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Wisconsin football spring position preview: wide receiver

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Which faces will be the ones to replace the production of Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor?

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual - Oregon v Wisconsin Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Returning players:

Kendric Pryor: Senior, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, No. 3

Danny Davis III: Senior, 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, No. 6

Stephan Bracey: Freshman (RS), 5-foot-10, 172 pounds, No. 11

Mike Gregoire: Sophomore, 5-foot-10, 171 pounds, No. 13

Jordan DiBenedetto: Freshman (RS), 6-foot, 190 pounds, No. 14

Jack Dunn: Senior, 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, No. 16

Cam Phillips: Freshman (RS), 6-foot-0, 176 pounds, No. 18

Cooper Nelson: Freshman (RS), 6-foot-4, 187 pounds, No. 21

Cade Green: Junior, 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, No. 22

Adam Krumholz: Senior, 6-foot-1, 193 pounds, No. 24

Taj Mustapha: Sophomore, 6-foot, 190 pounds, No. 81

Emmet Perry: Junior, 6-foot-2, 186 pounds, No. 82

A.J. Abbott: Sophomore, 6-foot-2, 182 pounds, No. 89

Departing players:

Quintez Cephus, NFL Draft

A.J. Taylor, Graduation

Aron Cruickshank, Transfer

Arriving players:

Chimere Dike, Freshman, 6-foot-0, 185 pounds

Isaac Smith, Freshman, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds

Devin Chandler, Freshman, 6 foot, 170 pounds

Position overview

Wide receiver was a position that appeared to be strong coming into the 2019 season with experienced guys littering the two deep. That group got even stronger when Quintez Cephus rejoined the team and emerged as the Badgers top pass catching threat early in the season. The Coan/Cephus connection continually shined, but with that, some others production seemed to fall off. With Cephus headed to the NFL draft, and fellow wideout A.J. Taylor graduating this spring, it’s clear that this wide receiver group will need some production from names you may already know, and names that you’ll get to know as the season rolls on.

The top players in the group are ones that we are all familiar with in Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor. Both players have seen a lot of the field since their freshman seasons, and will look to close out their careers strong after junior seasons where production dipped. I expect that pair to be firmly in the two deep, but after that there are a lot of questions as to who will be lining up in around them for Wisconsin. There are plenty of names, but we’ll need to see emergence from those unfamiliar faces this spring to really sure up a receiving corps that will be looking to replace big time production.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 08 New Mexico at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who needs a big spring to crack the two-deep/who are you most excited to see in spring?

I think there are a lot of exciting candidates that can make a jump into the two deep with a strong spring. Two guys I am really excited to see are A.J. Abbott and Taj Mustapha. At 6-foot-2, 192 pounds Abbott has all the skills and size to be a player that can line up on the opposite side of Danny Davis if needed. Mustapha is a little smaller, but can give you more of a hybrid role at the position because he can line up outside or in the slot if necessary. If there are two guys I am excited to see, it’s these two as I think they have the most potential in the group.

In addition to those two, the Badgers have some experienced guys who can also crack the two deep with strong springs. Adam Krumholz is a strong candidate standing at 6-foot-1, and he’s shown understanding of the offense as well as athleticism in a limited role with Wisconsin. After that you have senior Jack Dunn who has seen a lot of time on special teams, but also got worked into some packages last year. Lastly, an outside candidate is freshman Chimere Dike. I never expect freshman to make a huge impact, but his speed is certainly there, and with the departure of Aron Cruickshank, you might have a guy who can fill that roll with Dike.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 Iowa at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who has the potential to be an all-conference performer (no players who have already made an all-conference team)?

I think the top candidate to make an all-conference team is Danny Davis III. We’ve seen what he can do when he gets the football, but now the focus has to be getting in sync with whoever is taking the snaps under center. Davis III had a significant drop off last season, but I don’t think that was about a regression, I think it was more to do with a new QB and emergence of Cephus as a top talent in the Big Ten. Davis has all the tools to move into that role, and I think we could see a monster season from him if he returns to sophomore form.

Where will this position group improve from last season?

I think this group will improve overall simply by getting more opportunity. In 2020 you aren’t going to have Jonathan Taylor and Quintez Cephus. That means you aren’t going to be able to rely on those two weapons to do it all for you. That should open up the offense to give more guys chances to shine. Will it be better than Taylor and Cephus? No, but it will open the offense up and prevent the coaching staff from being too reliant on one or two players.

I compare it to this year’s Badgers men’s basketball team. Would they be better with Ethan Happ back? Probably. But would that limit the chances of other guys to shine? Most definitely. Sure, you’d love to have JT and Q forever, but that isn’t how this thing works. These guys may not be better than them, but opportunity is certainly needed to see what can come, and just maybe you’ll find that production spread among different guys in the rotation.

Where will this position group be worse than last season?

This group will be worse athletically, but that’s no fault of their own. Cephus was a freak athlete this past season and I think the Badgers will miss that play making ability because he could do it all. Cephus could take the top off, and go underneath. This year you won’t have that guy in one player. Pryor will be an underneath guy, while Davis III will look to fill that deep ball role.

Additionally, I worry about the connection with the quarterbacks. It was clear Coan/Cephus had a good connection. However, in the 2018 season the passing game had some serious woes. A lot of it was Jack Coan being thrown in and pulled out often, but the passing game never really got anywhere those final six games of 2018 whether it be Coan or Alex Hornibrook. I mean even in the 35-3 win in the Pinstripe Bowl the Badgers only threw the ball 11 times. That’s great if you have a guy you can rely on with Jonathan Taylor, but this year you won’t have that. If the connections don’t click you could see some stalling with this group, especially when you have to replace wideout coach Ted Gilmore just weeks before spring practice.