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Badgers Recruiting

Badgers Football Recruiting: Looking to the 2019 class

With the 2018 class already full, it is time to get a head start on the 2019 class for the Wisconsin Badgers football program.

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The Wisconsin Badgers hit early July 2017 and have already knocked out the 2018 football recruiting class. With a full fall ahead of them and new regulations allowing junior visits in the spring semester, the 2019 recruiting cycle is going to heat up fast.

With that in mind, let us fast-forward to what the 2019 recruiting cycle is likely to look like for Paul Chryst and Co.

The most important part of the what the 2019 class will look like is to understand what the makeup of the roster will look like coming up to the 2018 season. So, as we look to build the 2019 class, here is a look at how the roster will look like heading in to the 2018 season.

The biggest note is that the Badgers currently sit two over the scholarship limit of 85 players.

Obviously there will need to be and likely will be some attrition on the roster between now and December 2018 or February 2019. But, we can only deal with what is in front of us today.

Top Priorities

1. Offensive Line

This is easily the No. 1 priority, both in terms of numbers and the actual players UW will see depart the program following the 2018 season. Right now, the Badgers stand to lose four players who have started games in the 2016 season and likely will start plenty more in Beau Benzschawel, Michael Deiter, Micah Kapoi and Jacob Maxwell. That’s not mention the potential that Kevin Estes will leave the program and throw open a fifth spot somewhere along the way here.

That’s a lot of fire power to not see on the offensive line and UW is likely going to try to hit the jackpot again in the 2019 class. UW has put out seven offers at the offensive tackle position already. While it is too early for a lot to be known about interest, one name to watch early on appears to be that of Grand Rapids (East), Mich. product Logan Brown. He is the No. 12 ranked offensive tackle in the class so far and has expressed real interest in UW to date.

Once again, we see the pattern of the Badgers targeting prospects that aren’t in the Detroit area wheel house for Michigan and Michigan State. It will be an interesting Midwest battle though for Brown, with Michigan and Wisconsin battling it out early in the 247Sports crystal ball predictions.

The Badgers have also yet to really evaluate the products in the state of Wisconsin and that will really change the board. However, you can expect a very high priority on this group of players.

2. Nose Tackle

Wisconsin will still be loaded up front and has some versatile pieces to the puzzle heading in to the future. However, the loss of not one, but two nose tackles following next season make this a paramount position of need for the Badgers. UW doesn’t have a really giant man to plug up the middle, so it will be interesting to see how this group shapes up on the recruiting trail.

To that end, Wisconsin already has extended offers to five defensive tackles in the class per 247Sports. Two of them — Tru Thompson and Siaki Ika — have already committed to Florida State and BYU respectively. That means three left, with Mazi Smith, the No. 6 ranked DT on the board along with Cincinnati, Ohio product Jowon Briggs (No. 9 DT) and Wichita Falls, Texas product Lloyd Murray Jr. (No. 21).

I wouldn’t expect any of these early offers to be on the final board just yet, but Briggs and Murray are going to be interesting to follow in their respective recruitments. Briggs has 247Sports crystal ball predictions in for Notre Dame already, but it is so early in the process.

3. Kicker

Rafael Gagilanone is the only scholarship kicker on Wisconsin’s roster right now and that is likely to stay that way through the 2018 season. The bigger question will be if the lovable kicker will get an extra year of eligibility due to his injury this past season. Either way, this is a position that should be prioritized by the Badgers coaching staff.

The numbers may be tight, but in the end getting cover in case Gaglianone doesn’t get that extra year back is good and so is having a kicker in place as a redshirt if he does get that year back. Right now the Badgers don’t have any offers out and that’s a good thing in my book. I mean, like anyone knows if a kicker that is about to enter his junior season is really good or not. This one will take some evaluating in the fall and likely through the spring to figure out, but don’t be surprised to see some offers flying out in the coming year at this position.

4. Running Back

Wisconsin is going to lose two really decent options after the 2018 season in Taiwan Deal and Bradrick Shaw. There appears to be some decent depth behind them as well, but this is a group that will need to be re-stocked and should have a high-end running back as a priority on the recruiting trail.

It will forever baffle my mind as to why a top-ranked running back wants nothing to do with the Badgers program. Of course, factors like grades and fit to the program also matter a lot, but UW hasn’t really hit a big name running back since pulling Corey Clement out of New Jersey and home-grown product Melvin Gordon from Kenosha.

Jonathan Taylor and Nakia Watson could be special backs, but I’d like to see the Badgers get a top target for a change. To that end, keep an eye on the recruitment of players like Joachim Bangda out of Washington D.C. and Miami Carol City product Nay’quan Wright. The latter of which is already a 4-star product and the No. 10 running back in the class.

It appears the Badgers are doing their homework like always and may be going under the radar early in the recruiting process here. But, they are hitting some high-traffic areas like the DMV, South Florida and Pennsylvania so far.

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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Badgers Recruiting

Badgers 2019 QB Mertz has big week on camp circuit

UW’s top QB recruit in history is having himself a nice showing on the biggest of national stages.

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We’ve officially entered the period where it’s time to pace back and forth as a college football fan. After all, we’re just a month or so from the opening of fall camps and that means the anxiousness for another season reaches a fever pitch.

It also means a rough period in terms of actual news for most programs. Not so for the Wisconsin Badgers, who have been busy adding big pieces to their 2019 recruiting class.

However, the biggest piece to the 2019 class is arguably quarterback Graham Mertz. After re-affirming his commitment to the Badgers, it has been time to hit the camp circuit once again for the rising 4-star QB.

The final week of June saw Mertz dazzle those in attendance and his fellow players at the Rivals Challenge.

Mike Farrell named Mertz and Auburn commit Bo Nixon as the two most impressive quarterbacks at the event. He stated the two were “head and shoulders” above the rest at the event’s opening session.

Farrell wasn’t the only one that impressed according to The Zone sports director Zach Heilprin.

It was a perfect prelude to the biggest summer recruiting event of the year — The Opening Finals. For Mertz and 11 other quarterbacks it was also the Elite 11 finals.

Just 12 quarterbacks get invited to this prestigious event, where they receive intense scrutiny and some of the best coaching available outside of their actual college environments.

Mertz passed the test early on in the Elite 11 finals, impressing 247Sports national recruiting director Steve Wiltfong.

However, when the individual rankings of the QB’s came out from day to day at the event, Mertz wasn’t near the top. However, this seems to be more because he’s not showing off the big arm he has and is instead choosing to play it safe with underneath routes and short throws in 7-on-7 action. It very well could be that Mertz is simply there to compete and gain experience more than worrying about impressing so-called scouting experts.

There are still a few more days to go in the overall The Opening event, but one thing is very clear from Mertz’s performances over the last two big events of the summer — he is the elite level quarterback that Wisconsin fans have been waiting to see in the Cardinal and White.

Of course, this is projecting pure arm talent, but there’s no doubt that few quarterbacks come to UW with as much hype and hope attached to them as Mertz. The good news is that he came in to these events with plenty of hype and hope and lived up to it all.

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Badgers Recruiting

Badgers add pair of defensive recruits following weekend visits

UW continues a red hot 2019 recruiting class with two big additions on the defensive side of the ball.

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The University of Wisconsin’s summer official visit weekends are starting to pay dividends in the first year. With back-to-back weekends of large groups of official visitors, UW has now added two new members of the 2019 class.

On Sunday, defensive lineman Gio Paez, who is listed as a defensive tackle by 247Sports but will start as a defensive end, made his verbal pledge coming off the heels of his official visit.

Paez comes to the Badgers as the No. 66 ranked defensive tackle in the country and is the second player from the state of North Carolina in the class as of today.

Just 24 hours later, UW got commitment No. 12 in the class as high 3-star cornerback Semar Melvin made his verbal commitment via Twitter.

Melvin was long considered a big lean to the Badgers, but the official visit apparently sealed the deal.

Getting Melvin also continues the Badgers long tradition of pulling up and coming defensive backs out of South Florida. He picked UW over some major offers from the likes of Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Louisville, Virginia, Mississippi State, UCF, and others.

He joins fellow Florida cornerback James Williams from the Sunshine State and is the 27th player from the state to join the program since 2000.

The two commits have also had a big impact on the Badgers recruiting rankings. Wisconsin currently as the No. 19 ranked class in the country and the No. 3 class in the Big Ten.

UW is expected to have about 4 to 6 more spots available in this class and summer visits are going to continue to play a key role in getting this class completely put together.

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Badgers Recruiting

QB Graham Mertz earns invite to The Opening after Elite 11 showing

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The University of Wisconsin has ha a habit of getting their evaluations pretty spot on at the quarterback position since the arrival of head coach Paul Chryst.

So, when they went after little-known Mission (Kan.) Blue Valley North high school quarterback Graham Mertz early in the 2019 recruiting cycle it made others begin to take notice. Since that offer, Mertz has done nothing but live up to the Badgers early evaluation of him as a top pro-style quarterback in the 2019 class.

Over this past weekend, Mertz, who is rated a four-star prospect and the No. 5 ranked pro-style quarterback according to the 247Sports composite rankings, had a chance to cement himself as a member of the elite QB prospects in the class at the Elite 11 competition.

He did just that, earning high praise all weekend long and also earning an invite to The Opening along with 11 of the 24 other quarterbacks that were at the Elite 11 Finals this past weekend.

According to 247Sports’ Greg Biggins, Mertz had a great overall weekend despite a bit of an up-and-down day on Saturday.

“Mertz was great on Friday, struggled Saturday and was solid Sunday,” said Biggins. “He’s a high-upside kid with all the physical tools you could want in a next-level quarterback. When you combine his size and makeup as well, he has among the biggest potentials this group.”

Things looked really good for Mertz after Friday, with Biggins rating him as the No. 3 performer of the day.

For those following along with Mertz and the recruiting trail in general, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Wisconsin figured out his high upside potential far in advance of almost every other Power 5 program in the country and have been hanging on to his commitment despite his status as an elite prospect continuing to grow.

Hanging on has seemed to be the appropriate term, as fans have long seen a trend of UW being the first to get a commitment from a big player and watching the player blow up and de-commit. It has happened twice already in the 2019 class with four-star wide receiver Nolan Groulx and three-star safety Bryson Shaw.

It’s been a spring full of big offers for Mertz too, including hard efforts from the likes of Ohio State and Notre Dame so far.

Through it all, Mertz has kept open communication with the Badgers coaching staff and has yet to take any other visits. However, this upcoming weekend could be huge, as Mertz comes to the Madison campus for his official visit.

Mertz has yet to publicly flat-out say he won’t be listening to the likes of Ohio State and Notre Dame, but he also hasn’t set up any other official visits and hasn’t seen any other campuses that haven’t been around areas in which he has played games or been to camps this offseason.

With the Badgers winning back-to-back New Years Six contests and contending for a berth in the College Football Playoff this past season, it could be holding on to an elite prospect like Mertz that can make the difference going forward.

It is also good to know that UW will have a spotlight player at the biggest recruiting event of the summer in The Opening, which will take place June 30 – July 3 in Dallas, Texas.

This month is going to be huge towards setting the final push for UW’s 2019 class, and Mertz’s status and performance will be the biggest key to all of that.

 

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Badgers Recruiting

Badgers add in-state DT to 2019 recruiting class

Wisconsin stops a backslide in the 2019 recruiting class with the addition of an in-state DT.

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After starting off red-hot in the 2019 recruiting cycle, the past few weeks have been a bit tumultuous for the Wisconsin Badgers. With a pair of verbal commits backing off their pledges, UW needed some good news.

Late Friday night, that good news came in the form of a verbal commitment from rising 2019 defensive tackle Keeanu Benton.

He comes to the Badgers from Janesville (Craig), Wis. and with a hugely athletic background for a big man. At 6-4 and 295 pounds, Benton has the frame to be a big man in the middle for UW going forward.

Benton’s athleticism shouldn’t be questioned based on the tape and the fact that he is one of the state’s top heavyweight wrestlers. He was the runner up at 285 pounds at the 2018 state individual wrestling meet.

With the loss of Olive Sagapolu after this upcoming season, the Badgers coaching staff is going to need reinforcements at the position in a big way. Only incoming freshman Bryson Williams is currently capable of playing at the nose guard position in UW’s 3-4 defensive base scheme.

Following the loss of 4-star wide receiver Nolan Groulx and safety Bryson Shaw (Ohio State), getting back on track towards filling out the class was hugely important.

What will be interesting is if the Badgers continue to look for interior defensive line help, with only two players at the position and both of them within their first two years of eligibility.

UW currently sits with the No. 20 ranked class in the country and the No. 4 ranked class in the Big Ten. Benton’s addition also means the Badgers are up to eight verbal commitments in the class.

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