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Young receiving talent pushing for playing time with Wisconsin Badgers

Fall camp has officially come to an end for the Wisconsin Badgers. Now the fun part begins. Preparing to play a meaningful football game for the first time since December of 2015, against No. 5 LSU at historic Lambeau field.

Badgers Coach Paul Chryst knows that he has his hands full with Les Miles’ crew, even if the game is in the state of Wisconsin.

With an ongoing position battle at QB continuing to linger, one of the most helpful pieces to the puzzle is a group of pass catchers capable of making their quarterbacks look good. It is something that the Badgers have struggled with over the past three years, relying heavily on one star and a roster brimming with potential that hadn’t translated to on the field production.

As stalwart wide receiver Alex Erickson moves on to the challenge of the NFL, that group of talented but unaccomplished receivers have to shine in 2016. However, it appears that fall camp has proven one thing — there is finally a group willing to step up and impress and that is a group of freshmen no less.

The top candidates to step up as pass catchers this fall have been Troy Fumagalli, Rob Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy. All three players started games last season and are certainly capable of stepping up and making plays for the Badgers, and they proved that in various ways throughout fall camp.

Wisconsin’s real challenge is not only keeping them on the field (Wheelwright has had a long history of missed games and uneven production because of it), but challenging opponents with more than one or two real options at wide receiver.

The good news? Fall camp has proven that three unexpected players have stepped up and pushed for playing time with the top units.

A trio of true freshman receivers —Quintez Cephus, Kendric Pryor and A.J. Taylor — have been turning heads in fall camp, enough so that at times Taylor and Cephus have been seen working with the first and second team offense. Don’t be surprised if these talented young receivers see the field sooner rather than later.

Cephus has easily been the biggest surprise of fall camp, if only because he comes to the Badgers with just one season of varsity football experience under his belt. What has shown through is his ability to be a deep threat and a jump ball specialist.

Pryor has proven to be perhaps the most game-ready of the three, and may be the one you see the most in 2016 because of his versatility.

However, the most intriguing of the three continues to be Taylor, who came to Wisconsin as a 4-star athlete prospect and has lived up to that athletic hype. Taylor still has to work on his hands and some of the finer points of the game, but UW simply doesn’t have another receiver with his overall athletic talent and that may get him on the field in 2016 as well.

What was once a major concern on the outside for the Badgers has turned in to a hopeful position thanks to the consistent and impressive performances of three brand new members of the Badgers receiving group.

It’s an unexpected, but very welcome situation to find this team in as they face LSU to open the season.

At tight end, redshirt freshman Kyle Penniston has stepped in for Fumagalli at times and impressed with his catching and route running ability. If Fumagalli gets injured, Penniston will get his opportunity to work the middle of the field in Paul Chryst’s tight-end-heavy-offense.

UW has actually been thin at the tight end position this fall, with the eating habits of David Edwards continuing to show him as an offensive lineman rather than a pass catcher. It has resulted in plenty of reps for Penninston, but also a lack of depth behind them and that means health is imperative for the two main tight end options.

Hopefully, the Badgers can stay healthy at wide receiver and tight end during the 2016 campaign. But, if the injury bug does bite (or the projected starters aren’t performing adequately) there are certainly some intriguing and talented options at Paul Chryst’s disposal.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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