Rob Wheelwright was able to give Wisconsin fans a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing when he’s healthy – being a dangerous player on the field. But health hasn’t always been on Wheelwright’s side during his career, as he has missed a lot of spring and fall practices that has hindered his development and ability to impact the depth chart earlier in his career.
Wheelwright was close to bucking that trend last year until he broke his leg against Illinois, causing him to miss the next four games before returning for the bowl win. Despite dealing with injuries in his career, Wheelwright was on the field for a good portion of spring ball, critical for him and the Badgers as he looks to establish himself as the number one receiver.
Stats: 32 receptions for 416 yards (13 yard average), long of 30, four touchdowns in 2015
Strengths: Wheelwright’s frame (6-3, 211 pounds) gives him a great advantage to win the 50-50 passes, as he’s able to secure the football at its highest point. Wheelwright demonstrated that ability a handful of times last season, most memorably his impressive one handed catch along the sidelines against USC in the Holiday Bowl. Wheelwright’s size allows him to be a threat over the middle with his ability to stretch the field and catch the ball with his hands, opposed to needing his body to secure a pass. Wheelwright’s size is also a huge plus in the red zone, where three of his touchdown catches came a year ago.
Weaknesses: The obvious question mark is Wheelwright’s health, as the senior continues to be plagued with various leg injuries. Wheelwright has shown that he can be a playmaker but can he do it consistently for the offense? The then-junior had 18 receptions over his first four Big Ten games last season, which tied tight end Troy Fumagalli for second over that stretch behind Alex Erickson’s 29. Last season it was Wheelwright’s responsibility to take pressure off of Erickson, a role he fulfilled until he got injured. This year teams will be gearing to stop him, meaning he’ll need to step up his game and be able to beat the coverage off the line of scrimmage to get open. Wheelwright has the skill set to do so, but in order to show that he can he will need to stay healthy. Whether he likes it or not, it will be a question that will linger around him all season.
Why he’s #5: Wheelwright is going to have to show early on in fall camp that he can be relied on as the number one receiver and that he can be counted on to make sure the offense doesn’t become one dimensional. Wheelwright demonstrated last year that he’s capable of adjusting his body to make the easy or difficult catch. Wheelwright took the first step to prove he’s a capable primary receiver by being able to stay healthy during spring and reaped the benefits with a lot of reps. The Wisconsin coaches know he can impact the game by bringing things other receivers on the roster can’t. That reason alone is why Wheelwright is needed on the field.
Overall: Despite missing four games last season, Wheelwright still finished second on the team in receiving yards, third in receptions and tied Austin Traylor for first on the team in receiving touchdowns. A healthy Wheelwright showed glimpses of what he’s capable of doing, making sure the passing game doesn’t become stagnant by providing a big, reliable target for a young quarterback to rely on. If he can stay on the field, Wheelwright could be in for a monster season.