Wisconsin Football 2016 Outlook: Running Backs

A look at the Wisconsin football running backs heading into 2016

As Badger of Honor looks ahead to the 2016 season, the Wisconsin Badgers’ running game is poised for a bounce-back performance from a unit that struggled a season ago. The main contributors return to the Wisconsin football running back group that dealt with inexperience and injuries to both themselves and the offensive line.

Corey Clement will receive one final chance to prove he can be relied on as a top back after a season in which he was never fully healthy and was involved an an off-the-field incident that resulted in a suspension for the regular-season finale. The absence of Clement for most of the year was difficult for Wisconsin to overcome as clearly the most talented running back on the roster.

Clement’s ability to make people miss with his shiftiness and breakaway speed separates him from the majority of running backs in college football. Hopefully he can remain healthy, stay out of trouble and showcase his talent to NFL scouts in his final year in Madison.

While Clement’s injury was difficult to overcome for Wisconsin, it provided valuable experience for running backs Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal, who were forced to step in and will be back in 2016.

Ogunbowale received the majority of the work in the Wisconsin backfield in 2015, and he will be back for his senior season. Ogunbowale’s skill set fits perfectly for a third-down back, so he played somewhat out of position last year. He lacks top-end speed, but his work out of the backfield as a pass catcher will add a reliable safety net for whoever the quarterback is in 2016.

Deal started to take over and receive the majority of the carries ahead of Ogunbowale before an ankle injury sidelined him for three games in the middle of the Big Ten season. He will be a redshirt sophomore in 2016, and he proved to be a bruiser between the tackles with a good burst. Deal will likely be used as a short-yardage back but should see plenty of the action in other areas as he appears to be the next top player in Wisconsin’s backfield.

With Clement’s all-around talent, Ogunbowale’s pass-catching ability and Deal’s power, each player has his own different trait for a running back group that compliments each other very well.

After redshirting in 2015, Bradrick Shaw, a three-star back from Alabama, should be in the mix at some point during the season. With the top three backs pretty much set, he will likely need an injury or two to receive significant playing time.

After Jordan Stevenson failed to meet academic standards late in the offseason and four-star running back Antonio Williams deocomitted from Wisconsin to Ohio State, the Badgers were in need of a running back in the 2016 class. Wisconsin received that player recently on Jan. 24. The Badgers landed a big-time commitment late in the recruiting season from Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year Sam Brodner, who is listed as a four-star recruit by Scout. If he does not redshirt, he could challenge for time as well.

The Badgers will have plenty of talent in the backfield, both on the current roster and with recruits coming in, but Clement separates himself from the rest. If he stays on the field, the Badgers can return to having one of the best running games in college football in 2016.

Stay tuned to Badger of Honor for more analysis of the 2016 Wisconsin football roster.