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National Signing Day 2016: Wisconsin's A.J. Taylor shows promise for immediate, long-term impact

The Missouri native was explosive as a prep star; now he has a chance to earn early playing time.

There are many reasons for the Wisconsin Badgers and their fans to be excited for the class of 2016 commits. Their No. 25 ranking according to is the one of the highest a UW recruiting class has finished since recruiting services started.

Four-star commits Cole Van Lanen and Garrett Rand have the talent and potential to make a significant impact in their Wisconsin careers and could find themselves in playing early on. The UW secondary replenished its numbers, and if injuries pop up, cornerbacks like Caesar Williams and Ke'Shan Pennamon may step up into the two-deep or certain defensive packages during the 2017

The most exciting piece in this class that could make the biggest splash early on and in his career, may just be A.J. Taylor, the versatile athlete from Kansas City, Mo.

Taylor is ranked a four-star recruit by 247Sports' composite rankings. A first-team all-state selection by Missouri Football Coaches Association and Missouri media as a senior last season, he rushed for 1,721 yards and 16 touchdowns while also contributing 338 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions.

That was as a running back, however. At Wisconsin, he's projected to play wide receiver, but that hasn't stopped many from thinking Taylor has the ability to see playing time on the field as a true freshman -- including his new position coach.

"He's a young man that possesses a lot of abilities," UW wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore said on Wednesday. "He can do a lot of things for you, whether if that's as a returner, whether that's as a running back or as a receiver. He's a guy who's really good in his hands. He's a really intelligent man on the field, off the field. He gets it. He sees the big picture.

"In saying that, I think that will give him a chance to play as a freshman."

That's high praise for Taylor, who was a second-team all-state selection as a junior after gaining 864 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns.

He showcased his skills at the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in January after his senior season alongside fellow 2016 commits Dallas Jeanty and Noah Burks. Recruiting analysts in attendance during the week's worth of practices noted Taylor's playmaking abilities. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph believes the multi-faceted athlete can come in and contribute as a freshman.

"A.J. has the type of skillset where he may be able to come in right away (and play)," Rudolph said. "You just watch him play, he's so dynamic."

Running backs coach John Settle did concede Taylor would start at wide receiver, but noted Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst likes to use players where they'll be most effective.

Gilmore believes Taylor can handle the mental aspects of UW's pro-style offense coming into the college game as a true freshman. There were no concerns from the veteran position coach on Taylor adjusting from a physical aspect, as the 6'0, 190-pound standout should be able to hold up at the next level.

That should bode well for Taylor being utilized not just in different positions of the offense, but within the different assignments and looks as a wide receiver. That benefits Wisconsin, as they lose seniors Alex Erickson and Jordan Fredrick due to exhausting their eligibility.

"I think that he can play on the outside lane and in the slot. I really do feel that way. Obviously, where the running back piece is concerned -- I told Coach Settle to stay away. I made that very clear," Gilmore joked with a laugh.

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B5Q's Curt Hogg contributed to this article.