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Wisconsin 2017 spring football preview: Jazz Peavy leads intriguing wide receivers group

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Who will step up to replace Robert Wheelwright as the starter?

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Wisconsin vs Western Michigan Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

[Update, Mar. 16: Positions, heights and weights are now updated from the released 2017 spring roster from the first spring practice, and position overviews have been revised to align with information published on UWBadgers.com on Mar. 13.]

Over two months have passed since the Wisconsin Badgers closed out their 2016 season with a 24-16 win over Western Michigan in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. That means it’s time for spring football, which starts on March 14 for UW players and coaches.

The emergence of redshirt junior Jazz Peavy as a frequent contributor both receiving and running the ball was a welcomed development for a Wisconsin offense still evolving in Paul Chryst’s scheme. True freshmen Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor found significant reps in big-time games in their first collegiate season, and junior George Rushing also contributed in the two-deep. Now with Robert Wheelwright exhausting his eligibility, there’s game-time experience and production with this position group, but who will step up to replace the Columbus native and be the complement(s) to Peavy?

Note: Height and weight measurements below are from UWBadgers.com, either from the 2017 roster or National Signing Day.

Wisconsin’s 2017 Wide Receivers

Wide Receiver 2017 Year Height Weight Hometown
Wide Receiver 2017 Year Height Weight Hometown
Jazz Peavy R-SR 6'0 185 Kenosha, Wis.
George Rushing SR 6'1 197 Miramar, Fla.
A.J. Taylor SO 5'11 201 Kansas City, Mo.
Quintez Cephus SO 6'1 201 Macon, Ga.
Kendric Pryor R-FR 5'11 179 Hazel Crest, Ill.
Peter Roy R-JR 6'0 192 Muskego, Wis.
Ricky Finco R-JR 5'8 185 Hartland, Wis.
Henry Houden R-SO 6'4 206 Madison, Wis.
Jack Dunn R-FR 5'7 175 Madison, Wis.
Adam Krumholz R-FR 6'1 191 Stoughton, Wis.
Jack Popp R-FR 6'2 205 Mequon, Wis.
Deron Harrell FR 6'3 176 Denver, Co.
Danny Davis FR 6'3 180 Springfield, Ohio
Cade Green FR 6'0 190 Austin, Tex.
Emmet Perry FR 6'2 175 Grand Prairie, Tex.
Sam DeLany FR 5'11 170 Delafield, Wis.

2016 Leaders

Jazz Peavy: 43 receptions, 635 yards (14.8 yards per catch), five touchdowns; 21 rushes, 318 yards (15.1 yards per carry), one touchdown

Robert Wheelwright: 34 receptions, 448 yards (13.2 yards per catch), one touchdown

George Rushing: 12 receptions, 136 yards (11.3 yards per catch(

Key Departures

Robert Wheelwright (eligibility)

Reggie Love (eligibility)

Key Additions for 2017

Deron Harrell (midyear enrollee)

Danny Davis (freshman)

Cade Green (freshman)

Emmet Perry (freshman)

Sam DeLany (freshman)

Position Overview

Peavy’s late contributions in 2015 led to a full breakout year in 2016, emerging as the go-to receiver for quarterbacks Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston and leading the team in receiving yards and touchdown receptions.

Not only that, but the Kenosha native was a frequent force in the running game, keeping defenses honest with Wisconsin’s version of the jet or fly sweep—also rechristened the “Jazz Sweep” by some players. His 71-yard run against Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl was the longest run of the year for the team.

With all of Peavy’s accolades last year, including consensus All-Big Ten honorable mention selections, wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore told UWBadgers.com’s Mike Lucas in January that there are “expectations” for the would-be senior.

"Jazz has got to get bigger, Jazz has got to get stronger, Jazz has got to do a better job blocking," said Gilmore, knowing the younger guys will look to Peavy for leadership. "That's something (blocking) in his world that he has got to get better at. It has got to change and it starts in the weight room."

Rushing will also be a senior this season, a four-year player who never redshirted. He’s played in 37 games through three years, and 2017 could see him break 50 for his career. His biggest year as a threat in the passing game was last season with 12 receptions. After asserting himself last spring, this March and April could be another chance for the Miramar, Fla., native to continue his development and contribute more after Wheelwright’s departure. He’ll have two, possibly three true freshmen from 2016 pushing him, however.

Cephus showed a lot of potential last season, earning reps throughout the season and in big-time situations—he was listed directly behind Wheelwright in the two-deep. His 57-yard reception against Iowa was rated the No. 10 offensive play of the year by Wisconsin and he finished with four receptions for 94 yards as well as five rushes for 41 yards.

What really stood out in Cephus’s game—and what helped him get on the field so quickly—was his blocking ability. In the Big Ten championship game, his efforts allowed Corey Clement to find the end zone on a 67-yard run. Many weren’t convinced that the Macon product would find playing time so early, but the former Division I basketball commit will be needed in 2017.

Taylor (three receptions, 53 yards; four rushes, 18 yards) has the ability like Peavy and Cephus to run the jet sweep. At 5’11, 194 pounds, he is physically built for the college game and showed he understood the playbook early. The next step for the former prep all-state running back is to continue that progression.

Pryor is an intriguing prospect after redshirting last season with the plethora of wide receivers contributing. The 5’11, 179-pound receiver was also mentioned in the same Lucas article back in January, and where he finds himself in the position group rotation bears watching.

The rest of the position group should gain experience this spring. That includes midyear enrollee Harrell, who greyshirted as a member of the class of 2016.

After these 14 practices and the spring game, four more intriguing prospects will be on campus to start summer workouts. That group is led by four-star prospect Danny Davis and Texas prep state champions Cade Green and Emmet Perry. Based on precedent from those like Rushing, Cephus and Taylor before them, they may get the opportunity to earn some reps if they can adjust to the college game and Wisconsin’s playbook early.