Most Improved Player – A.J. Taylor
A.J. Taylor has stepped up big-time this season.
With Wisconsin’s top receiver in Quintez Cephus suspended indefinitely, this offense really needed someone else in that group-be it Kendric Pryor, Danny Davis or Taylor-to fill that void and emerge as Alex Hornibrook’s primary weapon on the outside. Taylor has done just that.
He currently leads the team in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, with his 354 receiving yards being good for ninth overall in the Big Ten. As you would expect from a team’s go-to receiver, Taylor has also stepped up in crucial moments, the best example being his game-winning touchdown catch in the fourth quarter against Iowa a few weeks ago.
Up until this season, Taylor’s most prominent weakness throughout his career had been his struggles with dropped passes. While there have still been a few instances of drops through Wisconsin’s first five games, he has proven himself to be much more reliable in that regard and has made great progress in gradually phasing those mistakes out of his game.
The loss of Cephus still stings, simply because he is an immensely talented player who was expected to do great things for this team in 2018, but Taylor’s emergence as a leader in this wide receiver corps has gone a long way in mitigating his absence and keeping Wisconsin’s passing attack dangerous.
Runner-up: Taiwan Deal
It’s been so fun watching Taiwan Deal this season.
The senior running back has always had the talent, but injuries have plagued his Wisconsin career. Deal looked like he might the next great Badger back after rushing for 503 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2015 while splitting carries with Dare Ogunbowale. Unfortunately, things went downhill from there as he suffered setback after setback over the next few seasons. Deal played in just six games in 2016 before going down with an injury and then ended up missing all of last season with another.
Deal is finally healthy now, and his comeback has been a sight to behold. He ranks second on the team with 241 rushing yards, has pitched in 3 touchdowns, and is averaging 6.2 yards per carry, solidifying himself as the primary reserve to Jonathan Taylor in the process. Simply put, this is the best he has ever looked in the Cardinal and White, though, admittedly, we are working with a small sample size.
Deal would be the primary option in the backfield for most teams around the country and probably deserves more carries than he has been getting, but that’s what happens when the guy in front of you on the depth chart happens to be the best running back in college football.
While a prolonged injury to Taylor would obviously be a major blow to this team, Badger fans can rest easy knowing that Deal is fully capable of being a reliable feature back and keeping Wisconsin’s ground game humming.