The Wisconsin Badgers will welcome quite a few new names to their football program this week as the 2019 early signing period begins.
From All-American Bowl participants in five-star lineman Logan Brown and quarterback Graham Mertz to late pick-ups like inside linebacker Maema Njongmeta and fullback Quan Easterling, this is a class of players among the best recruited by a Wisconsin coaching staff in recent memory.
Tuesday night, a few of our writers got together (virtually, thanks to Slack) to discuss the signees and how they could fit in at UW.
Jake Kocorowski: Alright, on to the roundtable, where points don’t count and we’re talking about young adults making life-changing decisions that (some) grown adults go crazy over.
This class has a lot of hype to it. What are your general impressions of Wisconsin’s 2019 class?
Andrew Rosin: Anyone less than effusive?
Tyler Hunt: On paper, this class is great, but on paper and on field are two different things. I think this has a chance to be one of the best classes yet, but it’s very early. I love the pieces they have, but I don’t like putting immense amounts of pressure on 18-year-old kids.
Jake: Yeah, and here’s where I like to throw in a huge disclaimer about recruiting and covering it. There is a lot of hype and these prep standouts coming to Wisconsin have shown what they can do on the high-school field.
But they are still young, there is a huge jump to college from high school, and a lot can happen in their time at Wisconsin.
Kevin O’Connell: For me, someone who always wished Wisconsin could secure a few blue chip recruits every class, it’s awesome that both Logan Brown and Graham Mertz are coming to Madison. I think the class as a whole is very strong, but the two elite prospects Chryst and his staff were able to sign really separate this class from the others in recent years.
Andrew: I’m never going to be that guy who looks at a recruiting class negatively. But this feels like a class above the standard class that Chryst brings in. Again, games aren’t played on paper, but this feels like a class where they don’t need to get several lucky breaks to find themselves fighting for a playoff berth.
Owen Riese: I think this class is going to fill a lot more of “dirty work” holes than the stars that people think, but that’s 100 percent a part of a winning team and program.
Jake: BY G--- IT’S OWEN RIESE’S MUSIC
Andrew: When you get three potential nose tackles, sure that’s going to happen.
Tyler: ^^^ agreed, if you look beyond the two big ones there are a lot of pieces that maybe aren’t the ‘flashy’ names, but are going to be big for UW.
Owen: I see more potential ends/athletic bigger dudes in the mold of Sheehy than nose tackles with this group but nonetheless the more good 6’3 285-pound dudes you have the better.
Skyler Meyers and Stephan Bracey scream valuable glue guys (obviously they haven’t played yet)
Jake: This class has the gems with two top prospects in Mertz and Brown, but then you have some players filling key positions (Lytle at outside linebacker, Rucci as the in-line Y tight end, and the three d-line recruits).
Owen: I’d throw Clay Cundiff in that group I mentioned earlier as well, and obviously Easterling is extremely specialized but is a smasher that will play on special teams too
Jake: Yeah, agreed on Cundiff as an H-Back. And obviously, we’re not trying to project anything on these players. It will be intriguing to watch how this class develops.
What was the biggest recruiting win for Wisconsin?
Owen: For the sake of parity, i’ll mention Titus Toler and Lytle. Two kids from a powerhouse like that can hopefully be the coup that Andersen thought he had in Olive Sagapolu and Kyle Penniston from Mater Dei.
Andrew: Lytle is an underrated one. Clemson was the other choice.
Tyler: I was going to say Lytle as well, I think he will fill a big need. If you’re pulling guys away from Clemson, it’s a big win.
Andrew: Then I’m going to steal Graham Mertz.
Owen: I’ll also mention as a general theme again, this is the third straight year the Badgers have gone into Michigan and basically gotten the guys they’ve wanted
Kevin: I agree on Lytle. Clemson came after him hard and any time a program at that level is putting significant resources into a player it should be a good sign for their chances of success at the Division I level.
Andrew: Because he was feted by plenty of major schools after they realized the type of prospect that the Badgers had. Sometimes the biggest win is hanging on.
Kevin: It’s also encouraging that the Florida defensive back pipeline is still alive and well. I think Semar Melvin out of St. Thomas Aquinas could be a steal at cornerback.
Tyler: That south Florida-UW pipeline is huge
Jake: For sake of position need, I think Rodas Johnson stands out. A four-star player who could develop into a solid defensive end. We’ll see how much time he needs to adjust and get better at technique, but I that a was significant win over Texas and Penn State.
Owen: Big time. and for this scheme, you’ve seen how limited the defensive line can be with the lack of athleticism. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to say that Johnson, Gio Paez and Keeanu Benton are all more athletic than a former walk-on in Matt Henningsen and an offensive lineman in Kayden Lyles.
Leonhard wants to use stunts and games up front, you need movers to do that.
Tyler: The fact that Wisconsin is truly competing and with Clemson, Michigan, Texas, PSU is evidence enough that the program has turned a corner in recruiting.
Jake: It really well be interesting to see if they can build off of this year for recruiting cycles ahead.
Which commits address the biggest “needs” of the program?
Owen: The three defensive lineman 100 percent. They were starting a former walk-on and an offensive lineman at defensive line, dude.
Kevin: Owen mentioned it but defensive tackle was a huge need that was address in this class with two out of staters in Johnson and Paez.
Andrew: They had one scholarship nose tackle before they signed.
But for me, I’m going to say Hayden Rucci. The Badgers didn’t have someone who could be the in-line tight end after Zander Neuville went down for the year, and that was a part of the reason why the Badgers struggled on offense. Jake Ferguson might get there, but right now he’s a lot more of a move guy.
Owen: Ferguson will forever be a receiver masquerading as a blocker
Andrew: Rucci’s got that nice warm QB blanket upside
Jake: I think the Rucci signing is the most underrated one of the group. Really surprised no one said Mertz, though.
[split second later]
Tyler: Basic answer, but I think Mertz needs to be mentioned as a ‘need.”
Jake: THERE WE GO
Tyler: Based on the play I saw this year at quarterback, it’s a NEED
Kevin: I could go for hours on this topic, but it is 100 percent a need.
Tyler: Coming into the year, I thought it was a nice luxury with both Hornibrook and Mertz. But I’ve upgraded it to a need.
Andrew: It’s got to be better than Hornibrook was last year but the hype train is ridiculous on Mertz right now.
Tyler: Agreed. I think a lot of people are expecting him to be ‘That dude’ from Day 1. Which is unfair. He needs time, too.
Jake: Yeah, we’ll have an article up sometime this week talking about those expectations
Kevin: From what we’ve seen from Trevor Lawrence, Tua, and even Adrian Martinez at Nebraska, true freshman QBs can succeed. But 1) Mertz probably isn’t on the same level as Lawrence and Tua, and 2) So much depends on the surrounding cast when we’re talking about freshman QB1s.
Jake: Spring ball will definitely help him acclimate early, but man, such a jump from high school to college. Yeah but for every Trevor Lawerence, there’s an Artur Sitkowski, and I feel bad calling him out because he goes to Rutgers.
Andrew: To be fair Sitkowski lost his job at IMG. His senior year was a nightmare
Owen: Yeah bro that’s a game i’m not gonna play—throwing out phenom true freshman QBs as a reason why he CAN succeed
Kevin: But Mertz is a “phenom” freshman QB by recruiting standards.
Tyler: I can already hear people saying “but Trevor Lawrence was good right away”
Owen: Lawrence was a five-star like .9997 247Sports rating
Andrew: .9999 tbh
Owen: uh huh
Tyler: Plus he had the Cali surfer hair, you cannot stop that.
Jake: 10 points for Ty for the surfer hair comment.
Owen: And he’s got a national championship level supporting cast.
Tyler: The NFL ready D line helps imo.
Jake: Mostly the hair though, Owen.
Owen: I’m with you.
Who may be THE underrated pick-up in this class?
Owen: Leo Chenal
Tyler: Does Leo Chenal count?
Owen: Fist bump. Also plug and playing QB in Clemson’s system isn’t the same as UW. Sorry for topic jumping.
Tyler: I also think Semar Melvin and Cundiff are underrated in this class
Andrew: Since it’s established we stan Leo Chenal I’m going to go with Benton and Toler
Owen: A birdie I have in a Pac-12 recruiting department told me Toler is the fourth-best DB on the West Coast.
Tyler: Changing Twitter name to Leo Chenal Stan
Andrew: Benton feels like he’s got the upside to be a major force on the defensive line, and I’m going to say that Toler has Bob Sanders upside and thank you for making it seem less crazy.
Tyler: If that’s true, thank you Spencer Lytle. What a duo those two could continue to be.
Kevin: Maema Njongmeta. He could turn into a really good linebacker, based off of how fast his development was in high school.
Jake: Ahh, happy someone mentioned Njongmeta. His senior film popped as a player who could play downhill very quickly.
Kevin: He reminds a little bit of Leon Jacobs, in the fact that I think his potential is sky high compared to where he is currently ranked
Andrew: Yeah he’s got that big surprise as a true freshman in fall camp upside. Hope that if he does that they find a spot for him sooner than Jacobs though.
Jake: I’ll go back to the South Florida cornerbacks with Melvin and James Williams. You’ve seen Dontye Carriere-Williams (now at Vandy), Faion Hicks and Rachad Wildgoose get playing time as young DBs in the past two seasons. Should be interesting to see how they adapt.
Kevin: The secondary is suddenly very deep. Also very young, but I really like what the staff has done in the secondary the past two classes