A year ago, I was watching the waters rise during historic flooding in Madison while following the breaking news that then-Wisconsin WR Quintez Cephus was facing felony charges and took a leave of absence from the team.
What a difference a year makes. Cephus was found not guilty on August 2nd and was reinstated as a UW-Madison student August 19th. He is officially back on the football team, and the next step is to “[work] through eligibility issues before he can participate in a game,” according to a statement by Wisconsin Athletics.
A statement from Wisconsin Athletics regarding Quintez Cephus: pic.twitter.com/tNOTTHe7WZ— Wisconsin Badgers (@UWBadgers) August 19, 2019
It’s unclear how big a hurdle these “eligibility issues” are, but it is probably not as big a barrier as the ones Cephus has faced up until this point.
Assuming these eligibility issues are resolved, Cephus’s return revolutionizes the outlook for Wisconsin’s offense and could even change the landscape of the Big Ten.
1. More non-Jonathan Taylor explosive plays
We all know Cephus is good. He has great hands, high-points the ball and consistently catches the ball in traffic. His presence on the field also significantly boosts Wisconsin’s ability to get chunk yardage through the air. Take a look at this chart of the longest pass of each game with and without Cephus in 2017 and 2018.
With Cephus, Wisconsin was...
- 58% more likely to have a longest pass of 30 yards or more
- Three times as likely to have a longest pass of 40+ yards
- Nearly FIVE TIMES as likely to have a longest pass of 50+ yards.
That is game-changing; it’s enough to get a full extra win on its own.
Here’s where I make note that Alex Hornibrook played better in 2017 than 2018. But the explosive passing plays dropped in 2017 after Cephus was injured. Further, isn’t it possible that the lack of Cephus influenced Hornibrook’s drop in play in 2018?
2. Boost to the locker room
Throughout this process, many of his Wisconsin teammates have publicly shown support for Cephus. His return could have the impact of improving the mood and focus of the locker room. After a rough season in ‘18, the locker room will hang onto any source of optimism it can find.
3. Increasing Taylor’s Heisman chances
As I mentioned before, Wisconsin will be in a much better place to hit home runs through the passing game. This puts defenses in a double-bind, as single coverage is a less appealing option when Danny Davis and Quintez Cephus are both on the field. This should have a ripple effect by making defensive coordinators less likely to say “Let’s stop Taylor and make them beat us in the throw game.”
If Cephus returns to his 2017 form, or perhaps even better, I expect that to add 15 yards / game (about 175 yards for the season) to Taylor’s totals. That’s significant enough to earn more Heisman hype.