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Wisconsin freshmen to watch in 2018

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The Badgers have some promising talent coming in.

Wide receiver Aron Cruickshank during a spring practice in April.
Wide receiver Aron Cruickshank during a spring practice in April.
Jake Kocorowski

Fall camp is here.

B5Q will be there to cover the beginnings of what could be another prosperous campaign for head coach Paul Chryst and his football program.

From position battles to question marks to potential breakout stars, B5Q’s writers answered a variety of questions as part of our roundtable series. For our last question, we predicted which freshman (redshirt or true) will make the biggest impact in fall camp and the season.

Jake Kocorowski: Scott Nelson. Both Nelson and Patrick Johnson worked as first-team safeties with D’Cota Dixon out for the spring. I like Johnson and the qualities he will bring to the defensive backfield, but I’m also intrigued by Nelson. He adds size to the position at 6’2, 202 pounds, and was called out by two Wisconsin assistants for standing out in the spring.

The redshirt freshman claimed co-defensive scout team player of the year honors last season, and with learning from Dixon (they often worked after spring ball on drills), I feel he has that combination of work ethic and abilities to earning significant playing time during the season at such a young age.

Andrew Rosin: With the injuries at the defensive end position, positively or negatively, how far the Badgers go is going to have a lot to do with the play of redshirt freshman defensive end Aaron Vopal. The Badgers lost three defensive ends to graduation and with the lossses of Garrett Rand for the season and Isaiahh Loudermilk for an extended period of time, Vopal has the physical frame (6’6, 299 pounds) and athleticism to be somebody on the defensive line quickly. And while there are other viable options, Vopal fits the prototype most accurately.

Owen Riese: This is probably the easiest answer here, but Jake Ferguson. The redshirt freshman drew rave reviews during the offseason and spring, and with the void at tight end left by Troy Fumagalli, there are targets to be had for the grandson of Barry Alvarez. Ferguson brings athleticism to the position that Zander Neuville does not. With how often Wisconsin uses multiple tight ends, I expect Ferguson to get on the field early and often.

Tyler Hunt: Bryson Williams is a name that I think will be heard a lot in 2018. The defensive line is another position that some are concerned about, but Williams appears to be a guy who can really make a difference early. While Olive Sagapolu is the anchor of this defense line, he appears to have taken Williams under his wing. Williams will likely serve as the backup nose tackle, but I have to imagine he will see some time when Sagapolu needs a blow. At a position that is already very thin, Williams may be a player who takes off with his skillset. For a freshman, the kid has pure brute strength. In a conference like the Big Ten where run-stuffing and closing down holes in the trenches is so important, Williams could be a major contributor.

Bob Wiedenhoeft: I keep hearing good things about true freshman wide receiver Aron Cruickshank. It is quite hard to believe that the two-deep, stacked with the deepest WR corp ever in Madison, could be infiltrated by a 5’9, 160-pound freshman. However, it seems like a nice complement to what other players offer in terms of speed and agility. With Wisconsin’s affinity for jet sweeps, Cruickshank might play the role Kenzel Doe played in 2014. While Cruickshank and Doe have similar body styles, Doe did not contribute much as a freshman during the 2011 season, which was a similarly offensively stacked team.

Ryan Mellenthin: I have to agree with Bob on this one. Cruickshank looks like he could be an x-factor for the Wisconsin offense and a force on special teams. With Nick Nelson’s departure, Wisconsin could use an athletic player of Cruickshank’s abilities to return punts and kickoffs.


Jake: FYI, these answers were given before Thursday’s start of fall camp, so one name that we should add here is new defensive lineman Kayden Lyles. On Thursday, the redshirt freshman worked with Sagapolu and what could be deemed the first-team defensive line. It was only the first day of camp, but it appears the coaching staff believes Lyles can make an impact early despite the position change.