clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Wisconsin football recruiting: Build-A-Badger

New, 11 comments

In a new feature, B5Q’s Matt Belz and Drew Hamm take a stab at filling out the 2021 recruiting class.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Wisconsin at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2019 has come and gone. The Wisconsin Badgers football team not only had a tremendous season on the field, resulting in a Rose Bowl berth, but Paul Chryst and company also inked one of the best recruiting classes in the program history for 2020.

Over the past two recruiting cycles, 2019 and 2020, the Badgers have elevated their recruiting status, and are already positioned with a top-10 class in the early goings for 2021. With eight current commits, and 16 scholarship seniors expected to exhaust their eligibility, the coaching staff has a tremendous start towards a projected number of 18-20 given normal attrition.

Nearly a full year from National Signing Day, we at B5Q kick-start a new recurring article that examines the state of the current recruiting class, while projecting forward what other players may join the program to become Badgers.

Quarterback (1)

Deacon Hill

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Quarterback 6-foot-4 225 pounds Santa Barbara, Cal. Three-star; .8791; No. 20 QB

Matt’s take: As it stands, Deacon Hill is expected to be the lone scholarship quarterback in the 2021 class. After bringing in four-star signal caller Graham Mertz in 2019, the Badgers opted to bring in Daniel Wright as a walk-on for the 2020 class. Deacon Hill possesses great size and arm strength, and was one of the top performers at the Under Armour Los Angeles regional camp recently. The Badgers locked Hill up early, and he appears to be an underrated get early on.

Drew’s take: Hill looks like he could be in line for a ratings boost this summer/heading into fall. He already led his high school team further in the playoffs than they’d been in years, as a junior, so it’ll be fun to see what he can do as a senior leader next year. I don’t foresee the Badgers taking two quarterbacks in this class, but I know Jon Budmayr is still kicking the tires on a few prospects.


Running back (2)

Loyal Crawford

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Running back 6-foot 190 pounds Eau Claire, Wis. Three-star; .8721; No. 30 RB

Jackson Acker

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Athlete 6-foot-1 215 pounds Verona, Wis. Three-star; .8722; No. 29 RB

Matt’s take: The Badgers generally take only one scholarship running back in each cycle. This year is different. With two scholarship worthy tailbacks in the state, Paul Chryst opted to offer both players. The duo of Loyal Crawford and Jackson Acker will give the backfield a thunder and lightning of sorts, with Acker being a bigger back, while Crawford is extremely quick in his cuts. Acker could ultimately outgrow the position depending on his development, but as of now the two in-state players are projected to join the fold as running backs.

Drew’s take: Unless 4-star RB Evan Pryor (Cornelius, N.C.) decides Ohio State and Georgia and all those other schools don’t look good anymore and Wisconsin does...I don’t think the Badgers will be adding to their backfield class in 2021. Not that it matters, but it kinda does...it’s nice to see two Wisconsin running backs get, and accept, offers to play in Madison. It would be really fun if these two, and fellow in-state tailback Julius Davis, formed a three-headed Badger State monster in the backfield in a few years.


Fullback (0-1)

Matt’s take: After taking a scholarship fullback in 2019 with Quan Easterling, it is unlikely that the Badgers take another in 2021. Wisconsin has done a tremendous job in the past of developing walk-ons into that role, or converting a linebacker in search of playing time into the role. With both Easterling and John Chenal on scholarship, it is far more likely that a younger walk-on gets some reps behind them. In the 2020 recruiting class, walk-on Riley Nowakowski would make a lot of sense as a potential fullback based on his skillset and size. It would also not be out of the question for the Badgers to add another 2021 walk-on to compete at fullback as well.

Drew’s take: Find a kid from central Wisconsin whose last name ends in “-ski” and throw a low 40s number on him and let him crack some skulls. Boom, fullback position recruited.


Wide receiver (2-3)

Jaylin Noel

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Wide receiver 5-foot-11 170 pounds Kansas City, Mo. Three-star; .8527; No. 108 WR

Skyler Bell

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Wide receiver 6-foot-1 185 pounds Watertown, Conn. Three-star; .8540; No. 132 WR

J. Michael Sturdivant

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Wide receiver 6-foot-2 183 pounds Flower Mound, Texas Four-star; .9204; No. 38 WR

Matt’s take: After Ted Gilmore decided to leave town for Michigan State, wide receiver recruiting is in a state of flux. It is anyone’s guess as to which prospects will maintain their offer, and who the new receivers coach will want to bring in. For that sake, the three targets highlighted above are complete guesses, but bringing in two or three pass catchers would make a lot of sense. Jaylin Noel is a player that was high on Wisconsin’s board, and he currently has the Badgers in his top six. Skyler Bell is a player that the staff has been in contact with, and has a beatable offer list if the Badgers choose to offer down the road. It would be nice if Paul Chryst can bring in a strong recruiter to fill Gilmore’s position, because Wisconsin could use a four-star wide receiver in this class.

Drew’s take: Noel is, sadly, the lowest rated receiver that Wisconsin has offered this cycle, but he is definitely the most likely to choose the Badgers. As Matt mentioned, it’s tough to figure out where the Badgers might go with this group since they currently don’t have a wide receivers coach (my application was submitted, don’t worry), but hopefully Noel still likes UW even though his lead recruiter is now in East Lansing.

I agree with Matt that the Badgers are going to shock some people and bring in a 4-star wideout this class and I think that man is J. Michael Sturdivant. Did I pick him because he has the best name out of any of the players Wisconsin offered? Maybe. But when someone is going with the first initial then middle name power move you KNOW he’s a confident dude and that’s exactly what I want out of my wide receivers.


Tight end (1-2)

Jack Pugh

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Tight end 6-foot-5 235 pounds Hilliard, Ohio Four-star; .8931; No. 14 TE

Matt’s take: The tight end position was decimated by injuries in 2019. No seniors though, and four freshman on campus, and Wisconsin is not tied to needing a tight end in the 2021 class. Given the importance of the position though, and the potential for Jake Ferguson to decide to leave early if he has a phenomenal junior season, I believe bringing in one scholarship player would make a lot of sense. At this point, Wisconsin has nine offers out in the class.

I think the most likely candidates to eventually pick the Badgers are Jack Pugh, Lawson Albright, and recently offered Colorado native Gunnar Helm. All three prospects have good offer lists, while Albright visited campus back in November. For the sake of taking a stab in the dark, I will go with Pugh who has the Badgers in his top five.

Drew’s take: Pugh is the safe pick here and the Badgers could do way worse than him. I am still holding out hope that high 4-star Thomas Fidone (Council Bluffs, Iowa) takes a visit to Madison because he has the potential to be a special player.


Offensive line (2-3)

Riley Mahlman

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Offensive lineman 6-foot-8 270 pounds Lakeville, Min. Four-star; .9398; No. 17 OT

J.P. Benzschawel

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Offensive lineman 6-foot-7 260 pounds Grafton, Wis. Four-star; .9422; No. 16 OT

Nolan Rucci

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Offensive line 6-foot-8 295 pounds Lititz, Pa. Five-star; .9906; No. 5 OT

Matt’s take: After taking five scholarship offensive lineman in the 2020 cycle, the Badgers can be picky in 2021. Add in the fact that two four-stars — J.P. Benzschawel and Riley Mahlman — committed early, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Joe Rudolph go with a Nolan Rucci or bust approach. Rucci is a 5-star stud out of Pennsylvania, that would be the crown jewel of the class. With his brother on campus, and things setting up for Wisconsin to have his final official visit this summer according to his conversation with Jake Kocorowski, and the Badgers are in a good spot to potentially snag his commitment. The competition will be steep, but he would be a monumental recruiting win.

Drew’s take: Look, I get it. Wisconsin produces NFL-caliber offensive linemen in their sleep and 5-star prospects should be beating down Paul Chryst’s door to get a scholarship offer. They should! I agree! But I just don’t think it’s going to happen with Hayden Rucci’s little brother. Penn State is going to be tough to beat and I think they’ll get him, but I do agree with Matt that Joe Rudolph should now be putting all of his eggs in the Rucci basket since he has two 4-star tackles to fall back on.


Defensive line (2-3)

Darryl Peterson

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Outside linebacker 6-foot-3 235 pounds Akron, Ohio Three-star; .8734; No. 33 OLB

Hayden Nelson

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Weak-side defensive end 6-foot-4 248 pounds Brookfield, Wis. Three-star; .8366; No. 57 WDE

Matt’s take: Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk are both seniors next season. The two starters will give way to a youth movement behind them. Luckily enough, Wisconsin has been doing a much better job of restocking behind them as of late. With four freshman and three sophomores on the roster next season, they will be ok moving forward, but I expect Inoke Breckterfield to try to bring in a couple players.

Darryl Peterson is a top of the board type talent that the Badgers have a strong relationship with. Wisconsin was one of the first to offer him, well before he blew up, and he would be a tremendous get. He could easily project to either outside linebacker or defensive end, but for the sake of argument we will slot him in on the line.

Alongside Peterson, I would expect a few potential camp offers to go out. In-state prospect Hayden Nelson has seen his offer list spike recently, and he would make a lot of sense a target to monitor. Tyler Kiehne has also stated that he hopes to take an official visit, so he is worth watching as well. With the emergence of Keeanu Benton, and versatile players like Gio Paez and Rodas Johnson a class behind him after a redshirt season, I suspect the Badgers will skip taking a nose tackle unless they are overwhelmed by a talented prospect.

Drew’s take: Peterson is a player that the Badgers have been in on for a while and it is annoying that Alabama has swooped in recently and made a good impression because, duh, why wouldn’t Alabama make a good impression on a football recruit? Hopefully he’s still solidly thinking about the Badgers, because he would be a nice piece for Jim Leonhard’s defense. Having a former high school teammate (FB Quan Easterling) on campus only helps Wisconsin’s chances.

Nelson is a good looking in-state prospect that everyone seems to think the Badgers will offer sooner rather than later. Iowa State is his only Power 5 offer right now and I think it would be pretty easy for the Badgers to trump that. We’ll see how this plays out in the summer.


Outside linebacker (1-2)

Ayo Adebogun

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Weak-side defensive end 6-foot-3 205 pounds Thiensville, Wis. Three-star; .8730; No. 36 WDE

TJ Bollers

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Weak-side defensive end 6-foot-3 237 pounds Tiffin, Iowa Four-star; .9356; No. 8 WDE

Yanni Karlaftis

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Outside linebacker 6-foot-3 205 pounds West Lafayette, Ind. Four-star; .9246; No. 17 OLB

Matt’s take: Noah Burks is the only senior of Bobby April’s bunch, so the position is not nearly as crucial as it was in the 2020 class. A conglomerate of young athletes have come in the past few classes, so taking one or two in 2021 makes sense. Ayo Adebogun is already committed, and at 205 pounds he is a twitchy edge rusher who will need to add weight to excel at the position in the future. After Adebogun, Wisconsin can be very picky.

TJ Bollers is an absolute stud, and he has the Badgers in his top group. Hoping to take official visits to Iowa State, Cal, Washington, Nebraska, and Wisconsin according to an interview with Alex Halstad of 247 Sports, the Badgers are in a great position early on. At this point, Bollers is a projected outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, but he could also slide down and put his hand in the ground depending on his physical development over the next few years.

Drew’s take: Adebogun and Bollers would be an excellent haul for the Badgers out wide, but let’s get greedy and say that Yanni Karlaftis decides to blaze his own trail (his brother George plays at Purdue) and comes to Madison too. Purdue and Wisconsin are two of his favorites, with Penn State, Nebraska and Cal mixed in as well, but I think the Badgers are owed some brotherly karma since Nolan Rucci probably won’t join his brother at Wisconsin.


Inside linebacker (1-2)

Bryan Sanborn

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Inside linebacker 6-foot-2 210 pounds Lake Zurich, Ill. Three-star; .8789; No. 20 ILB

Damon Ollison

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Inside linebacker 6-foot 215 pounds Akron, Ohio Three-star; .8689; No. 36 OLB

Kobe King

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Inside linebacker 6-foot 223 pounds Detroit, Mich. Three-star; .8739; No. 20 ILB

Matt’s take: Bryan Sanborn was a significant get for the staff back in December. The younger brother of Jack Sanborn, Bryan is a similar athlete and physical specimen to his brother, who was an immediate contributor on the defense. After landing three inside linebackers in last years class (Jordan Turner, Malik Reed, Preston Zachman), the Badgers could probably get away with only taking one inside linebacker.

However, Wisconsin is in a very good position as things stand for Damon Ollison. Listed at only 6-foot tall, Ollison is an explosive linebacker that projects best to inside in Jim Leonhard’s 3-4 defense. From Archbishop Hoban, Ollison has a strong relationship with both Quan Easterling and Darryl Peterson. Given class size constraints Ollison may be too talented to pass up in this cycle, especially if he and Darryl Peterson want to potentially play together in college. Mac Uihlein is another intriguing option who has frequented Madison. As it stands, Ollison appears to be the more likely candidate though.

Drew’s take: Sanborn is a great get for the Badgers. He and his brother should record a lot of tackles for Wisconsin moving forward. For their other ILB commit I think Paul Chryst should take a page out of Greg Gard’s playbook and recruit someone named Kobe King and also recruit someone with a twin brother who also could play for the Badgers. I know the first Kobe King didn’t work out like we all hoped, but this new Kobe King is going to be way better! I promise. Also, if the Badgers get him to commit then his twin brother who plays CB will also probably commit. Win/win!


Cornerback (1-2)

Robert Regan

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Cornerback 5-foot-10 170 pounds Orange, Calif. Three-star; .8742; No. 35 CB

Tyson Russell

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Cornerback 5-foot-10 160 pounds Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Three-star; .8366; No. 71 CB

Kalen King

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Cornerback 5-foot-11 170 pounds Detroit, Mich. Three-star; .8950; No. 24 CB

Matt’s take: With Caesar Williams the lone senior at the position, one or two cornerbacks make sense for this class. The loss of James Williams due to injuries likely pushes this to two though. At this juncture the Badgers have only handed out three offers to cornerbacks, so there may need to be more offers given out eventually. Of the players offered so far, Robert Regan and Kalen King make the most sense. Regan is scheduled to take an official visit this summer, and last season Wisconsin scored verbals from the majority of their official visitors in June and July. I like the Badgers chances to potentially close on Regan if things go well.

In terms of Kalen King, his recruitment is much more competitive. Hailing from Cass Tech in Detroit, he and his brother are likely destined to stay closer to home. Because of that, I’ll go off the grid with Tyson Russell. The Badgers have done very good with players from Saint Thomas Aquinas, including his former teammate Semar Melvin who would be a great recruiter on campus. If Wisconsin were to come in with an offer, Russell is the type of player that has thrived out of the sunshine state.

Drew’s take: I disagree with Matt here. I think that the King brothers are going to be charmed by Madison and want to come to the state that has a rightful claim to the Upper Peninsula. The King brothers want to stay together and be a packaged deal and Wisconsin is one of the places where that is a possibility. They’ve only taken Junior Day visits to Wisconsin and Penn State, and as a person who has been to both campuses...Madison is a shoo-in.


Safety (2-3)

Hunter Wohler

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Safety 6-foot-1 190 pounds Muskego, Wis. Four-star; .9208; No. 9 Safety

Zaequan Gilliespy

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Sports Ranking (not ranked yet by composite)
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Sports Ranking (not ranked yet by composite)
Safety 5-foot-10 183 pounds Tampa Bay, Fla. Three-star; .83; No. 78 S

Armorion Smith

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Safety 6-foot-2 190 pounds River Rouge, Mich. Three-star; .8527; No. 44 S

Matt’s take: The commitment of Hunter Wohler was big. A four-star prospect, he has the skill set to be an early contributor at Wisconsin. The Badgers will need to add some more bodies at this position though given three seniors expected to leave. I could see the Badgers signing two or three safeties in this class, with Wohler likely the headliner. Zaequan Gilliespy was an early offer recipient from Jim Leonhard back last May, and has a very beatable offer list if he visits campus this spring or summer for an official.

Justin Walters was a high priority for the staff prior to his commitment to Notre Dame, so I think another few offers will probably go out in response. If a new offer goes out, Armorion Smith, out of River Rouge, Mich. would be a nice place to start. He recently picked up an offer from Michigan State, but the success Reggie Pearson gives the Badgers a chance to go into his school again and secure a victory on the recruiting trail. I ultimately think two safeties is the magic number, but I will list three just for fun.

Drew’s take: Wohler committing to Wisconsin is a huge win. The state of Wisconsin doesn’t often produce talents like Wohler and it is imperative that, when it does, the Badgers keep these kids home.

Gilliespy is a player I know little about, but the Badgers often have success with Florida defensive backs so he gets the ol’ Drew Hamm Stamp of Approval. He also has a really difficult name to spell, which is great for those of us who write about the Badgers, so he’ll probably end up here and become an All-American.


Specialists (0)

Sam Jackson

Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Composite Ranking
Athlete 5-foot-11 170 pounds Naperville, Ill. Four-star; .9089; No. 16 ATH

Matt’s take: With Adam Bay graduating, there is always an opportunity for the staff to go with a scholarship long snapper, or to pull the trigger on a kicker or punter if they deem necessary. At this point though, I think walk-ons Duncan McKinley and Jack Van Dyke should allow the staff to forgo the need for using a scholarship on a specialist. I think it is far more likely the staff will add another walk-on long snapper or kicker/punter to join the team with scholarships tight.

Drew’s take: Matt was the one who set up the structure of this post and there was no one who could rein him in, so there was not spot for potential athlete recruits. I’m going to put my one ATH recruit here and hope he doesn’t notice.

Jackson was recently committed to our neighbors to the west but wised up and decommitted before anything got too serious. Jackson plays QB for Naperville Central, but the Badgers already have a signal caller in this class, so it is hard to say where they project him. At the risk of getting yelled at by NFL Draft Twitter, I’d say he would probably be a pretty good wide receiver at Wisconsin.


Overall Breakdown

2021 Class

Matt's Class Drew's Class
Matt's Class Drew's Class
QB (1): Deacon Hill QB (1): Deacon Hill
RB (2): Loyal Crawford, Jackson Acker RB (2): Loyal Crawford, Jackson Acker
WR (2): Jaylin Noel, Skyler Bell WR (2): Jaylin Noel, J. Michael Sturdivant
TE (1): Jack Pugh TE (1): Jack Pugh
OL (3): Riley Mahlman, JP Benzschawel, Nolan Rucci OL (2): Riley Mahlman, JP Benzschawel
DL (2): Darryl Peterson, Hayden Nelson DL (2): Darryl Peterson, Hayden Nelson
OLB (2): Ayo Adebogun, TJ Bollers OLB (3): Ayo Adebogun, TJ Bollers, Yanni Karlaftis
ILB (2): Bryan Sanborn, Damon Ollison ILB (2): Bryan Sanborn, Kobe King
CB (2): Robert Regan, Tyson Russell CB (2): Robert Regan, Kalen King
S (3): Hunter Wohler, Zaequan Gilliespy, Amarion Smith S (2): Hunter Wohler, Zaequan Gilliespy
ATH (1): Sam Jackson
Total: 20 commits Total: 20 commits