So, let's take a deep breath.
The stresses of recruiting are over. For now. The clock can roll over to 2015 and a whole new batch of hopefuls we can irrationally pin dreams on and bug out when they leave us for Michigan State or Nebraska. But before we start to throw things because J.W. Ketchum III won't return Gary Andersen's calls, there needs to be one more gaze back at the adventure that was 2014, a.k.a. the year recruiting became mainstream in Madison.
The moment most Badger fans knew Andersen was coming in with a new attitude in recruiting was on July 8, 2013. That was the day the Badgers received the commitment from Jacksonville (Ribault), Fla., quarterback D.J. Gillins, who became the second four-star talent the Badgers were able to pick up at quarterback in two straight seasons. His early enrollment means there's an outside chance he can make his presence felt in the quarterback race going into the LSU game.
Two weeks prior, the Badgers also received a commitment in an area that was not highly focused on by the previous administration when they received a verbal pledge from DeMatha Catholic (Md.) running back Taiwan Deal. The Badgers would go after running backs that were more highly touted as the year went on, but Deal had strong numbers in a fertile area of the country for high school football. 247 Sports bumped him up to a four-star during the year, and after Joe Mixon decided to go to Oklahoma, Evan Flood gave him a very succinct scouting report:
Still think #Badgers are getting a very, very good back in Taiwan Deal. Think John Clay with speed. http://t.co/tKb5lee7Yq— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) January 4, 2014
There were no potential instant-impact linemen that came aboard in 2013, largely because the final gift from the previous regime was that Bret Bielema locked in George Panos and Jaden Gault during the summer of 2012. That's not meant to be a slight on the other four offensive linemen in the class. But Michael Deiter and Micah Kapoi fall more in line with the sleeper class, while Jacob Maxwell and Beau Benzschawel will likely redshirt.
Where this class shines in both depth and breath has to be at receiver. Add in George Rushing's commitment on Monday, and you have five wide receivers coming to Madison who could all step in and quickly become impact players. Dareian Watkins is the four-star athlete who was smart enough to once have committed to Northwestern. Natrell Jamerson has a reported 4.24-second 40-yard dash time and definitely has enough speed to make the deep ball an option every time he's on the field.
There's also Krenwick Sanders. What can we say about Sanders? A former Georgia commit. A Florida State target. Someone who tore up the Georgia State playoffs. Someone who we were so scared of losing after that brief flirtation with Florida. Expectations will be high for the Jesup, Ga., product, but he may well be ready to impress from day one.
RB Caleb Kinlaw
Kinlaw isn't exactly the sort of player who pops off on triangle numbers. He's subtle; he sees the hole and knows what he can get from it. He gets downhill quickly and as you can tell from his Twitter, he's a young man who's proud of his stiff-arm. Something probably has to go wrong for him to see playing time this season, but don't forget about the former Georgia Tech commit. His time will come.
WR Chris Jones
Deal's DeMatha teammate, Jones was a little lost in the shuffle in the flurry of commits and near-commits during the season (let alone the fact there was a running back named Chris James that wanted to be a Badger). But Jones is a 6'3 receiver who has the ability to stretch the field vertically. All you have to do is watch the first play of this highlight film:
Right now, he's the one no one is talking about.
OG Micah Kapoi
Micah Kapoi plays mean. Pure and simple. He has that intangible motor that makes his punch off the ball that much stronger. He does jave some technical rawness to his play, but if that gets fixed, he could be another one of those two-star players that the Badgers develop into NFL linemen.
K Rafael Gaglianone
He's a kicker that the staff believed in enough to give a full ride to. He has the thunder in his leg that would remind some of John Hall. He has the deep kickoffs that would get him special teams time from moment one even if Jack Russell holds him off for placekicking.
Offensively, there's only one regret beyond falling short in the shots Wisconsin took toward stardom. You can look at the last two offers in the 2015 class after Kano Dillion reaffirmed his commitment to South Florida; they've gone to tight ends, and good ones. Kyle Penniston from the immortal Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., and Jackson Harris from Columbia, Tenn. Add to that previous offers to David Edwards, Hale Hentges and Tyrone Wheatley Jr., as well as two other likely offers in C.J. Conrad and Kyle Markway, and you have a position that Andersen is going to attack hard next year.
This year, it seemed like the Badgers were playing catch-up after Gaelin Elmore went to Minnesota. Sure, they got some strong visitors in Mike Gesicki and Ryan Izzo. But now, after the Badgers graduated three tight ends, the only one coming in is a preferred walk-on. Now, there is the possibility that Beau Benzschawel will slot in as a tight end, but on signing day, tight end was definitely a position the Badgers missed on.
And then there's the Thomas Hammock news. I mean, it's absolutely hard to begrudge a coach his desire to work in the NFL. But the reason why this offensive class looks so good had a lot to do with Hammock. He's credited with signing Gillins, Deal, Kinlaw and Sanders, as well as Jeremy Patterson. Hammock also, of course, developed some all-time great Badger running backs. He will be missed.
More Signing Day
More Signing Day
This fell short. Joe Keels was a four-star junior college defensive lineman. Rohan Blackwood was a three-star outside linebacker that would have been tailor-made to attack the quarterback. Craig Evans? The less said about that, the better. Add to that Wednesday's loss of Cornelius Sturghill and horseshoes-and-hand-grenades finish with Chris Lammons, and there's disappointment here.
But that's not to say there isn't a lot to like. Because while it's not 24-karat gold and the classiest class of all time, there's going to be some greatness that you might not see coming.
Though I'm reasonably sure we're all expecting big things from what remains on the defensive line, Jeremy Patterson may only be a three-star grade of a talent, but he was a three-star that Florida State was pushing hard to come to Tallahassee. With Evans' exit, Patterson is your likely nose guard of the future. Add to that the top quality in-state defensive ends Billy Hirschfeld and Connor Sheehy, and the defensive line looks to have reloaded from the graduations along it.
Linebacker wasn't a high priority this year, though the exits of Keels and Blackwood didn't help. You have five linebackers that are returning as skilled in recently scholarshipped Joe Schobert, Marcus Trotter, Derek Landisch, Vince Biegel and Leon Jacobs. You can afford a year with few linebackers coming in. As of now, the Badgers have one.
The secondary is where most of the defensive prospects that signed will come into play. Austin Hudson was the first. He was one of the early enrollees and received offers from Georgia and Missouri before committing. The safety class grew by two with the addition of three-star talent Lubern Figaro and noted JUCO speedster Serge Trezy. The cornerback class was unsettled until Wednesday.
Wisconsin missed out on every target from the start of the recruiting cycle until 2014, then Sturghill made his first commitment that didn't happen.
But then Derrick Tindal committed. I'll explain more of why I like him in a moment. Sure, we missed out on Lammons and Sturghill's going to catch passes in the ACC, but D'Cota Dixon could very well grow into someone who's going to cause offenses a massive amount of fits as his career bears out.
LB T.J. Edwards
The Badgers have found ways of turning two-star players into stars, and T.J. Edwards could well be next. He's got that downhill aggression to make him a terror on the defensive side of the ball, and he was athletic enough to be a spread quarterback in high school. Odds are we won't see much from Edwards on the field this season, but if he stays healthy, we will see him eventually.
CB Derrick Tindal
The position across from Sojourn Shelton looks like it's going to be wide open, and if you have the confidence to proclaim yourself an island when you play cornerback, you have one of the intangibles necessary to play quickly. Add, too, that Tindal's speed and aggressiveness is perfect for an Andersen defense, and you have someone who may steal a spot very quickly.
It was a series of bad-luck moments on defense over the past two months. These things happen. But the fact that the Badgers weren't seriously in on a cornerback until Keishawn Richardson definitely adds an air of desparation to the position. They ended up getting some pieces that will help, but they had to hustle, and again, they finished second on Lammons.
All in All
If this was a class signed under the previous administration, it would have been Wisconsin's best class ever. There's a lot to like, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Granted, missing on all the post-Gillins four-star or better announcements did take some shine out of the class and the fun of watching it. But this is one of the better classes the Badgers have ever brought in.
It's going to be integral to do well in replacing Hammock, though. That person doesn't necessarily have to be the recruiting powerhouse Hammock was -- Ben Strickland and Chris Beatty remain, after all. But this was one of the best all-time eras for Wisconsin running backs. Kinlaw and Deal will help matters, but we're still on the precipice of taking that final step as a program.
Next year isn't going to have the depth of in-state talent this one had. But then again, the dreams of a big class this year fell a little short. Next year, we could be in store for something greater.