Going into the 2012 season, every Badger fan is thinking the WR position is going to be one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. Nick Toon is gone. So is QB Russell – he did make 2 receptions last year, 1 for a touchdown. That’s more touchdowns than all but 2 of the WRs on the roster for this season!
It’s no wonder why every analyst/blogger is saying that the WR position group will be weak this year, especially since Danny O’Brien is no Russell Wilson. I totally understand where they are coming from. You’d almost be a fool to think that the team will get the same production out of their QB and WRs this season as they did with Wilson, Toon and company last year. Or would you be…?
Wisconsin Badgers Wide Receiver Stats (YoY 2008-2011)
Arguments Against a Successful 2012 Season For the WR Position Group:
Not counting the Tight End position, 4 WRs return with at least 1 reception from a year ago. That’s not terrible considering that Wisconsin doesn’t throw that often. However, only 2 WRs return that have more than 10 receptions and 1 TD – Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Duckworth. The rest of the group has hardly any game experience, if any at all. Even during spring practices, head coach Bret Bielema lit a fire under the position group asking for someone to step up.
If you look back at the 2008 season, the Badgers had great distribution amongst the WRs – 4 of them had 14 receptions or more. 2009 was better (not great) as the same group hauled in 100 receptions (17 more than the year before). That said, it’s unlikely the Badgers’ receiving corps will make even bigger strides than last year with the departure of Toon.
As you can see from 2008 to 2011, reception totals increased each year over year. However, with several new coaching assistants this year and the departure of Wilson and Toon, it’s very difficult to think the WRs can sustain the momentum during the 2012 season.
Arguments For a Successful 2012 Season For the WR Position Group:
Going into the 2012 season, I think there is an argument for the team to sustain a level of success good enough to repeat as conference champions. One of the major things I take away from the chart above is that in the last two seasons, at least 5-6 WRs caught a pass, which in turn opens the running game even more. I can honestly see 5-6 WRs making contributions this season as well.
In addition to Abbrederis and Duckworth, there are other receivers with good size who could make an immediate impact – Manasseh Garner (6’2”, 213 lbs), Chase Hammond (6’5”, 212), Marquis Mason (6’4”, 223). With that group along with Jacob Pederson at TE and a possible package of RB James White standing in as a slot receiver, it’s very possible that the Badgers will figure out a way to be very productive with that unit, especially with Montee Ball catching balls out of the backfield as well. Most defenses will stick 8 players in the box to try and contain the running game, leaving 3 players to defend the pass. Assuming Abbrederis attracts a double-team on pass plays, I can see Duckworth having a breakout season for the Badgers. And don't forget this play:
Let’s also not forget that new Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada has experience in both pro-style and spread offenses, and will likely add a few new wrinkles to the playbook. He may allow O’Brien to air it out more as Canada did with Chandler Harnish (3,216 yards, 28 TDs, 6 INTs, 62% completion rate in 2011) at Northern Illinois.
So, would you be a fool to think that the Badgers will have the same production this year as they did in 2011? No. Would you be a fool to think that the Badgers will just be flat at the WR position this year? I would say yes. I honestly think with this group of young WRs and an experienced QB, they will certainly put up good numbers this coming season. I think there will be a learning curve at first, but I don’t see why they won’t come together once conference play begins.