One of the most exciting things about the beginning of any Wisconsin Badgers football season is watching the freshmen for the first time.
Through one game, we have already seen that there are a number of true and redshirt freshmen who will be significant contributors in 2017.
Each week, I will rank the top three based on their respective positive impacts on the game. The Week 1 freshman power rankings are as follows:
3. Isaiahh Loudermilk, DE, Redshirt Freshman
It’s been well-documented that Loudermilk grew up in a small Kansas town of only 607 people and played on an 8-man football team in high school. The redshirt freshman’s play on Friday night put any questions about his ability to compete at this level to rest, as he finished with three tackles, one tackle for loss, and one sack.
Loudermilk earned a backup spot at defensive end during fall camp and at 6’7, 306 pounds, is the second-largest defensive lineman on Wisconsin’s roster, topped only by 346-pound nose tackle Olive Sagapolu. Loudermilk’s performance against Utah State was a pleasant surprise and temporarily eased concerns about the lack of depth on the defensive line.
With the news that senior defensive end Chikwe Obasih suffered a leg injury during Wednesday’s practice, the Badgers will rely on Loudermilk and sophomore Garrett Rand to play a significant amount of snaps against FAU.
2. Danny Davis, WR, True Freshman
Back in February, wide receiver Danny Davis was an important Signing Day commitment for Paul Chryst. Last weekend, the Springfield, Ohio, native wasted no time in making his presence felt. Injuries to fellow pass catchers George Rushing and Kendric Pryor offered Davis the opportunity to earn a spot on the two-deep this fall and he was one of four wide receivers who received significant playing time against Utah State. Although Davis finished with no catches, he drew two timely pass interference calls and laid a crucial block that sprung Zander Neuville for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The immensely talented Davis is another weapon in Alex Hornibrook’s arsenal, and if Week 1 is any indication, the 6’2’ freshman should be one of Wisconsin’s most intriguing offensive players in 2017.
1. Jonathan Taylor, RB, True Freshman
It’s no surprise that Taylor comes in at No. 1 on this list. The Salem, N.J., native led Wisconsin with 87 rushing yards on only nine carries, and his 41-yard run on the first play of the second half set the tone for the Badgers’ offensive explosion the rest of the way. Even after Taylor was announced as a co-starter at running back with Bradrick Shaw and Chris James, his play was surprisingly dominant for a true freshman playing in his first collegiate game.
I expect that Taylor will spend most of the season splitting time with Shaw, and if James can bounce back from a sub-par performance in Week 1 and become the receiving threat many expect him to be, Wisconsin will have a potential three-headed monster at the running back position. Like any other true freshman, Taylor will have some growing pains this season, but it’s hard not to be extremely optimistic about his potential in Paul Chryst’s offense.