We are just a few days away from the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers kicking off their 2018 season against Western Kentucky under the lights of Camp Randall Stadium.
As we lead up to the season opener, our band of writers came together to answer a series of questions post-camp. Today, we look at who they feel will be the breakout player for Wisconsin this year.
Drew Hamm: Matt Henningsen is one of the starters at defensive end against Western Kentucky and even after Isaiahh Loudermilk returns, I bet Henningsen starts opposite him. The walk-on redshirt freshman from Menomonee Falls has been given attaboys from multiple players throughout fall camp and has caught the eye of many reporters too. He’s also majoring in computer AND electrical engineering, so he can beat you up and then fix your router. That’s what computer engineers do, right?
The defensive line at Wisconsin, ever since the Badgers switched to a 3-4, never really racks up a lot of impressive “counting” stats. However, being strong at the point of attack and freeing up the outside linebacker to fly at ball carriers is something not everyone can do from the end position, but it appears that Henningsen can. I’m excited to see which of the young defensive linemen step up to help out Olive Sagapolu, and if you’re the betting type, you should put money on Henningsen.
Jake Kocorowski: Scott Nelson.
Drew: Uh, Jake, this is only two words.
Jake: OK, I will continue then. The redshirt freshman safety was one of our fall camp standouts, with defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard telling reporters on Aug. 16 that he was the one defensive back who “flashed big-play ability” in finding the football. With Wisconsin needing to replace a ballhawk like Joe Ferguson and a current NFLer in Natrell Jamerson, Nelson intercepted three to four passes during practices open to the media in the first two-plus weeks.
We will see if Nelson translates that over when it matters, but the Detroit native certainly looked the part in camp and appears to be a great complement to redshirt senior (and mentor) D’Cota Dixon.
Tyler Hunt: Caesar Williams is a name that is probably somewhat unknown to a lot of Wisconsin fans, but I think the corner is poised for a big season in 2018. It’s clear that Williams has impressed in fall camp, landing one of the starting corner spots as the Badgers head into week one. Something about his size and athleticism really impressed me about Williams just from watching his high-school film. Couple that with two years of learning under Jim Leonhard and I think you have a recipe for a shutdown corner, which would be huge for a defense that has a lot of questions at the position.
Owen Riese: I’m also going to go with Williams. The sophomore cornerback from Texas has the length and athleticism to be a big-time player at cornerback for the Badgers, who need a youngin’ to step up at corner this season. Also, Caesar has some of the best hair on the team, and you know what they say: look good, feel good; feel good play good.
Kevin O’Connell: It looks increasingly likely that the Badgers will be without wide receiver Quintez Cephus this season, and with Danny Davis suspended for the first two games, the opportunity is there for redshirt sophomore Kendric Pryor. A.J. Taylor is primarily a slot receiver, so look for Pryor to get targeted in bunches without Cephus and Davis in the fold. If Pryor shines early, it could be difficult for head coach Paul Chryst to go away from him even when/if Davis returns, especially if he continues to show the ability to run the ball on end-arounds. Pryor was sort of the forgotten man in Wisconsin’s wide receiver core a year ago, but he’s extremely talented and will get plenty of looks early in the season. I expect him to break out in a big way and become one of Alex Hornibrook’s favorite deep threat targets.
Ryan Mellenthin: I know it’s an obvious choice, but I have to go with Jonathan Taylor. The back is now in his second season and with a year under his belt, I think he will be even better after finishing just shy of 2,000 yards in 2017 and adding 13 touchdowns. In my opinion, his freshman year was just the beginning and he will continue to improve as he enters his sophomore season.