Wisconsin football will be heading into the 2020 season without Quintez Cephus. Who will step up to be WR1?
Wisconsin football has never really been known as a school that puts up big numbers in the passing game. As RBU, the Badgers would rather run the ball and wear down opposing defenses with their huge offensive lineman and Doak Walker Award-winning running backs. Since Paul Chryst has taken the reins of this Wisconsin offense, things have changed a bit. Don’t get me wrong, they are still running the ball a ton and producing great running backs, but they are also getting the receivers more involved than in the past. One might say they are getting a little closer to today’s style of football where passing is king.
Last season, Quintez Cephus made his return to the Wisconsin football team after his situation off the field was cleared up. You wouldn’t have been able to tell that he missed a year of football. He immediately stepped up and became the top receiver for the Badgers. He made big plays when the offense needed it. He had 59 catches for 901 yards and seven touchdowns, tops in every category for the Badgers.
After his phenomenal junior season, Cephus declared for the NFL draft, where he was taken in the 5th round by the Detroit Lions. The Badgers also lost Aron Cruickshank, their speedy receiver who returned a kick for a touchdown in last year’s Rose Bowl vs. Oregon. He transferred to Rutgers, presumably to be closer to home. He was a big contributor in the return game as well as offense, where he could kill teams with their jet action end-around on the ground.
With Cephus and Cruickshank gone, this Wisconsin football team will need to find a way to replace all of that production. I think this will be a similar situation to the running back group. I wouldn’t say Cephus was a productive as Jonathan Taylor, but he definitely had one of the better seasons a Badger receiver has had in quite a while. That’s not something someone is going to easily do. It’s going to take a few players to produce similar numbers.
The Badgers have four senior receivers on this team. Danny Davis, Kenric Pryor, Adam Krumholz, and Jack Dunn. I’m sure Chryst and company will be leaning on them to pick up most of the slack, especially Daivs and Pryor, who were both contributors to the offense a year ago.
Davis was a nice addition to the 2017 recruiting class. The four-star receiver committed and signed with the Badgers on national signing day in 2017, giving that class a little boost. He had a breakout game in the 2018 Orange Bowl when he caught five passes for 56 yards and three touchdowns to help the Badgers defeat the Miami Hurricanes 34-24. In his sophomore year, he somehow managed to post identical stats. He had 418 yards and five touchdowns in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.
I think Davis was ready to be a focal point in this offense in 2019 until Cephus came back. While Cephus was having a great campaign in 2019, Davis’ production dropped off a bit. He had just 250 yards receiving and a touchdown last year. Now, with Taylor and Cephus both gone, Davis needs to step up and be the guy.
Kendric Pryor is another guy I’d like to see take a step. He was a nice player to be able to put into the game and make a play, but he wasn’t necessarily a guy the Badgers would lean on in the offense. He did put up some nice stats for being essentially the fourth receiver on the depth chart. He caught 23 passes for 278 yards but was also a threat in the running game. He ran for 180 and a pair of touchdowns on just 13 attempts. He is a weapon on offense, but I think the Badgers would love to have him more involved in the passing game this year as well.
Krumholz hasn’t really shown much to this point and Dunn has been primarily a return specialist. The Badgers might need to dig a little deeper if they want to find production at this spot outside of Davis and Pryor.
A couple of names I would keep an eye are on sophomores A.J. Abbott and Taj Mustapha. They were teammates in high school and came to Madison together. Abbott is a bigger receiver at 6-2 and has good hands. He might be a good candidate as a red zone threat or making contested catches, something Cephus excelled at last season. Mustapha might be better suited to replacing Cruickshank. He has some good speed and has the ability to produce after the catch. He could be a guy that Chryst could break onto the scene for the Badgers this season.
This Wisconsin football team will be replacing stars all over the offense. With Jack Coan going down with an injury, freshman quarterback Graham Mertz will need a dependable receiving corps if this Badger team is going to win the Big Ten West and compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2020. Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor are going to need to step up big for that to happen.