go in a different direction.

Evan: I'm going to go with Madden. Not necessarily because of the loss of on-field talent -- though he would have made an already impressive group of offensive line recruits even more so. Regardless of the exact circumstances, the mess around his decommitment was not a good look for Wisconsin. I'm sure the coaches will have a response ready if it comes up in interactions with players and their families, but I feel this kind of decommitment could hurt the perception of the program in the eyes of recruits more than a player simply deciding to go somewhere different or "better."