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How We Got Here: The making of Wisconsin’s offense depth chart

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After taking a look at the last few recruiting classes, we look position by position on offense to see how they’ve been composed.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

After our look at Wisconsin’s recent recruiting history, today’s piece continues a four-part series on how the Wisconsin football program’s roster has come to be over the past couple of seasons and where it could be headed. Check back throughout the weekend and into next week for all four pieces of the series.


The 2018 Wisconsin Badgers haven’t reached the expectations that were placed upon them prior to the season, and while at face value it’s been a big shock for fans, when you look at the depth chart and what has transpired up to this point, it starts to make some sense.

While the talent level of the team as a whole has significantly increased since Paul Chryst took over, Wisconsin is in a bit of an odd situation where the talent is there but a lot of it is waiting in the wings behind some veteran players.

We’re going to look position by position at those spots and see how various situations have come to be.

Quarterback

  1. Alex Hornibrook, RS JR
  2. Jack Coan, SO
  3. Danny Vanden Boom, RS FR
  4. Chase Wolf, FR
  5. Nate Carter, FR

Alex Hornibrook came in as a flipped prospect in the first class Chryst had anything to do with, and he’s played a ton. He took over for Bart Houston halfway through his redshirt freshman season and has started all but three games since. While fans are frustrated with his lack of tangible development as a passer and his maddening interceptions, Hornibrook is realistically the best option at the position, like it or not.

Jack Coan is likely a redshirt candidate this season, although he was pressed into duty against Northwestern and we saw he’s probably around Hornibrook’s range. Danny Vanden Boom played in garbage time early this season but is pretty clearly the No. 3 to this point. Coan is the only quarterback who hasn’t redshirted since Chryst took over, and that’s going to change this season. Chase Wolf and walk-on Nate Carter will both redshirt this season.

Running Back

  1. Jonathan Taylor, SO
  2. Taiwan Deal, RS SR
  3. Garrett Groshek, RS SO
  4. Chris James, RS SR
  5. Bradrick Shaw, RS JR (possible injury hardship candidate)
  6. Nakia Watson, FR
  7. Mark Saari, RS SR
  8. Hunter Johnson, RS FR

This position is pretty simple to sort out. Jonathan Taylor jettisoned to the top of the depth chart as a true freshman and is the best player on the team. Taiwan Deal has been a nice story and has earned his reps. Garrett Groshek is the jack-of-all-trades that constantly finds his way on the field.

It’s important to remember that Chryst historically has kept three running backs as a rotation. In 2015, it was Dare Ogunbowale, Deal, and Alec Ingold. 2016 was Corey Clement, Ogunbowale, and Bradrick Shaw. 2017 started as Shaw, Taylor, and Chris James, and Groshek eventually worked his way in.

James seems to be the odd man out, but has been praised by Chryst. Shaw is one of the more talented runners on the roster, but lost his job to Taylor (understandable) and tore his ACL in the Minnesota game last year. Nakia Watson will redshirt, as the depth at the position has been pretty remarkable.

Overall, the position has sorted itself out to where each back has his role and each one that’s a sophomore or younger is waiting for Taylor to head to the NFL after the 2019 season.

Fullback

  1. Alec Ingold, SR
  2. Mason Stokke, RS SO
  3. Coy Wanner, RS FR
  4. Jake Collinsworth, RS FR
  5. John Chenal, FR

I’m not going to spend a ton of time on the fullbacks, but Ingold has been invaluable to this program since he entered it and will be sorely missed moving forward. Mason Stokke was lost in the shuffle at linebacker, but was a former prep running back and will be the starter moving forward.

Behind Stokke are three walk ons with differing skill sets. Coy Wanner is taller and built more like an h-back or move tight end. Jake Collinsworth missed the entire 2017 season due to injury and John Chenal has been a special teams player this season.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receiver

  1. A.J. Taylor, JR
  2. Danny Davis, SO
  3. Kendric Pryor, RS SO
  4. Jack Dunn, RS SO
  5. Aron Cruickshank, FR
  6. Taj Mustapha, FR
  7. Adam Krumholz, RS SO
  8. Cade Green, RS FR
  9. Emmet Perry, RS FR
  10. Isaac Guerendo, FR
  11. A.J. Abbott, FR
  12. Brady Schipper, FR
  13. Mike Gregoire, FR

No position has acquired more talent at such a rapid pace than wide receiver, an odd thing to say about Wisconsin. The obvious omission here is Quintez Cephus, but unfortunately I’m going to pretend he’s played his last game at Wisconsin, whether he has or not. This position is so young because the only older receiver Wisconsin had last season (George Rushing) is a grad transfer at Buffalo.

A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis, and Kendric Pryor are up and away the best receivers on the roster and get a large majority of the playing time along with mighty mouse Jack Dunn and true freshman speedster Aron Cruickshank. This seems to be the clear plateau at the position. Taj Mustapha has played this season as a special-teamer and caught a touchdown early in the season, but hasn’t seen reps recently.

Adam Krumholz is a former walk-on who was used almost exclusively as a blocker in 2017. Cade Green and Emmet Perry are two Texas kids who are simply waiting their turn, which unfortunately for them is likely 2020. Isaac Guerendo is a speed demon who could find his way on the field as a return guy, but is also waiting his turn with A.J. Abbott.

You can expect the position to look largely the same next season as well, with only Taylor and Cephus (?) set to graduate after 2019. A huge logjam at wide receiver has developed, which is both good (depth) and bad (lack of playing time to go around).

Tight End

  1. Kyle Penniston, RS JR
  2. Jake Ferguson, RS FR
  3. Luke Benzschawel, RS SO
  4. Gabe Lloyd, RS SO
  5. Cormac Sampson, FR
  6. Jack Eschenbach, FR
  7. Zander Neuville, RS SR (out for season)

Tight end has been a position where, for the most part, things have fallen as expected. While Kyle Penniston hasn’t developed into the receiving threat at tight end he was expected to be coming out of Mater Dei, he’s been solid, though unspectacular. Jake Ferguson has turned into one of the top offensive weapons on the roster and is a star in the making. Luke Benzschawel is probably the best blocker left with Zander Neuville’s unfortunate career-ending injury, which is more an indictment of the blocking at the position than an endorsement of anyone at the position getting playing time at the moment. It’s no secret as to why Wisconsin has utilized the jumbo package so much this season.

Gabe Lloyd is a special-teamer, while Cormac Sampson is a promising blocker moving forward. Jack Eschenback was a 6’6 wide receiver in high school. Yeah. Little if anything is going to change at the position next season, which is encouraging for the development available for those at the spot.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line

  1. Jon Dietzen, RS JR / Cole Van Lanen, RS SO
  2. Michael Deiter, RS SR
  3. Tyler Biadasz, RS SO
  4. Beau Benaschawel, RS SR
  5. David Edwards, RS JR
  6. Logan Bruss, RS FR
  7. Micah Kapoi, RS SR
  8. Jason Erdmann, RS JR
  9. David Moorman, RS JR
  10. Tyler Beach, RS FR
  11. Alex Fenton, RS FR
  12. Michael Furtney, FR
  13. Blake Smithback, RS FR
  14. Josh Seltzner, RS FR
  15. Andrew Lyons, FR

The offensive line has been the target of a lot of criticism this season, warranted or not, but it’s been a lot of the same for this group for a few years now. I was talking with my pal Jake Kocorowski about this: the offensive line is in a bit of an awkward position. You never want to wish someone’s football career away, but I’m almost ready for this group (Deiter, Benzschawel, Edwards) to head to the NFL, to simply see what else is behind them. It feels like this group has plateaued, which is odd, but this group has gotten as good as it’s going to get—which is good. However, the overhyping needs to stop. This group isn’t the 2011 group.

When Chryst came to UW, there was little depth along the offensive line, which is why you see Deiter (four years), Benzschawel (3.5 years), and Edwards (2.5 years) as starters. Jon Dietzen is in his third year as a starter. While this group has remained in the starting lineup, a ton of talent and depth have accumulated in the trenches. They simply haven’t had a lot of opportunity to show it.

Micah Kapoi, Jason Erdmann, and Logan Bruss have been the reserves who have played more extensively than the others, but many others will look forward to opportunities to get on the field after 2018. Tyler Beach and David Moorman, along with Kayden Lyles (we’ll read about him soon enough), will all be fighting for playing time next season.

Next, we’ll look at the defensive depth chart, which will have a bit more to read between the lines about than the offense. I hope you got a bit of a better understanding of what’s going on with the UW offense, and how things sit with Jim Leonhard’s group.