Wisconsin has put together a solid 2018 recruiting class, with the bulk of the work done months ago. Of Wisconsin’s 19 signed players, 18 committed to the Badgers by July 6.
National Signing Day is Wednesday, and there doesn’t appear to be much drama remaining for Wisconsin. The Badgers may take one more player in the class, which could be safety Rachad Wildgoose (Miami), who visited campus on Feb. 3.
Wisconsin has nine offensive players and 10 defensive players signed in the 2018 class. Here is a look at how the class projects:
Quarterback (1): 3-star Chase Wolf (Cincinnati)
Chase Wolf committed to Wisconsin in May and put together exactly the type of senior season Wisconsin coaches wanted to see. He threw for 2,532 yards with 27 touchdowns and added 4 rushing scores to earn first-team All-Ohio honors as well as Greater Catholic League South Player of the Year. Wolf is rated as the No. 39 pro-style quarterback in the country in the 2018 class.
Wolf won’t face any immediate pressure to play at Wisconsin because starter Alex Hornibrook has two years of eligibility remaining. Backup quarterback Jack Coan didn’t have an opportunity to use a redshirt season in 2017 because of the lack of depth at the position for the Badgers. It would be beneficial for the entire quarterback room if Wolf eventually can push Coan for reps and perhaps even allow Coan to redshirt in the next year or two before the competition heats up to replace Hornibrook.
Running back (1): 3-star Nakia Watson (Austin, Texas)
Nakia Watson looks like a real steal for Wisconsin, which was the only Power 5 program to offer him a scholarship at the time of his commitment. His other offers were from Bowling Green, Nevada, North Texas, Ohio, Sam Houston State and Texas State.
He was exceptional during his senior season in leading Austin Westlake to a 14-1 record and a spot in the state semifinals. Watson ran for 1,938 yards with 27 touchdowns and averaged 7.2 yards per rushing attempt. He also caught 18 passes for 327 yards with 6 touchdowns — a skill set that is particularly important in Wisconsin’s scheme.
Badgers coach Paul Chryst rarely specifically mentions an incoming freshman, but he praised Watson during a BTN special in December for the early signing period.
“He’s an exciting back,” Chryst said. “He’s fun to be around. He’s got great size. I think he’s going to be a heck of a complement to JT [Jonathan Taylor]. What he’s done and the type of year that he’s had has been fun. It’s been impressive to follow. To get Nakia to come up here, we certainly are really excited about him.
“He’s got his own style, but he’s going to add a ton to the group, and I think JT is one of the guys who was excited about him as well. Someone who will help him a little bit and not have to carry the full load. I think he can be a great back along with JT.”
Receiver (4): 3-star Aron Cruickshank (Brooklyn, N.Y.), 3-star Taj Mustapha (West Bloomfield, Mich.), 3-star AJ Abbott (West Bloomfield, Mich.), 3-star Isaac Guerendo (Avon, Ind.)
Badgers receivers coach Ted Gilmore deserves a ton of praise for stockpiling talent at the position. Wisconsin is as deep at receiver as it has been in years, and the 2018 class only adds to that depth. Aron Cruickshank and Isaac Guerendo are speedsters who can help to stretch the offense and create headaches for opposing defenses. They are listed as athletes on Wisconsin’s Signing Day roster, so it’s possible they could wind up playing somewhere else.
Cruickshank was used as a receiver and a read-option quarterback in high school. As a junior, he rushed for 1,009 yards with 24 touchdowns. He and Taj Mustapha are early enrollees on campus in time for spring practice.
Guerendo made a huge leap from his junior to senior season. As a senior, he caught 54 passes for 1,258 yards with 16 touchdowns. He easily created separation downfield on defenders and posed problems as a jet sweep runner out of the backfield. Guerendo received the Indiana Mr. Football position award as the state’s top wide receiver. He also is a track star who won a state championship in 2017 in the long jump and finished third in the 100-meter dash (10.68 seconds).
AJ Abbott and Mustapha were teammates at West Bloomfield who formed a formidable 1-2 combination. Abbott finished his high school career with 2,928 total yards and 24 touchdowns. Mustapha racked up 2,445 receiving yards, 310 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns.
This is a wide receiver group that won’t necessarily be asked to contribute immediately because Wisconsin returns its top four receivers from last season: Quintez Cephus, Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor. But if one or two receivers in the 2018 class can earn some reps and help on special teams, it will be a nice bonus and set them up for future success.
Tight end (2): 3-star Jaylan Franklin (Rockwood, Mich.), Cormac Sampson (Eau Claire, Wis.)
It is difficult to determine how Jaylan Franklin projects at tight end given that he had to do so many other things for his high school team. But he is 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds and can bulk up to become a solid contributor at the position.
Franklin served as his team’s quarterback last season. In his three-year varsity career, Franklin recorded 1,504 passing yards, 888 rushing yards, 145 receiving yards and 33 total touchdowns. He also logged 60 tackles.
Cormac Sampson played tight end and defensive end in high school. As a senior, he caught 10 passes for 156 yards with 1 touchdown. He also tallied 56 tackles, with 10 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association named Sampson as a first-team all-state tight end in his senior season.
Even though Wisconsin loses Troy Fumagalli, the Badgers return plenty at tight end. Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston saw substantial game-day reps last season. But look for Jake Ferguson to make an impact in 2018. He was named the scout team player of the year last season.
Offensive line (1): 3-star Michael Furtney (Milan, Mich.)
Michael Furtney is the only offensive lineman Wisconsin took in its 2018 recruiting class. Given that Wisconsin returns every lineman in its two-deep, the Badgers didn’t need to pursue many options this year in recruiting. But Furtney represents a nice addition.
Furtney is listed at 6-5 and 290 pounds and was a two-time first-team all-state selection. Jesse Hoskins, his high school coach, told Land of 10 that Furtney was “truly a man among boys.”
“When he gets on the field, he’s just nasty,” Hoskins said. “He’s a snap-to-the-whistle nasty player. He wants to bury guys; he wants to physically dominate people. So that’s what’s fun about watching Mike on the field is that nastiness, that willingness to get after it.”
Furtney is a guard whom Badgers fans likely will hear from a few years down the road. Wisconsin’s offensive line is stacked as well as any line in the country.
Defensive line (3): 3-star Bryson Williams (Lincoln, Neb.), 3-star Isaiah Mullens (Columbus, Ohio), 3-star Boyd Dietzen (Combined Locks, Wis.)
Of all the incoming players in Wisconsin’s 2018 class, Bryson Williams has among the best opportunities to contribute as a freshman. Williams is 6-2 and 295 pounds and could step in as a backup nose guard behind Olive Sagapolu. If he performs as expected, Williams could take over as the starter during his sophomore season in 2019. Williams finished his three-year varsity career with 195 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks and 4 rushing touchdowns.
“My plan is to get to Madison and work harder than I ever have in my life,” Williams told Land of 10. “That’s kind of what my plan is right now. Not even just athletic-wise. I want to be academic Big Ten, any type of things like that. I just want to outwork everybody like I’ve been doing.”
Isaiah Mullens was recognized as the top defensive lineman in the Mid-State League as a senior and was a four-year all-conference selection. He recorded 56 tackles, 7 tackles for loss and 6 pass breakups as a senior. Boyd Dietzen finished his senior season with 70 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks to earn the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Defensive Player of the Year honor. His teams at Kimberly High went 56-0 during his four-year career. Wisconsin needs to build its depth at defensive end after losing Chikwe Obasih, Conor Sheehy and Alec James, so there will be opportunities to earn time.
Linebacker (3): 4-star Jack Sanborn (Lake Zurich, Ill.), 3-star CJ Goetz (Waukesha, Wis.), 3-star Mason Platter (Menomonie, Wis.)
Jack Sanborn, an inside linebacker, is the highest-rated player in Wisconsin’s class as the only 4-star prospect. Wisconsin is loaded at inside linebacker with T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly and Chris Orr, but Sanborn will have an opportunity to learn from some of the best players at the position in the Big Ten. Sanborn closed his senior season with 120 tackles and 3 sacks. In his three-year high school career, he tallied 296 tackles and 13 sacks.
CJ Goetz and Mason Platter are in-state products who arrive as outside linebackers. Goetz had a knack for being around the ball and was a tackle machine in high school. As a senior, he recorded 150 tackles, with 26 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. He recorded 386 high school tackles, with 68 tackles for loss and 16 sacks. Platter had 27 career sacks and 23 forced fumbles.
Wisconsin returns Andrew Van Ginkel, Zack Baun, Tyler Johnson, Christian Bell, Noah Burks and Izayah Green-May at outside linebacker. Goetz and Platter can work their way into becoming productive players for the Badgers.
Cornerback (3): Donte Burton (Loganville, Ga.), Alexander Smith (Culver City, Calif.), Travian Blaylock (Humble, Texas)
Wisconsin helped itself at cornerback with the 2018 class, and Donte Burton may have the chance to make the most instant impact. Wisconsin loses three cornerbacks: seniors Derrick Tindal and Lubern Figaro, as well as junior Nick Nelson, who declared for the NFL draft. Dontye Carriere-Williams is the only returning cornerback with significant game experience. Madison Cone, Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams will vie for time.
“I want to work into that starting spot,” Burton told Land of 10. “I know they’ve got a few guys in the secondary that have left, and I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to go in and try to compete for a starting job right away.”
Burton finished his senior season with 28 tackles and 3 interceptions, but those numbers were largely the product of opposing teams shying away from his side of the field.
Alexander Smith recorded 49 tackles and 3 interceptions as a senior and helped lead his team to the state semifinals. Travian Blaylock tallied 30 tackles with 3 interceptions and 10 pass breakups in his senior season. Blaylock also finished second in the Texas Class 6A state championship in the triple jump as a junior. Wisconsin’s cornerbacks will be young, and all three players add value to the group.
Safety (1): Reggie Pearson (River Rouge, Mich.)
What Wisconsin is getting in Reggie Pearson is a humble, hardworking student of the game. He finished a strong senior season by tallying 100 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 8 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. Pearson earned first-team all-state honors by The Associated Press as a junior and senior and also was named to the Detroit News All-State Dream Team in both years.
During his final three seasons of high school, he recorded 278 tackles and 21 interceptions — a mark that puts him in a tie for 11th in the history of the Michigan High School Athletics Association. Pearson was the first player to commit in the 2018 recruiting class in August 2016, and he became a leader of sorts for other players in the group. Even before he arrived on campus, he began picking D’Cota Dixon’s brain about how to prepare and play safety at Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has a number of safeties ready to play in 2018 with Dixon, Patrick Johnson, Eric Burrell and Scott Nelson in position to fill out the two-deep. But the Badgers landed another quality player in Pearson, whose work ethic will carry him a long way at Wisconsin.