We’re going to keep it real with you: if you’re reading a nearly 2,000 word roundtable about Wisconsin Badgers football recruiting, you don’t need some flowery introduction about how this was their best class ever. You already know that.
Here’s the roundtable!
What are your overall, holistic feelings on Wisconsin’s football recruiting? What have they done to get better over the past couple of years?
Belz: I think that this class is very strong, and is yet another reason for folks to be optimistic about the team moving forward. I think that the staff has done a much better job of closing on high priority targets, and not getting into a position where they are taking option C, D, etc. down the pecking order. The days of taking Sam Brodner late in the cycle to fill out the running back slot appear to be in the past. I would add that the way in which the recruiting staff has leveraged early commits to bond with one another has really been a positive shift as well.
J.J.: I’m a big fan of this class overall. Obviously the addition of 5-star Nolan Rucci is huge, but I also love the fact that UW signed every one of the top-six recruits in Wisconsin, a feat previously never achieved (at least not since 247Sports started their state by state recruiting database). It seems that it’s a group that’s already spent a good deal of time talking and gelling, which hopefully will prove to be an important factor once it’s time for them to get on the field.
Bremen: I only started paying attention to Wisconsin’s recruiting since I got on campus in 2016. From what it feels like from the outside looking in, Wisconsin has that classic “Badger football tradition” with building the wall around the state, getting a couple decent running backs from wherever and developing less heralded talent and walk-ons in the strength program WITH the addition of good early scouting on players.
Signing big names gets attention, and both Graham Mertz and Deacon Hill were not commodities before UW noticed them and now they’re 4-stars. Nolan Rucci began getting recruited when he was 14 and signed as a 5-star. The early talent recognition is crucial for UW to continue to build in recruiting.
Ryan: I also think this is a strong class, one that some have rated the best in the program’s history. Wisconsin has been able to close on highly rated recruits in recent years and has recruited more talent and speed at skill positions. There also seems to be more of a bond that is forming among the recruits. I think social media has helped a lot with that as recruits can reach out and contact one another more easily now, more than ever.
Which player, if any, do you think can contribute right away as a freshman?
Belz: I think there are a couple players, but WR Markus Allen makes a ton of sense. The Badgers desperately need weapons on the outside, and his size and ball skills make him potentially an early contributor. OLB TJ Bollers enrolling early should also give him a chance to play early, and I think that S Hunter Wohler will be too good to not play some role next year as well.
J.J.: Everyone else has already said Allen so simply to be more unique I’m going to go with the other receiver in the 2021 class of signees, Skyler Bell. Bell’s tape shows he has a tremendous amount of versatility- he’s lined up in the slot, out wide, or even as a tailback- which could make him an asset for Paul Chryst as he looks to find the spark plug that the offense seemed to be missing dearly at the end of this year. He also boasts an impressive special teams resume as a kick and punt returner, which could be an intriguing way for him to get involved early on even if he isn’t receiving first team offense reps.
Bremen: I think Markus Allen makes the most sense considering the lack of depth coming into next year at wide out, but OLB Darryl Peterson is my sneaky pick. From his film, he looked like he was born to rush the passer and cause havoc in the backfield. While he may need some time to become a more complete linebacker, I wouldn’t be shocked if we see him come in early as a heat-seeking missile let loose at the quarterback on obvious passing third downs. He seems built for that challenge.
Ryan: I am going to go with the Allens. Markus is a 4-star wide receiver with great size, at 6-3 and north of 200 pounds. His speed and size would be a nice change of pace, as Wisconsin has typically had smaller guys at the receiver position. Braelon is a beast. If he comes in as an ILB, he will likely have a harder time seeing field, with the talent Wisconsin has at that position, but if he comes in at safety, he could see some time with Eric Burrell graduating. Either way, I am sure he will see time, because again…the kid is a beast.
Who is an under-the-radar player that the Badgers signed who will end up making an All-Big Ten team before their career is over?
Belz: Jake Chaney. The kid is extremely quick and reminds me a lot of the Chris Orr and Ryan Connelly type of inside linebacker that can get downhill in a hurry, and is great at shooting gaps on blitzes and to fill the run. It doesn’t hurt that he is also enrolling early and is the son of a football coach.
J.J.: Mike Jarvis would be my sleeper pick for a future breakout player. In terms of raw physicality he’s the largest non-offensive lineman signed by the Badgers this class (6-foot-3, 250 lbs.), and he boasts an impressive tape of terrorizing high school backfields. His size gives him an immediate boost and a dangerous amount of potential for a Wisconsin coaching staff with a history of developing talent missed by many other powerhouse programs (Indiana was Jarvis’ only other currently-ranked offer).
Bremen: Al Ashford III was the definition of an under-the-radar player that Wisconsin signed because no recruiting service knew he was going to sign. He looks like a long, rangy corner with the right amount of speed that could make him into a complete corner. He was a ball hawk in high school, and I could see him developing into being a really vital piece of Jim Leonhard’s secondary.
Ryan: Ayo Adebogun - not sure you can consider him under the radar, but he is coming in as a 3-star and from what I have seen, he could be higher. He was the top defensive lineman in the state this year, and appears to have great speed and length, which could make him a force in Wisconsin’s defense. From what I have seen, he hasn’t been playing football that long and is still developing his skill set. With him getting time in the weight room and getting tutelage from the Wisconsin coaching staff, he could develop into something special.
Which team in the Big Ten (BESIDES OHIO STATE) brought in a player you are not looking forward to seeing Wisconsin play against?
Belz: I will actually go with Northwestern. First off, I would be happy with the Badgers never playing the Wildcats in the first place, but I think they got a really good linebacker in Mac Uihlein. Wisconsin was involved in his recruitment for a while before landing Jake Chaney and Bryan Sanborn, but I think he is going to prove to be a really good inside linebacker for Pat Fitzgerald.
J.J.: Though J.J. McCarthy heading to Michigan puts an immediate dent in my quest to be the most well-known J.J. in the conference, I’d have to pick Audric Estime, who’s heading to Michigan State. Of the top level recruits I’ve actually seen play full games more than a few times, I can confidently say with zero scouting experience that he’s an absolute monster, possessing an impressive combination of power and speed that will make him incredibly difficult for the Badgers to contain. (Editor’s note: Estime didn’t sign with MSU on Wednesday and recently received a Notre Dame offer that he likes.)
Bremen: While all of Michigan’s recent quarterbacks seem to be highly touted and eventually lead to nothing, their five-star quarterback JJ McCarthy seems like a the player outside of Ohio State I can name that I’d least like to face.
Ryan: I have to agree with Belz, even though Northwestern’s class isn’t rated very highly, they are always a thorn in Wisconsin’s side and Pat Fitzgerald always gets a lot out of his linebackers.
Give me one offensive and one defensive player you are most excited for to see suit up in Cardinal and White.
Belz: On offense I will go with Nolan Rucci. I know that Logan Brown and Jack Nelson were also five-star guys, but Nolan Rucci is different. He is an absolute first guy off the bus type of player. His size and athleticism set him apart, and he has tremendous bloodlines. I think he will be a big time offensive tackle for the Badgers.
On defense, I will go with Braelon Allen. He reclassified from 2022, so he will be at least a full year younger than many of his teammates, but his blend of size and strength really stand out. I think that his position versatility as a hybrid strong safety could allow defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard even more room for creativity. Oh, and he can absolutely bring the raucous when he hits. Let the pad popping begin.
J.J.: For offense I’ll double down on the wide receiver praise from the earlier question. I love what I’m seeing on Bell and Allen’s tapes, and they have the chance to make an impact immediately on a receiving depth chart that at the moment is wide open. On defense Darryl Petersen is my pick- though his skills in defending the run and pass coverage are raw, he’s a natural blitzer who I suspect could be involved in pressure packages early on in his career as a Badger.
Bremen: On offense, I’m very excited to see the duo of Markus Allen and Skyler Bell. They’re two receivers who are bigger than a lot of UW’s players and have the potential to be making a huge difference to the passing game right away, assuming that both Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor leave next season. If the Badgers can get any time of big time play from wide receivers, it makes it more likely UW can get better wide out recruits and creates a fun cycle for Wisconsin.
On defense, I’ll be most excited to see Hunter Wohler get to work. Considering his high school stats and accolades, he is exactly a player that Jim Leonhard would like to get his hands on and work with. The fact he was so highly recruited from helmet schools and stuck with his home state will likely give him lots of hype, and I’m hoping that he can live up to it from the safety position.
Ryan: I have to stick with the players I think could contribute right away as freshman. On offense, Markus Allen, he’s got great size and is highly ranked coming into Wisconsin. You don’t see that very often with a Wisconsin recruit that plays receiver. Also, he decommitted from Michigan to come to Wisconsin, which makes me like him even more.
On defense, Braelon Allen, as I said before the kid is a beast. If you have not seen him lifting weights, you should…he could play either ILB or safety, I personally hope he plays safety, as I see an easier track to playing time there. However, like Belz said, his versatility could open things up for Leonhard to use him in a lot of ways.