Young Wisconsin receivers have early opportunities with Cephus, Davis suspended
Wisconsin was about to enter the season with one of the best receiving groups in the B1G. How quickly that depth and experience vanished.
Quintez Cephus announced he was taking a leave of absence from the team to focus all of his attention on clearing his name in a legal matter. He was later suspended by the team after being charged with second-degree sexual assault of an intoxicated person and third-degree sexual assault.
Though he wasn’t charged, Danny Davis III was also suspended by head coach Paul Chryst for two games because the receiver was mentioned as being present in the charge against Cephus.
Poof. Gone. And under ugly circumstances, too.
In a matter of days, Wisconsin lost two of its top three receivers, at least temporarily. Cephus and Davis, two of the best options for quarterback Alex Hornibrook and the anchors for what could’ve been an explosive passing attack, are out of the mix. That leaves a pretty large void for an inexperienced group of pass-catchers to fill.
Combined, Cephus and Davis caught 56 passes for 919 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Cephus produced his numbers in the first nine games of the season, missing the final five contests to injury. Davis was phenomenal in the Orange Bowl victory over Miami, making three touchdown grabs in the win.
The Badgers still have A.J. Taylor, the team’s second-most productive receiver from last fall, making 31 catches for 475 yards and five touchdowns. Kendric Pryor also has some experience, hauling in 13 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown in 2017.
After that? Nobody currently competing for a spot on the depth chart has caught a pass for Wisconsin.
That’s a pretty steep drop-off. Not only are the Badgers having to find receivers who haven’t hauled in a reception, half of the guys battling haven’t played a snap. Here’s who Chryst and his staff are relying on to step up over the next three weeks:
- RS So. Jack Dunn – 8 games, 0 catches
- RS So. Adam Krumholz – 6 gams, 0 catches
- Fr. Taj Mustapha – 0 games, 0 catches
- Fr. Aron Cruickshank – 0 games, 0 catches
It’s going to be difficult to depend on that kind of receiving corps to win a B1G title.
If there is a positive to Wisconsin’s dilemma at receiver — and let me be clear, there’s absolutely nothing positive about the charges Cephus is facing — it’s that the problem comes early in the season.
With or without Cephus and Davis, the Badgers will bowl over the first two opponents on the schedule: Western Kentucky and New Mexico. Jonathan Taylor could take a handoff on every down and they’d still walk away with a four-touchdown victory.
The first two games give Mustapha and Cruickshank an opportunity to get acclimated to the speed and style at the college level and Dunn and Krumholz, the “veterans” of the group, a chance to see more snaps at the position. Hornibrook can get acquainted with receivers he’s never before targeted in a game.
It allows all four players a chance to gain some much-needed live experience.
Maybe one of those four can emerge as an unexpected weapon for the rest of the season.
If there’s another positive to Wisconsin’s depleted receiving corps, it’s that the Badgers might be able to utilize more quality depth later in the year. It’s only two games, but that could be enough time to give one of those four receivers a chance to land a more permanent role in the rotation before Davis — and possibly Cephus — return.
And with key matchups against some of the top teams in the B1G — at No. 14 Michigan (Oct. 13), at Northwestern (Oct. 27), at No. 10 Penn State (Nov. 10) — that early playing time could come in handy down the road.
Losing two of your top three receivers is a blow to any offense. And for the Badgers, who were expected to have one of their best offensive teams in years, it’s a critical depletion.
Fortunately, A.J. Taylor and Pryor can provide some stability at the position with Cephus and Davis suspended. But the younger Badger receivers have to be prepared to step in immediately.
Wisconsin might just need those guys past the first two games of the season.