Oh, how glorious were the days of Jared Abbrederis. The Green Bay Packers receiver was the last Wisconsin Badgers wideout to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a season and the following year, in 2014, the Badgers saw a notable decline in their passing production. Granted, there was a future first-round draft pick in the backfield like Melvin Gordon.
Of course, better production between the receivers and quarterbacks would've added another layer to the offense. This year, I expect to see a glimpse of that other layer.
Last year, the majority of Wisconsin's receiving production came from Alex Erickson. Erickson is now a senior poised to build off of last year's work. In 2014, he had 55 receptions, 772 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Wisconsin's No. 2 receiver, tight end Sam Arneson, caught only 29 passes for 387 yards and four touchdowns. To say the Badgers relied heavily on Erickson would be an understatement.
Can Joel Stave find consistency at quarterback?
Joel Stave enters fall camp as the starter this time -- what will we see from the Wisconsin Badgers' fifth-year senior?
This year could bring a new day for Wisconsin receivers. Erickson might be on the brink of a breakout year and many similarities arise when you compare him to Abbrederis, especially as juniors. In 2012, Abbrederis had 49 catches for 837 yards and five touchdowns. The next year: 78 catches for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns. The message? A confident Joel Stave paired with an experienced senior wideout could make for a lethal pair.
Alongside Erickson is an unproven yet hopeful group of players. Junior Robert Wheelright and sophomore George Rushing combined for three touchdowns in the spring game but accounted for only six receptions combined in 2014. Redshirt sophomore Jazz Peavy also performed well in the spring game and could develop into a solid slot receiver for the Badgers.
Leaders at position (2014 stats)
Alex Erickson: 55 receptions, 772 yards, 3 touchdowns
Sam Arneson: 29 receptions, 387 yards, 4 touchdowns
Kenzel Doe: 17 receptions, 197 yards, 1 touchdown
Alex Erickson (RS SR), Jordan Fredrick (RS SR), Peter Roy (RS FR), Reggie Love (RS JR), Jazz Peavy (RS SO), George Rushing (SO), A.J. Jordan (RS SR), Noah Stengel (RS FR), Jake Stengel (RS SR), Robert Wheelwright (JR), Krenwick Sanders (SO)
Conor Senger (Transferred to UW-Oshkosh), Kenzel Doe, Lance Baretz, Conner Cummins
Additions to position
Henry Houden and Andrew James (both incoming freshmen)
X-Factor: Robert Wheelwright
With Erickson as the clear No. 1 receiver, the No. 2 receiver spot is up for grabs yet again. I believe Wheelwright is ready to claim that position.
As mentioned above, Wheelwright excelled in the spring game and the coaches have taken notice. Head coach Paul Chryst said afterward, "Hopefully Rob can take this and gain some confidence from it. A perfect example, I think, of a guy that wants to but needs to have a great summer."
The 6'3, 207-pound Wheelwright is one of the larger receivers on the roster and could seriously bolster the offense if he can join Erickson as a threat on the outside. He averaged more than 10 yards per reception in the spring game and is ready to build off his 2014 season in which he caught only one pass for a 17-yard touchdown against Minnesota.
Wisconsin cannot afford to be so one dimensional at receiver because it limits the versatility when a first down is needed. Wheelwright could lure larger cornerbacks due to his size and allow Erickson to work against smaller DBs. If opponents kept their better defenders on Erickson, the Badgers could take advantage of the size mismatch that Wheelwright might have. These kinds of options are exactly what would bolster Wisconsin's second and, more specifically, third-down offenses.