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Wisconsin players to watch in 2017: WR Quintez Cephus

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A young contributor has a chance to blossom further next season.

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Cotton Bowl - Western Michigan v Wisconsin Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 2016 college football season now in the books, B5Q looks ahead to 2017 and a Wisconsin Badgers program building off its 11-win campaign. In the coming days, we’ll profile certain players who could be in line to play a significant role in what will be head coach Paul Chryst’s third year guiding UW.

Whether it’s a position group weakened by key departures, a player who transferred into Madison or just possibly needed an extra year of seasoning before contributing, these are our picks for Badgers that’ll “pop” in 2017.

Quintez Cephus, WR

Cephus found significant time on the playing field in 2016 despite being a true freshman and not necessarily focusing on football to start his high school career. With Robert Wheelwright now leaving UW after exhausting his eligibility, the 6’1, 195-pound will-be sophomore now has an opportunity to break out as a consistent starter.

On the season, Cephus caught only four passes for 94 yards, but the Georgia native also rushed five times for 41 yards with the re-emergence of the effectiveness of Wisconsin’s jet sweep.

Receiving-wise, his big play came against Iowa when he hauled in a 57-yard reception on the road against in a 17-9 victory. The catch set up UW’s second touchdown of the day and was named the No. 10 offensive play of the year by Wisconsin’s football program.

Running the ball, his best day came on one of the biggest stages, rushing for 34 yards on two carries against Western Michigan in UW’s 24-16 win in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Both came off the jet sweep, and both moved the chains in the first quarter.

Even more promising, Cephus displayed a key skill critical of Badgers wide receivers in head coach Paul Chryst’s offense: run blocking.

Most notably, Cephus blocked for almost every single yard of Corey Clement’s 67-yard touchdown run in the Big Ten title game. The persistence of Cephus’s downfield blocking allowed Clement to cross the goal line for an early lead.

Wisconsin’s wide receiving corp returns will-be redshirt senior Jazz Peavy, who led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, along with senior George Rushing, Cephus and fellow sophomore A.J. Taylor.

Someone will have to step to replace Wheelwright’s production (34 receptions, 448 yards, one touchdown). Watch for Rushing’s contributions to grow, especially after a solid showing against the Broncos in the Cotton Bowl (two receptions for 27 yards, both on third downs), but Cephus worked his way into the two-deep behind the departing senior and should be in line for a shot as a starter if his positive trajectory continues.

For that matter, Taylor, Cephus and Kendric Pryor—the latter an intriguing prospect who redshirted this year—are class-of-2016 wide receiver recruits who could provide huge boosts for the offense next season. UWBadgers.com’s Mike Lucas wrote position coach Ted Gilmore is “anxious” to work with the former two.

"Both of those guys will be in position to compete for a job," he said. "Athletically, they run well enough. Physically, they're strong enough to get off the line and hold up in blocking. The next step for both of them is continuing to get more reps and learning the game."

Another freshman, Kendrick Pryor, redshirted and spent his time on the scout team. "It was tough to get all three freshmen ready to play," conceded Gilmore. "But athletically he flashes. He's going to be another guy who's going to make it interesting to see how it all unfolds."