The Wisconsin Badgers are facing significant turnover at the wide receiver position, as top wideouts Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor have moved onto the NFL, leaving a number of unknown quantities on the roster heading into 2022.
However, with new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram looking to revitalize the offense into a more-balanced approach, the receivers may be counted upon more than ever, so let’s preview the new Badgers’ wideouts in a little deeper light ahead of the 2022 college football season.
Chimere Dike enters the 2022 season as the clear-cut top receiver on the depth chart, having been the only wideout on the roster to see significant snaps at the collegiate level.
The junior saw 493 snaps last season, ranking fourth on the team amongst receivers in receiving yards, as he caught 19 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown.
Dike has started seven games in his career, and is one of the oldest receivers on the team, paving the way for him to be the leader of this young unit in 2022, which will be important as the Badgers undergo a transition with their weapons.
Danny Davis, Wisconsin’s leading receiver a season ago, caught 32 receptions for 478 yards and two touchdowns. With an offense that should focus more on the aerial attack, can Dike eclipse the 500-yard marker in 2022? He’s placed himself in a good position to do so, as long as he remains the top option in the Badger's offense.
Skyler Bell is projected to complement Dike, as the redshirt freshman has impressed over the offseason with his explosiveness and contested-catch ability as a 6’0, 190-pound receiver.
Despite playing in only one game last season, the Las Vegas Bowl game, Bell has caught the eyes of new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram, suiting up with the first-team offense alongside Dike.
With the number of players leaving the program for the NFL at the position, Bell understood his opportunity, setting himself into a diverse offseason regimen, where he improved on several facets of his game.
“We had a lot of people leaving in that room. This off-season, I worked on my route running, strength and conditioning, so I could come in and play fast and physical right away.”
On Wisconsin’s media day, Engram spoke highly about Bell’s work ethic, as well as his abilities on the field.
“Really like Skyler. Comes to practice every day with a workman-like attitude,” Engram said. “He’s smart, strong guy, he’s got good speed, and he’s been playing really strong at the catch point. He owns the playbook.”
While Wisconsin figures to utilize several of their intriguing receivers this season, Bell has certainly put his mark on the program and is the favorite to start opposite of Dike.
The other redshirt freshman on the team is Markus Allen, who seemed like the better option coming into the offseason, having played in 25 more snaps last season, while catching three passes for 65 yards.
Regardless, Allen has been a player who has also made strides this offseason, being a consistent contributor to the offense, which includes a deep 60-yard touchdown pass from Mertz just yesterday.
Allen’s release package, ability to get open, and big-play ability should be featured when he’s on the field, and the 6’1, the 210-pound receiver provides a different element to the offense with his frame.
Despite the group being young, Allen believes that the offense will be one to watch in 2022.
“A lot of people are already writing us off because we’re young [and] that’s understandable,” Allen said. “I feel like our offense is gonna shock a lot of people and shock a lot of fans.”
Keontez Lewis is a newcomer to the Badgers’ receiver room, having transferred from UCLA after a zero-catch season, despite playing a somewhat significant amount (207 snaps).
Lewis, who’s entering his sophomore season, is a fast, but physical receiver at his 6’2, 190-pound frame that may be more college-ready than other receivers on the depth chart.
An added bonus of Lewis’s game is his ability in the run game. The former UCLA product was utilized as a run-blocker on nearly 62% of his snaps with the Bruins last season, and his effort in that realm of the game has not gone unnoticed.
When asked about Lewis’s transition to Wisconsin earlier this month, wide receiver coach Alvis Whitted spoke to the wideout’s intelligence being a factor in his development.
“He’s a smart kid. He’s adapted well and assimilated very well with our group,” Whitted said. “He’s settled in pretty well. He understands football, he can talk and articulate about football.”
Additionally, Whitted alluded to his ability in the run game, which has kept him right in the competition with receivers like Bell.
“He’s not a very vocal person, but he goes about his business and he works. Really excited about him, you know, as far as what he’s doing in the run game… he’s doing some really good things,” Whitted said. “He and Skyler are right there [in the competition].”
Lewis’s physicality could earn him extra snaps as it’s dissimilar to other receivers in the room, which top wideout Chimere Dike chimed on earlier this offseason.
“[Lewis’s] physical traits, his speed, his size combination is something you don’t see a lot,” Dike said. “I think he can be somebody who adds another dimension to our team. He can do stuff that other people in our room can’t.”
The wildcard of the entire wide receiver picture is cornerback-turned-wideout Dean Engram, who also is the son of current offensive coordinator Bobby Engram.
Engram, who was the starting nickel cornerback a season ago, has found himself a role as a slot receiver, with his instincts as a defensive back helping his development.
Quarterback Graham Mertz has praised Engram’s mind in his transition, given his ability to read cornerbacks.
“He does a great job of reading body language, dropping his weight, being nice and shifty in there. It’s a really cool thing to see a DB come over as a receiver and know all that and truly attack it,” Mertz said.
Engram is one of the oldest receivers on the team, as he’s entering his redshirt junior season, which adds another insightful voice to the locker room in addition to his on-field abilities.
While Engram is only 5’9 and 170 pounds, his shiftiness and speed out of the slot could be another added weapon to a young, but intriguing receiver core for the Wisconsin Badgers.