After only signing Andrew James in the 2015 recruiting class, Wisconsin was able to ink three players who project as wide receiver in this year’s class. And while all three can be described as talented athletes at the position, the best way to describe the trio is either boom or bust, as all three enter with some sort of question surrounding them.
A.J. Taylor, the No. 1 athlete in the state of Missouri, was one of Wisconsin’s top receivers on the recruiting board this past cycle but will be making the transition from running back.
Kendric Pryor is a talented two sport athlete who could also end up playing in the secondary. Is it possible that Pryor becomes what Tanner McEvoy did for Wisconsin this past season and play both ways in his career?
Like Pryor, Quintez Cephus is a talented athlete who was set to sign his national letter of intent to Furman to play basketball before wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore persuaded him that football was his better sport. Cephus has only been playing football for two years, making him quite raw as a football player. Will Cephus be able to make the necessary adjustments to excel at receiver?
Of the trio, Taylor is the likeliest to see the field early in his career because of his versatility, as the coaches have talked about potentially moving him around the field between receiver and lining up in the backfield. In his high school career, Taylor rushed for 2,828 (7.6 ypc) and 29 rushing touchdowns and could serve as a change-of-pace option if lined up in the backfield. Despite playing running back in high school, Taylor registered 609 receiving yards and eight touchdown in his career. It is also possible that Taylor gets the ball in his hands off of a jet sweep, as he has shown good elusiveness and burst.
Competing in the Semper Fi All-American Bowl in Carson, Calif., Taylor was one of the more impressive players, according to Scout.com National Recruiting Analyst Greg Biggins.
“He's got a great frame, a great burst, really quick,” said Biggins. “He makes people miss, he has top-end speed. He was the total package. I liked him a lot."
With the graduation of Alex Erickson, Taylor could help absorb some of the loss. The one concern is how Taylor will handle getting off the line of scrimmage in his first season. Being able to create the space needed to catch the football will be something he’ll have to work on, but he’s shown flashes of accomplishing that in his film. In his highlights, when he is lined up at wide receiver or runs a wheel route out of the backfield, it shows that he’s willing to fight for the ball when it is in the air.
While Taylor’s role on offense still needs to be defined, Pryor’s role on the team is unknown entering this season. Although he’s stated he would prefer to play receiver, Pryor said he is also willing to do whatever is needed in order to help the team and get on the field.
In his senior season, Pryor showed that his skills could translate over to the college level, as he finished the year with 43 catches for 1,152 yards, 12 touchdowns and averaged 26.8 yards per reception. Pryor’s basketball background shows up on the football field with his ability to high point the ball, not to mention successfully adjusting his body to the pass in order to make the catch. Pryor consistently catches the ball with his hands and shows the ability to create separation on routes he needs in order to go make a play.
Of the three wide receivers, Cephus will likely need the most time to develop due to primarily focusing on basketball in high school and playing only one year of receiver at the high school level. When it comes to players coming to Wisconsin with primarily basketball backgrounds, it has been hit and miss.
“I like recruiting kids who do multiple sports,” said Gilmore. “You see different things on the basketball floor that you might not see on the football field. I just think it’s a plus that you are getting an athlete that can transition and do multiple things, it speaks volume to his ability.”
Despite Cephus’ inexperience, he was able to put together a solid senior season with 40 catches for 844 yards (21.1 yards per catch) and 12 touchdowns, as well as scoring three receiving touchdowns on five carries. There were only two games where Cephus didn’t register either a receiving or rushing touchdown.
After deciding to back away from his basketball pledge and commit to Wisconsin following his official visit, Cephus started to receive interest from Mark Richt at Georgia, which carried over when Richt left to Miami. Although Richt offered and tried to get Cephus in for an official visit, Cephus stayed firm on his commitment.
“I saw a kid that had a lot of athletic ability,” Gilmore said of Cephus. “As I dug more into it, obviously at that time I had no idea he was a heck of a basketball player, but got a chance to watch film on that and see that same athleticism. You’re like wow we’ve got something with that, and we trust our evaluation. We were able to withstand the late push but it validated with what we saw, and thank goodness we were in early and had a good relationship to weather the storm.”
Due to Cephus’ raw ability, a redshirt will likely do him well to allow him to concentrate on learning the receiver position and all of its nuances for a season. The talent is there, as he is clearly a hard worker as he has excelled on both the football field and in basketball.
Wisconsin offered two dozen receivers in the class, so naturally there was going to be some misses. While none were particularly shocking, Wisconsin aggressively went after Lil’Jordan Humphrey from Southlake, Texas, and got him on campus twice, including an official visit the weekend of January 22. As hard as UW tried, the Badgers couldn’t out recruit the Longhorns.
The grade for Wisconsin’s wide receivers could be higher but the uncertainty on how Cephus will turn out and what position Pryor ends up at affect the grade. Although all three will have to go through adjustments when they arrive on campus, the athleticism and the potential of the group is impressive,
If they can continue to develop, Wisconsin could finally have the consistency it has been looking for amongst its wide receivers.
Signing Day Grade: B