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Young wide receivers seizing their opportunity for Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin’s young wide receivers are stepping up to increased roles, showing recruiting has picked up at UW’s most troublesome spot.

The 2017 Wisconsin Badgers receiving corp. was going to be young given all that numbers that were gone after last season. But, it wasn’t a group that was expected to be major contributors on the whole.

However, senior wide receiver Jazz Peavy never really got going this season and is now on a hiatus from the team for “personal reasons.” After finishing last season with 43 receptions for 653 yards and five touchdowns, Peavy was clearly the go-to guy in the 2017 receivers group.

Instead, he has racked up just five receptions for 55 yards and no touchdowns on the field and apparently has been dealing with some personal issues off of it.

While that hasn’t been good news, Peavy’s absence hasn’t hurt the way many believed it would going in to the season.

After years of struggling to get quality contributors at wide receiver, it appears the Badgers hit a gold mine over the past two seasons. A pair of sophomores — Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor — were expected to be major contributors. They have lived up to that billing.

Cephus leads the team with 30 receptions for 501 yards and six receiving touchdowns. Only tight end Troy Fumagalli is also over 20 receptions (he also has 30) on this team.

Meanwhile, Taylor is third on the team with 14 receptions for 231 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also averaging a healthy 16.5 yards per reception.

Heading in to the stretch run of the season, Cephus may not be available after suffering a bad lower leg injury against Indiana last week. That seems like devastating news, but that is where the rest of the youth on this team comes in to play.

There have been major contributions made by a group of freshmen that weren’t expected to be major contributors at all.

Danny Davis III was expected to be a deep threat and the jump-ball specialist, but he has turned in to far more than that. To date, he has hauled in eight receptions for 170 yards and a touchdown. But, he has also been wide open on multiple deep ball mis-throws by quarterback Alex Hornibrook and could have some even more impressive numbers had balls been more accurate from his quarterback.

The four-star recruit has become a major weapon in Wisconsin’s play-action pass game.

Perhaps the most intriguing development in the Badgers pass game has been the recent success of redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor. After missing time at the start of the season due to a bad scooter accident in fall camp, Pryor has begun to be a go-to receiver for the Badgers in big situations.

While it may not seem like a big stat line, as Pryor has just six catches for 80 yards on the season, all six of his catches have come in the last four games — just when the Badgers needed depth to contribute thanks to injury issues.

No play represents Pryor’s potential more than his lone catch this past weekend.

With the Badgers looking to establish dominance over Indiana, Pryor snagged a high throw on a comeback route and tip-toed the sideline on a third down to extend the drive.

One play later and another freshman sensation, running back Jonathan Taylor, took off for a 32-yard touchdown and the Badgers had a 24-10 lead that it would never relinquish.

It’s that kind of production and ability to come up in big scenarios that has UW’s coaching staff showing confidence that things won’t change with Cephus out.

When is the last time you could say Wisconsin’s offense showed it had more than one true pass-catching weapon the edge?

Let’s see if the youth can continue to deliver against the pressure of an undefeated season and two of the best defenses the Big Ten has to offer in Iowa and Michigan over the next two weeks.

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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