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. As we started back in January and continuing in February, 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.
Bradrick Shaw, RB
Many thought 2017 would be the year Wisconsin fans would finally know the name of Shaw, the Alabama prep standout who was behind Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and presumably Taiwan Deal entering the 2016 season. Yet he took advantage of opportunities with injuries to Clement and Deal and found playing time early in the season.
Working under senior mentors like Clement and Ogunbowale, who he admitted he looked up to for their film study habits, he also trained to improve his strength and speed between his first year and last season. The combination earned him significant carries during Big Ten Conference play.
“He’s definitely making an impact early, especially making an impact when we need him coming in on various downs,” Clement said about Shaw back in November. “Just contributing as to what we want—he’s not making any negative plays. As [running backs coach John] Settle is always preaching, if you can make a positive play, he always wants you playing. I think Bradrick is really paying attention and really honing in on his craft and really just focusing and gaining more reps.”
Shaw finished the year with 452 yards on 5.2 yards per attempt and five rushing touchdowns, 307 of those coming in the final six Big Ten games that included the conference championship game (note: he did not play in the Cotton Bowl Classic).
With Clement and Ogunbowale heading off to presumably play in the NFL, Shaw is now in the driver’s seat to continue Wisconsin’s running back tradition. The 6’1, 211-pound back will join Deal—who reportedly will miss spring practices due to an ankle injury—and Pitt transfer Chris James as the three-headed machine in the Badgers’ backfield next season.
There’s a lot to like about Shaw, as he showed a vision and patience throughout the season. That included his 21-yard touchdown run to start the scoring for Wisconsin in their 23-17 overtime win against Nebraska in late October. After allowing left tackle Ryan Ramczyk to block down on a linebacker, the back exploded through the second level and into the south end zone of Camp Randall Stadium.
That was also shown in his 33-yard touchdown run against Purdue. Watch how the back waited for tight end Troy Fumagalli to pull from right to left, then decisively cut up field and followed his blockers. To his benefit, the first and second levels of the defense are ideally blocked to allow him to burst through the backfield to the third level for the rushing score.
Shaw showed more flashes running between the tackles, but the film may not necessarily do Shaw justice when it comes to speed. The intriguing part to his game is that explosiveness and the fact he ran away from defenders in the two highlights above.
That was also shown in mop up time earlier in the season against Akron, where he took the hand-off to the right side, got to the edge then outran the Zips’ secondary to dive into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown to cap Wisconsin’s scoring in a 54-10 win.
Like quarterback Alex Hornibrook, Shaw will be a redshirt sophomore in 2017 and still has three years left of eligibility. Externally out of his hands, many starters and contributors return to the Wisconsin offense— which includes four of five offensive linemen, two of three contributing tight ends, both fullbacks and four of five wide receivers.
New to the mix, however, will be the on-the-field capability of James. The Pitt transfer ran for 437 yards and four touchdowns at five yards per clip for Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph as a freshman in 2014 before only gaining 253 rushing yards on 54 carries in 2015 for Pat Narduzzi.
According to Clement in late December, James’ speed and shiftiness stood out, which could be a great compliment for Shaw’s patience, strength and explosiveness inside the tackles.
A promising sign for both is their studying habits. Back in November, Shaw acknowledged Clement’s statements that he started speaking up more in the film room, and Clement said in December that James had a “passion for learning.”
The combination of physical talents and work ethic should help a Wisconsin offense replacing two significant pieces of their rushing attack. Clement and Ogunbowale accounted for 1,881 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in 2016, but this appears to be a reload at the running back position—something typically seen from Badgers teams of the past.
Shaw looks to be a key piece of that puzzle. A significant jump took place between year one and year two, and he will have more tutelage under Settle this season.
Hornibrook called Shaw “a beast” in early November and said the back came in as one of the strongest players in the program. In late December, fellow quarterback Bart Houston declared that the redshirt freshman was “playing out of his mind” and center Michael Deiter noted he “will really be a special running back,” according to CollegePressbox.com.
The signs are in place for a breakout year for Shaw, and a continued resurgence of a dominant Wisconsin rushing attack.