Quarterback commit Graham Mertz will be one of the highest-rated Badgers quarterbacks in the recruiting-rating era.

Wisconsin mailbag: Graham Mertz could become Badgers’ highest-rated QB, Nobal Days update, backup QB love

Jesse Temple

Have Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Wisconsin mailbag to talk all things Badgers. This week, we discuss whether Graham Mertz could be Wisconsin’s highest-rated quarterback recruit, why fans like backup quarterbacks, the basketball recruitment of Nobal Days and Jalen Johnson and Ethan Happ’s NBA draft stock.

Question 1

Answer: I went back and looked at all of Wisconsin’s quarterback signees dating to 2005 to have a better gauge of where 2019 commit Graham Mertz stacks up. Right now, Mertz has a 0.8966 rating in the 247Sports composite and is ranked as the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in his class. Mertz also is a 4-star player. Of the 14 previous quarterbacks to sign since 2005, only three of them were 4-star players: D.J. Gillins (2014), Bart Houston (2012) and Curt Phillips (2008).

Houston has the highest rating of any quarterback signee at 0.9229. He was rated as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in the 2012 class. He also is the only quarterback during that stretch with a higher composite rating than Mertz.

While Russell Wilson was clearly the best quarterback Wisconsin has ever had, he doesn’t count toward those numbers because he arrived in 2011 as a graduate transfer and wasn’t a member of the team’s recruiting class. But he was only a 3-star prospect out of high school in the 2007 class with a 0.8163 composite rating. Joel Stave, meanwhile, is the program’s career wins leader but doesn’t have a rating because he was a walk-on.

It’s difficult to determine just how much Mertz’s rankings might change, but keep in mind that he has a full senior season to go in high school. And if he performs anything like he did as a junior, Badgers fans will be salivating.

Mertz committed to Wisconsin on Oct. 8 and then dominated teams for the next several weeks. He led Blue Valley North to the Kansas Class 6A state championship and finished the season completing 269 of 434 passes (62 percent) for 3,684 yards with 45 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Mertz added 5 rushing touchdowns.

Here’s a full rundown on how all the Badgers’ quarterback signees rated since 2005:

  • 2019: Graham Mertz: 0.8966, No. 7 pro-style, 4-star (Not signed)
  • 2018: Chase Wolf: 0.8526, No. 37 pro-style, 3-star
  • 2017: Jack Coan: 0.8714, No. 20 pro-style, 3-star
  • 2016: Kare Lyles: 0.8463, No. 43 pro-style, 3-star
  • 2015: Austin Kafentzis: 0.8666, No. 16 dual-threat, 3-star; Alex Hornibrook: 0.8447, No. 41, pro-style, 3-star
  • 2014: D.J. Gillins: 0.8922, No. 7 dual-threat, 4-star
  • 2013: Tanner McEvoy: 0.8715, No. 1 junior-college dual-threat, 3-star
  • 2012: Bart Houston: 0.9229, No. 6 pro-style, 4-star
  • 2010: Joe Brennan: 0.8542, No. 38 pro-style, 3-star
  • 2009: Jon Budmayr: 0.8826, No. 18 pro-style, 3-star
  • 2008: Curt Phillips: 0.8906, No. 14 pro-style, 4-star
  • 2007: James Stallons: 0.8417, No. 33 pro-style, 3-star
  • 2006: Scott Tolzien: 0.8056, No. 49 pro-style, 3-star
  • 2005: Dustin Sherer: 0.8556, No. 10 pro-style, 3-star

Question 2

Answer: Quarterback is the most visible position in sports, and that means mistakes are magnified. When there is a flawed quarterback who makes mistakes — and all of them do — it’s easy for a fan base to look at the backup because he is generally unproven. Of course, unproven does not equate to better. But it’s human nature to want something that we can build up with because of its potential.

In terms of Stave and Hornibrook, if coaches believed another quarterback gave Wisconsin a better opportunity to win, that guy would be playing. Former Badgers coach Gary Andersen believed Tanner McEvoy provided the Badgers with the best chance at quarterback to open the 2014 season. But while McEvoy could run, it was pretty clear that Stave was the better alternative as a downfield threat, and he regained his starting role a month into the season.

Many fans clamored for Houston to start in place of Stave in 2015. But Stave led the team to a 10-3 record and helped guide a comeback victory against USC in the Holiday Bowl. Stave finished his career 31-10.

Hornibrook is well on his way to breaking Stave’s mark. He is 20-3 in 23 career starts, and yet there have been calls for the backup Coan to play instead. Hornibrook threw 15 interceptions in the 2017 season, which is far too many. However, he also threw 25 touchdowns for the second-best single-season mark in school history behind Russell Wilson’s 33 in 2011.

If Coan is the best man for the job next season, then he’ll play. But Paul Chryst and Jon Budmayr know what they’re doing, so they’ll have the player out there who gives Wisconsin the best chance to win games.

Question 3

Answer: Most Wisconsin fans already know who Nobal Days is at this stage. But for a recap, he’s a 6-foot-9, 195-pound forward from Racine, Wis., who has 10 scholarship offers, including from the Badgers. The other schools to have offered him are Boston College, DePaul, Illinois, Kansas State, Marquette, Nebraska, Northwestern, Tulane and UNLV.

Days is the No. 1 player in Wisconsin for the 2019 recruiting class and the No. 10 power forward in the country, according to the 247Sports composite. He recorded a quadruple-double during Racine Park’s 68-67 victory against Milwaukee Hamilton in December: 10 points, 16 rebounds, 12 assists and 10 blocks.

Days, who is averaging about 9 points per game, leads the state at 14.7 rebounds per game. He also ranks in the top 10 in blocks per game (4.0) and the top 10 in assists per game (6.7).

Wisconsin appears to be in good position for Days right now. In the last week, coaches from Stanford and Kansas State visited him. He does not yet have an offer from Stanford, which could tempt him given its high academic reputation. Landing him would represent a big-time pickup for Badgers coach Greg Gard and energize the fan base after the de-commitment of Tyler Herro, the No. 2 in-state player in 2018 who signed with Kentucky.

Question 4

Answer: Hornibrook has put himself in position to start next season because of his experience and overall body of work. He threw for 258 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions to win Orange Bowl MVP honors, which is a pretty good statement. But if Coan proves to be a better quarterback, Chryst will play him.

This has been one of the most-asked questions I’ve received in the last month or so. Hornibrook has thrown 499 career passes, while Coan has thrown 5. But that doesn’t guarantee Hornibrook the job next season. Media members haven’t seen Coan practice since the second week in August, before fall camp was closed. He showed good poise, accuracy and mobility. Is he better than Hornibrook? That remains to be seen. But I have to imagine it will take an awful lot for him to actually leapfrog Hornibrook.

Question 5

Answer: Barring a surprising late-season turnaround, Wisconsin’s streak of 19 consecutive seasons in the NCAA Tournament is going to end. The Badgers certainly are allowed a rebuilding year, particularly considering only three college programs have a longer active NCAA Tournament streak. So I don’t see Gard’s seat being hot unless this type of season becomes a pattern in the foreseeable future. And that’s not something I anticipate happening.

Wisconsin lost two of its top four guards, which completely changed the complexion of the season. Freshman Brad Davison was supposed to primarily be an off-guard. Now, he has to eat up huge minutes at point guard, all while playing with one good arm/shoulder. Wisconsin’s guards off the bench are former walk-on T.J. Schlundt and current walk-on Walt McGrory, who had to burn his redshirt because there weren’t other options.

Wisconsin’s frontcourt has been a mess because Gard can’t count on Charlie Thomas, Alex Illikainen or Andy Van Vliet for consistent minutes. That has forced former walk-on Aaron Moesch into action and Nate Reuvers to burn his redshirt after five games. These are certainly unusual circumstances surrounding the program.

As for the Jalen Johnson recruitment, that seems like a lot of pressure to heap onto landing one player. Johnson is a 5-star prospect who is rated as the No. 8 player in the 2020 class, according to 247Sports. The fact he is up the road in Sun Prairie, Wis., certainly is helpful because he’s been around Wisconsin’s program for some time.

But he’ll have his pick of the litter when it comes to college choices. Johnson already has six scholarship offers as a sophomore, from Wisconsin, Marquette, Iowa, Purdue, West Virginia and UNLV, which offered on Saturday. Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina also are expressing interest. If he wants to go to a blueblood program, it seems difficult to blame Wisconsin’s coaches, who are trying their best to keep him at home.

Question 6

Answer: I addressed this question in a mailbag a few weeks ago, but it’s worth repeating. I’m with you, Tim, in that it seems hard to believe Ethan Happ would leave after his junior season if he isn’t a sure-fire first-round NBA draft pick. And based on early returns, that’s nowhere near a guarantee.

Happ is one of the most versatile players in college basketball. He is the only major conference player averaging at least 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He constantly draws double teams and is a strong passer and ball handler. He’ll likely earn All-America honors for a second consecutive season.

But, as you mention, he is a difficult prospect to peg down in the NBA because he isn’t a prototypical 4-man. Defenses dare Happ to shoot jumpers, and he generally dribbles inside when he looks to score. Happ has attempted only 4 3-pointers this season and has not hit any. He is fouled more frequently than anybody on Wisconsin but entered the week hitting 52.3 percent of his free throw attempts.

Sports Illustrated released a 2018 mock draft on Dec. 11, and Happ was listed at No. 60 — the final pick in the second round — after dropping from No. 49.

“Happ has done nothing but produce at Wisconsin and excels as a finisher and rebounder,” SI’s Jeremy Woo wrote. “He operates mostly in the paint, where he’s always active despite a lack of ideal size at the five. He’s not a flashy player, but he’s a good rebounder, ball-handler and passer and plays bigger than his size. It hurts that he’s not much of a shooter [and poor from the free-throw line] but his track record is impressive.”

If there’s any doubt about Happ as a first-round pick after this season, he should come back.

Have a question about Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10Badgers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Wisconsin mailbags here.