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Roundtable: Breaking down Wisconsin’s class of 2018 (so far)

Time for an Early Signing Period roundtable.

In general, how do you feel about this class of 2018 for the Wisconsin Badgers?

Andrew Rosin: While this class lacks star power, this feels like a class that just fits what the Badgers want to do. They’re definitely faster on the outside between adding prospects like Isaac Guerendo and Aron Cruickshank. You also get athletes with good projectability in in-state signees Boyd Dietzen, Cormac Sampson, and Mason Platter, as well as Brownstown, Mich., tight end Jaylan Franklin. It’s fair not to be exactly in love with this class, but it’s extremely likable.

Kevin O’Connell: This is a very unconventional Wisconsin recruiting class, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The class of 2018 has only one offensive lineman, Michael Furtney, but is filled with potential difference-makers on the outside, including four potential wide receivers and four defensive backs. As the Badgers look to take the next step as a program, securing commitments from high-level athletes at wide receiver and defensive back is paramount.

Owen Riese: For a football team that is still completing the process of adding the depth needed to really compete at the highest level of Division I football, this class will be essential. Projected four wide receivers [Editor’s note: both Guerendo and Cruickshank are noted as athletes by Wisconsin] to further bolster a recent strength in the program. Look at the other recruits: the highest-rated guys are an inside linebacker, a defensive lineman, and a cornerback. Defense, defense, and more defense for a team that has maximized the talents of the inherited players from the previous regime, but Paul Chryst knows that the program will continue to thrive with a championship-level defense, and instant-impact type talents like Jack Sanborn and Donte Burton will help that. Another aspect I find interesting is the special teams impact in players like Cruickshank and Alex Smith, who are both known to be return specialists, along with speedster Guerendo. Chryst has emphasized special teams, and that looks to continue in this class.

Jake Kocorowski: I like this class of 2018 recruits. Speaking with a few of them over the past couple of weeks, there is a strong bond between the signees. Yes, I’m sure a lot of other programs’ new players feel the same way about their respective classes, but many mentioned how the official visit--where 16 of the 19 were apparently there--a couple of weekends ago really forged stronger relationships. Heck, I heard from one commit that there’s even a parent group chat for this class.

Aside from that, this is a class that features speed, speed, speed, with the likes of Cruickshank, Guerendo, and Smith, among others. It addresses needs at defensive back and defensive line, the latter with Bryson Williams staying committed to the cardinal and white after Nebraska came calling. I think this class, like most of Wisconsin’s, will surpass its “star ratings” with its results on the field.

Are there any positions where you feel Wisconsin hit the jackpot, or perhaps didn’t focus enough on?

Andrew: Wide receiver feels like an embarrassment of riches. Cruickshank is the sort of player that if you can find a way to get the ball in his hands eight to 10 times a game, there’s going to be at least one game-changing moment. Add to that the sort of receiver Ted Gilmore likes to add in the tall and rather physically gifted West Bloomfield, Mich., three-star prospects A.J. Abbott and Taj Mustapha, as well as potentially Guernedo, who had an explosive senior season as well as a laser-timed 40-yard dash that was sub-4.4 [Editor’s. note: Again, Guerendo is listed as an athlete for Wisconsin]. With Gilmore teaching? There’s bound to be a hit.

Kevin: I like what Wisconsin has done with the defensive backs in this class. The Badgers secured commitments from cornerbacks Smith, Travian Blaylock, and Burton, as well as safety Reggie Pearson. Pearson, the first commitment in this class, will likely compete for playing time early in his career with Natrell Jamerson and Joe Ferguson graduating this year. Similarly, senior cornerbacks Derrick Tindal and Lubern Figaro are moving on while Nick Nelson could very well leave early for the NFL Draft. This leaves plenty of opportunity for the three cornerback commits to break into the two-deep as freshmen. They will compete with returning cornerbacks Madison Cone, Caesar Williams, and Dontye Carriere-Williams for significant playing time in 2018.

Owen: Not to piggyback off of the two previous answers, but it’s clear that this class was heavily emphasized on the perimeter of the field. Positions where Wisconsin has traditionally lacked game-breaker athletes will gain much-needed speed and playmaking ability. This will make a bevy of freshman wide receivers, and multiple defensive backs, that will add competition and depth to a position where Wisconsin has been picked on in nickel packages. The Badgers know they can compete nationally in the trenches, but their skill positions have often led to their downfall in big games. Adding talent in these numbers and of this quality goes a ways to helping that.

Jake: Everyone hit on wide receiver and defensive back, so I’ll say tailback with Nakia Watson and the defensive line with Williams. Watson, despite the lack of offers, is big at 6’0, 225 pounds, and I know Pearson is excited for what he could do. Will it be this upcoming year or the years after that he breaks through for reps? We’ll see.

Williams, who already is coming in as a strong athlete, could pick up playing time after enrolling early if he can pick up on the college game quickly. I’ll talk more about him in the next set of questions.

Which player should Wisconsin fans be most excited for?

Andrew: If you’re going on the player whose highlight reel is the most exciting to watch, I apologize if I’m going to extend my streak of Aron Cruickshank mentioning, but man, there really doesn't seem to be any physical tool he’s lacking outside of his listed height and weight. Soft hands, great ups, amazing burst. If and when he learns the route tree, he’s going to be an all-conference threat.

Kevin: I agree with Andrew, the answer is Cruickshank. He looks blazing fast on his tape and is exactly the type of game-breaking athlete the Badgers so desperately need when they play elite teams (i.e. Penn State, Ohio State, etc.). It will be incredibly fun to watch how Chryst uses Cruickshank, and down the line he could become the best jet sweep option the Badgers have had since Melvin Gordon.

Owen: Not to take an easy answer, but with Wisconsin fans’ sudden fascination with inside linebacker play after the transition to the 3-4, Sanborn is up and away the highest-regarded recruit they’ve had at the position. Jack Cichy was a walk-on. T.J. Edwards a two-star safety. Chris Orr was a two-star recruit, and Ryan Connelly was a walk-on. Sanborn will add a level of athleticism and recruiting clout the Badgers don’t have on the roster.

Jake: I really like Guerendo’s potential possibly at wide receiver or as a returner. He carries an athlete designation by Wisconsin right now, but he blew up the Indiana prep scene this year as a senior after catching 54 passes for 1,258 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has the right coaching staff to help him develop on either side of the ball.

Which player in this class is most under-the-radar and could be a breakout player down the road?

Andrew: Considering the hype developing around current class of 2019 commit Graham Mertz and the popularity of current not-throwing-a-whole-bunch-of-interceptions back-up quarterback Jack Coan, we might be looking past Cincinnati (St. Xavier) three-star quarterback Chase Wolf. He comes with good lateral agility, a strong, accurate arm even throwing on the move, and he also threw 27 touchdowns as a senior facing some strong competition. I think Coan deserves a chance to start and I’m just as excited as you about Mertz, but do not sleep on Chase Wolf.

Kevin: Athlete Jaylan Franklin has a good chance to develop into a special player at Wisconsin. The Gibraltar, Mich., native was recruited as a tight end by the Badgers after dominating on both sides of the ball in high school at outside linebacker and quarterback. Franklin will need to put on some weight and adjust to a new position, but he has great speed for his size (6’5, 210 pounds) and is one of the more athletic tight ends Wisconsin has recruited in recent years.

Owen: Alex Smith is the lowest-ranked recruit in this class on 247Sports, but is maybe thought of most highly for his return ability. Special teams are a quick way to get on the field and make an impact, and if Smith can transition his return prowess from the high school ranks to the college game, he could be a difference maker in the return game, something Wisconsin hasn’t had since David Gilreath.

Jake: Franklin’s up there for me, but I’m intrigued by Columbus native Isaiah Mullens. Listed at 6’6, 280 pounds by Wisconsin, he’s another big body at end that could develop into a match-up, hole-plugging lineman that can let those around him thrive. Inoke Breckterfield has done wonders with Isaiahh Loudermilk in two years after the Kansas native came from eight-man football. Imagine what he could do with Mullens.

Which player do you feel could make the earliest impact?

Andrew: We don’t know what exactly is going to happen in the secondary quite yet, but cornerback is a position that might be inexperienced from CB1 all the way to the dime cornerback for the 2018 season. As it stands right now, the cornerback who looks most ready out of the box is Loganville, Ga., three-star prospect Donte Burton. He kind of slid under the radar on a 2–8 senior high school team, but he’s a very strong cover cornerback and with solid hands and an ability in run support, he has the best chance to see the field and make big plays.

Kevin: Wisconsin will lose seniors Alec James, Conor Sheehy, and Chikwe Obasih from their defensive line rotation heading into 2018. That will leave plenty of reps to be filled, and while Olive Sagapolu, Garrett Rand, and Loudermilk will all make an impact next season, the incoming Williams and Mullens have a great chance to crack the rotation with a great fall camp.

Owen: Burton is my pick. Wisconsin is lacking in some numbers at cornerback with Tindal and Figaro graduating, Nelson likely declaring, and Titus Booker leaving the program. Burton is going to be an early enrollee, and an opportunity to be a starter or at least get playing time is at his finger tips. Early indications are that Carriere-Williams and Williams are probably first up at corner on the outside with the short-in-stature-but-not-in-ability-or-attitude Madison Cone in the slot. Burton could be next up with a strong spring ball and summer.

Jake: Gonna go with Williams here. Wisconsin graduates three defensive ends and Sagapolu has one final year of eligibility. If Rand needs to push out to end to become part of the Wisconsin Wrecking Crew [Writer’s note: Trademark pending] with Loudermilk, Williams’s spring and fall camps could allow him to gain opportunities early on. Listed at 295 pounds by Wisconsin, he’s already heavier than Rand, who is the No. 2 nose tackle.

Which player could make the greatest impact before their career in cardinal and white is over?

Andrew: With a class that’s currently loaded with mostly three-star prospects, this is something that might be construed as a gut feeling. With that said, you’re looking at a situation where by the 2019 season, the decks clear at running back. Into the breach steps redshirt sophomore running back Nakia Watson. Like Jonathan Taylor, he’s a very interesting three-star prospect. He’s got all the traits one needs to be a success for Wisconsin at running back, and barring injury, he’s got a chance at a career 5,000 yards.

Kevin: I’m going to go chalk on this answer and take the highest-ranked player (per 247Sports) in this year’s class: Sanborn. The Lake Zurich, Ill., native has all the tools to follow in the footsteps of T.J. Edwards and become the leader of Wisconsin’s defense in the coming years. At 6’2, 220 pounds, Sanborn has ideal size to play the position at the next level and shows a knack for making difficult tackles on film.

Owen: I’ll go with Cruickshank here. I think he’s a real difference-maker athletically for Wisconsin, and if the Badgers can finally truly feature the speed to stretch defenses horizontally, that will work wonders in the run game. His speed taking the top off of the defense in select opportunities gives Wisconsin something they don’t have a ton of right now, either. If he also gets the chance to return punts, he has the potential to do some special things in Badgerland.

Jake: This was admittedly difficult for me. I think all have a good shot at making significant contributions to the team, but let’s look at the defensive backs. Burton, Blaylock, and Smith at corner could push for time early on under the guidance of Jim Leonhard in the secondary, but there’s also Pearson. He was the first verbal commit of the class, and I believe he has the ability and skill to play in the next couple of years and potentially be the quarterback of the defense.