The most talented player right now in the class is who and why?
With four four-star players projected to sign tomorrow, the natural indication would be to lean to one of those players, and you would be right. Green Bay (WI) Bay Port offensive tackle Cole Van Lanen is the highest ranked player in the class, rated the No.70 player in the country by Scout.com, but I absolutely love watching Griffin Grady (Dublin (OH) Coffman) play football.
He’s a speed and strength guy at the inside linebacker position, a spot on the defense where you have to have a good understanding of the game. Grady can do so many things that impact a defense positively – solid pursuit angles, reading routes, embracing contact, tackling and playing disciplined. The kid is Midwest tough, too. Grady has a motor that can be contagious to his teammates. Already a solid all-around player, Grady has tremendous upside that will yield dividends for Wisconsin’s defense.
Who is the biggest “get” or “steal” for Wisconsin and why?
Garrett Rand is a tremendous score for the program. Pound for pound one of the strongest players and one of the finest defensive linemen on the West Coast, Rand has the strength to hold up against bigger linemen at the next level and is someone who can contribute early in his college career. Doing a good job collapsing the pocket in the pass game and using his hands very well to engage and gain quick separation, Rand has the ability to play right away next season, adding flexibility, depth and talent to the line.
That’s why Wisconsin getting his commitment on October 1 over offers from a majority of the Pac-12 powers was such big news.
Three-star safety Eric Burrell out of Maryland also deserves to be mentioned. Duke was the perceived favorite for a long period of time, but Burrell’s official visit to Wisconsin convinced that the opportunity in Madison was the place to be. He picked UW over favorites Boston College, Duke, Nebraska and Syracuse. He also had Power Five conference offers from Arizona, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Virginia and West Virginia, among others. UW also held off a late charge from Maryland after Burrell committed.
With UW losing both starting safeties from last season, Burrell has an opportunity to step right in and compete for playing time. While he needs to get stronger in the upper body, Burrell has good ball skills, plays physical and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty coming up to the line of scrimmage to play run support. A key for any safety, Burrell knows how to shed blocks, keep his head in the backfield and also locate the ball carrier in traffic. He is a good tackler who knows to go low and usually wraps up and can tackle in space.
Burrell has the speed to play free safety and get to the sidelines to cover, so his addition to the program is tremendous.
Who is the biggest sleeper in this class and why?
There are always plenty of candidates for this question, as Wisconsin has done a great job for years of finding raw talent and evaluating it. This year, however, it seems the Badgers coaching staff found more under-the-radar players who have really, really talented skill sets who can impact the college game. With that in mind, it wasn’t easy to focus on just one player.
However, the more I learned about Macon (GA) Stratford Academy receiver Quintez Cephus, the more I started to like. When Wisconsin receivers coach Ted Gilmore found him, Cephus was commited to Furman to play basketball. There’s no question that Cephus’ athleticism is his biggest attribute. He played football in ninth grade, did not play as a sophomore and returned to the gridiron as a junior and was a quarterback. Trying to put him in a more natural position, Cephus was moved to receiver this past season and flourished.
Cephus’ intelligence, instinctiveness and coachability are evident, as is his desire to make plays. You can tell that he wants the ball in his hands in critical junctures and, despite his lack of experience at the position, had over 700 yards and 12 touchdowns this past season. That’s impressive considering his school runs a wing-T offense and doesn’t throw the ball a ton. He embraces competition, evident by how hard he competes on the field.
His lack of training at receiver does show up on film, but so does his overall talent, his speed, hands, size and strength. His elusiveness and speed in the open field are attributes, evident by the fact that he’s scored on his only two jet sweep carries of the season. He also plays every snap on defense, a sign that he wants to be on the field and compete.
Who is the prospect that Wisconsin will absolutely love five years from now and why?
A lot of people who follow him on Twitter love him already, but Fort Lauderdale (FL) High linebacker Dallas Jeanty has an outgoing personality and is a profound football player who passes the eye test. Measuring in around 6-1 and 215 pounds, not to mention holding a 3.9 GPA, 29 ACT and a 1920 SAT, Jeanty plays sideline-to-sideline, shows good closing speed and is an effective pass rusher coming off the edge. Jeanty plays with passion, embraces the physicality of the game and likes to get after it. For fans, he’s the type of player you can easily get behind.
His story also makes him a fan favorite, overcoming homelessness to receive close to 40 scholarship offers. He picked the Badgers, stuck with them and enrolled early for this upcoming spring. Watch for him down the road.
Who is the recruit that will perform above his current ranking?
Much like the “sleeper” category, this one is also challenging because the Badgers make their living off of solid three-star recruits. With that having been said, I’m going with Forest Lake (MN) offensive lineman Patrick Kasl for offense and Pickerington (OH) Central safety Seth Currens on defense.
Kasl went to The Opening Chicago and to the University of Wisconsin’s high school summer camp without much hype. By the end of each day, it was clear that he was one of the best – if not the best – lineman on the field. Kasl also gets overlooked because his high school varsity team was bad, winless in his three year varsity career.
Make no mistake that this kid is talented, as his technique and footwork are fairly polished for his level. He’s also tough and plays angry. In a camp two summers ago, Kasl was so aggressive and tenacious that he apparently dislocated a player’s knee in a board drill. That’s the kind of nasty the Badgers want on their offensive line.
Currens has great length and overall size for a safety, allowing him to be a ball hawk in pass coverage and help in run support. He never really generated much interest outside MAC schools when he committed but really improved throughout his senior season to earn a third star. If he plays in any state other than Ohio, he likely would have generated more interest. That’s a big reason why Gary Andersen’s decision to not actively recruit the state during his brief tenure can be looked back on as a huge mistake. Credit to offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph for building a relationship with Currens that dated back to recruiting the safety at Pitt.
Who is the biggest miss of this recruiting class?
Every year there are recruits that get away from the Badgers for various reasons, like academics, late offers from elsewhere or seeing a better fit elsewhere. Obviously running back was a problem this past season after Antonio Williams abrubtly de-committed in October (one of only two de-commits in the 2016 class, Florida safety Craig Watts being the other in July after less than a month). UW missed out on George Hill (Pittsburgh), C.J. Freeman (South Carolina), Kyle Porter (Texas) and Brandon Stephens (unknown) to name four.
UW also missed out on a couple defensive players that could have impacted the team next season in defensive back Patrice Rene (North Carolina) and defensive end Thomas Schaffer (Stanford).
However, Wisconsin is known as “O-Line U” and have feasted on keeping in-state linemen in the state. So losing Hartland Arrowhead four-star Ben Bredeson stung. Rated the No.1 offensive guard in the country and the No.36 overall prospect, Bredeson committed to Michigan in mid-June over scholarships from Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Ohio State, among many others.
The coaching turnover seemed to hurt Wisconsin with Bredeson, as he was close with Gary Andersen and his staff. However, Bredeson is now attending the same school as his brother, Jack, who is on the Wolverines' baseball team.
Chryst was able to land Kasl and Van Lanen to ease the pain but it’s been a long time since an in-state lineman with a UW offer went elsewhere, especially one of this level.
Who is the biggest project in this class and why?
Grafton (WI) High’s Luke Benzschawel is a little bit hard to evaluate because there is not a ton of film out there on him. He is obviously, like older brother Beau Benzschawel, a taller kid with a big frame (6-6, 230). Because of that he could grow into several different positions and he was utilized on both sides of the ball for Grafton. Of course that made it hard to develop at his projected defensive end position. Given his height and the likelihood that he will get a lot bigger over the next few years, Benzschawel could turn into a nice edge rusher for UW, but it’ll take some time.
What was the top recruiting weekend?
Having a primetime home game of its schedule for the first time since 2012, Wisconsin’s loaded up on official visitors for its game against Hawaii. Not only did the Badgers have committed prospects Dallas Jeanty, Patrick Johnson, Kare Lyles, A.J. Taylor, Antonio Williams (at the time) all on official visits, not to mention many committed prospects coming on an unofficial visit, UW also welcomed defensive backs Carlos Becker, Therran Coleman, Ke’shan Pennamon and K.J. Sails and defensive tackle Garrett Rand. Within a week of the game, UW landed Pennamon and Rand, not to mention Lyles’ younger brother – 2017 four-star offensive lineman Kayden Lyles.
What was the worst recruiting weekend?
The game against Northwestern came a day after a snowstorm hit the area, and the Badgers played like they were still buried under the snow. That apparently rubbed off on the five official visitors UW had on campus that weekend, as Hill, Freeman, Rene, Shaffer and Myles Wolfolk (North Carolina) all committed elsewhere.