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Wisconsin football 2020 fall practice position preview: running backs

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Wisconsin has to replace one of the best to ever do it in 2020.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Look, we don’t know if there is going to be college football this fall but until we know for sure that there isn’t, we are going to treat this offseason like any other and get you prepared for the 2020 season. Here are our thoughts on each position group before spring practice started and then, uh, got canceled to get you fully up to speed.

Since, to be quite honest, not a whole lot has changed since we wrote the spring previews we’ll be adding a couple of different elements to these previews. We’ll take our best guesses at how the depth chart for each position group will look this fall and we’ll also take a look at a potential breakout player for the 2021 season (in case you haven’t had your Graham Mertz fix in a few months).

Kent State v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Returning players:

Nakia Watson, running back, 5-foot-11, 229 pounds, redshirt sophomore
Garrett Groshek, running back, 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, redshirt senior
Isaac Guerendo, running back, 6-foot, 213 pounds, redshirt sophomore
Julius Davis, running back, 5-foot-10, 189 pounds, sophomore
Brady Schipper, running back, 5-foot-11, 206 pounds, redshirt sophomore
Mason Stokke, fullback, 6-foot-2, 239 pounds, redshirt senior
John Chenal, fullback, 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, junior
Quan Easterling, fullback, 6-foot-3, 238 pounds, redshirt freshman

Departing players:

Jonathan Taylor, running back, NFL (Indianapolis Colts)
Bradrick Shaw, running back, graduate transfer (California)
Hunter Johnson, running back/linebacker, left team

Incoming players:

Jalen Berger, running back, 6-foot, 190 pounds, freshman

Depth Chart/Position Breakdown

RB Depth Chart

Role Player Position Year Games started
Role Player Position Year Games started
Starter Nakia Watson RB RS SO 0
Backup Garrett Groshek RB RS SR 0
Backup Jalen Berger RB FR 0
Backup Julius Davis RB SO 0
Backup Isaac Guerendo RB RS SO 0
Role Player Position Year Games Started
Starter Mason Stokke FB RS SR 6
Backup John Chenal FB JR 3
Backup Quan Easterling FB RS FR 0

Much like it has done in the past, Wisconsin will have to replace its bellwether back in 2020, following the departure of back to back Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor. As you can imagine, this will be no small task, given the success Taylor had in his three seasons at Wisconsin. However, regardless of who is carrying the ball, Wisconsin has always been successful in the ground attack.

Leading the way heading into 2020 are Nakia Watson and Garrett Groshek, the two most experienced of Wisconsin’s running backs. Watson, who was added to the Doak Walker Award watch list, is the presumptive starter heading in 2020, given the the success he saw in 2019 in a limited roll. While Groshek should once again firmly cement himself as the team’s third-down back during his senior season.

Behind them is a stable of talented young backs, looking for an opportunity. The two that jump out the most are Julius Davis and Jalen Berger. Davis who did not play during his freshman season, was a 3-star recruit and has been someone that has turned heads in practice at Wisconsin. Berger, the incoming 4-star recruit has the potential to garner some serious playing time as a true freshman.

Speedster Issac Guerendo is also another player that I am excited to see with an expanded roll this coming season. However, with the group of running backs this team has, I think where he could make the most noise is at kick returner, with the departure of Aron Cruickshank. Guerendo’s most notable play of the 2019 season, was on a reverse kick return against Minnesota.

Anything is possible with this group and I think it is possible that we could see multiple guys stake their claim on playing time during fall camp and it will certainly make Paul Chryst’s decision of who to start, a difficult one.

Most important player in position group:

At running back, I have to go with Garrett Groshek. While he likely will not be the main focus of the running game, Groshek has been staple on third down with his blocking ability and receiving ability. Both have kept him on the field since his freshman season and have made him a very important piece of the Badger offense. With the departure of Taylor, he should see an increased roll, especially in the passing game.

At fullback, I am going to say both Stokke and Chenal. The two split time in 2019 and will likely do so again in 2020, as they pave the way for whichever of Wisconsin’s running backs are carrying the ball this season. Both Stokke and Chenal also proved to be able to convert on third-and-short’s and even fourth-and-short’s.

Potential breakout player for 2021:

I am most excited to see what Jalen Berger is able to do in 2021. He arrived on campus in the summer, so he missed spring practice (not that there was much with the pandemic) and with fall camp in question, it is hard to say if he will be able to progress as much heading into the season (if there is one). However, once he has a full year under his belt in Madison, the sky is the limit.