On Thursday afternoon, Jon McNamara of Rivals dropped a bomb on Badgers Twitter by announcing that 2021 4-star ATH Braelon Allen (Fond du Lac) had told him that he would be playing running back when he got to Madison. Most assumed that he would play on the defensive side of the ball, but Allen had a monster spring season toting the rock and will apparently try his luck there first.
In seven games, Allen rushed for 1,047 yards on 71 attempts (an absurd 14.7 ypc) with 21 touchdowns. He was also named The Associated Press player of the year for the WIAA’s spring season.
We quickly convened a roundtable on the matter and here are Ryan, J.J. and Drew’s thoughts on the matter.
Which position should Braelon Allen play for the Badgers: safety, inside linebacker or running back?
Ryan: I personally like the idea of Allen playing a hybrid safety/linebacker position, sort of like Budda Baker of the Arizona Cardinals. I think that would give Jim Leonhard the ability to use him in a multitude of ways on the defensive side of the ball. He’s got the tools to play both positions, so it seems only logical to have him play both.
J.J.: Here’s my thing. Allen, by all high school accounts, looks like a complete monster of a running back. But it still feels weird to put him there for UW, mainly because running back was one of the few positions I saw as having a definitively positive 2020 season. Jalen Berger averaged 5.0 yards a carry as a freshman, and it got to the point that by the end of the year the committee system that was heralded as a strength heading into the season became a source of criticism with Berger’s production deserving more carries. I think many people (read: myself) expected him to become more of a bellcow in 2021 after having such a productive first year. So while Allen certainly looks like a tremendously talented running back, I’m a bit confused as to why a player with such tremendous positional flexibility would immediately jump in at a position with what looks to be a three-year starter already prepared for a big year. That aside, on the defensive side of the ball I’d probably say inside linebacker due to his insane physique, but the idea of Allen’s 6-foot-2 and 230+ lbs. frame closing down on a streaking wide receiver is too tantalizing to disregard.
Drew: Look, I trust Wisconsin’s coaching staff when it comes to position changes. They seem to do it in a way that is beneficial to both the player and the team, so if they want to try Allen out at tailback first? So be it. Let’s see what happens. However, the Badgers are, potentially, set to lose their top-three starting inside linebackers after this season and having a young player like Allen in the pipeline would soften that blow a bit.
If he sticks at running back, where on the depth chart do you see him as a freshman?
Ryan: I think he will settle in along with Guerrendo and Davis as Berger’s backup. The Badgers have always had their bellwether back, but then they have two or three guys that split carries behind the No. 1 back. I imagine that is where Allen will find himself. As for where he will be in the pecking order, that will depend on his summer, along with how the other backs progress over the next couple of months.
J.J.: I’d have to imagine barring an incredible summer (which based off his high school production shouldn’t be ruled out) he’d slot into something of a backup committee with Jalen Berger starting and some combination of Allen/Isaac Guerendo/Julius Davis/Brady Schipper being 2a, 2b, 2c, and 2d, with the “preferred” backup likely emerging from a combination of situational skill (ie who’s the third down back that could take the large role Garrett Groshek had last fall) and how any of those four take whatever amount of opportunities are presented to them when Berger is off the field.
Drew: I understand why the Badgers want to move Allen to running back. Currently their top two backup options (Davis and Guerendo) struggle to stay healthy, Schipper is more of a Garrett Groshek Lite player and the other three freshmen running backs are all unknowns at the college level. If UW secures the transfer commitment of former Clemson RB Chez Mellusi on June 1 then the RB room will look a lot better, but that also will push Allen further down the fall depth chart. Unless he has a Jonathan Taylor-esque freshman fall camp, I don’t see Allen any higher than fourth on the depth chart heading into the first game of the season.
How many times will Allen switch positions during his career in Madison?
Ryan: If he takes off and has a solid first year at running back, I don’t think he will switch. However, if he lags behind the other backs, I think we could see him moving to the other side of the ball and staying there, hopefully as a hybrid safety/linebacker. It would be awesome to see him spend time on both sides of the ball throughout his career, but I don’t think the coaching staff would go for that.
J.J.: He’ll never switch positions again as he’ll never officially be tied down to one. Next week he’ll officially change from running back to simply ATH a la NCAA 14 recruiting.
Drew: I think he switches positions once, after his freshman year, to linebacker and finds a home there. There is a more immediate path to playing time there and, I’d argue, to getting the attention of NFL scouts.
Which of the, now four, running backs in the 2021 class do you move to a different position in fall camp and what is that position?
Ryan: Assuming that fullback is a different position from running back, I could totally see Jackson Acker moving to fullback with his frame.
J.J.: Assuming Allen is the disallowed answer, Jackon Acker seems like the logical next choice. A local product who’ll make a 30 minute move to Camp Randall from Verona High this summer, Acker has the size (listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds by 247) to give him the same versatility as Allen. With such a powerful frame it’s not out of the question that he could slot in at fullback, or perhaps even linebacker. And if Wisconsin’s track and field teams need a boost, Acker finished second in discus at the Wisconsin Division 1 state meet last year.
Drew: Yeah, there was talk even before Allen reclassified to the 2021 class about Acker moving to fullback or h-back, so that seems like the logical move for Wisconsin.