by Sahil Shah
For the 2nd straight year, the Badgers are looking for a receiver to complement Jared Abbrederis. It’s hard to fathom that the Badgers can go this long without another receiver stepping up and earning respect from other defenses. Jordan Fredrick and Jeff Duckworth (lingering back issues) have shown signs of play-making ability, but never anything consistent. True freshman Rob Wheelwright has the talent but lacks the experience necessary to be consistent.
As soon as Gary Andersen was hired, he made it clear that a receiver needs to step up to help Abbrederis avoid double coverage. That has not happened yet, but Kenzel Doe has the potential to be that #2 receiver once healthy.
He’s 5’8”, 170lbs. He’s not your typical stretch-the-field receiver, but he surely is an option to move the chains and keep drives going. Doe can get open underneath the linebackers and can be useful in bubble screens. If given the ball in open space, he’s quick and fast enough to gain significant yards after the catch. He showed glimpses of this last season with a punt return for a touchdown against Utah State:
He didn’t catch many balls in 2012, but that should be taken with a grain of salt since the Badgers didn’t throw much once Curt Phillips assumed the starting quarterback position. Doe followed up a rather forgetful 2012 with a solid spring. Fans, media and coaches were looking for a wide receiver to step up.
No one thought it would be Doe, but he made the most of his size unofficially catching 8 balls for 93 yards, including a 31-yard reception. Personally, he reminds me of a shorter version of Brandon Williams – 5’11”, 170lbs – or at least has the potential to be like him.
For younger Badger fans, Brandon Williams was a sure-handed receiver for Wisconsin during the John Stocco era. In four seasons (2002-2005), he had 202 receptions for 2,924 yards and 10 touchdowns making him one of the top receivers in Wisconsin history. He made a living catching the ball underneath and across the middle. Though he was short (I ran into him at the Nitty Gritty circa 2004, and I have to say, 5’11” is a little generous), no one could question his speed or hands. For several games, he was the team’s x-factor and needed him to do well in order to put the team in position to win.
Hidden behind Williams’ stats is that most of the 2,924 yards came after the catch. He was able to get into open space and move the chains. He also excelled in punt and kickoff returns. Seen almost as triple threat, defenses had to focus their game plans on him quite a bit. Imagine a then-Williams in today’s offense opposite Abbrederis and Melvin Gordon in the backfield. That’s a pretty potent and balanced offense in which opposing defenses would have to respect the Badgers’ passing attack.
Looking back at our fall camp preview, we mentioned that the Badgers would fill the #2 wide receiver spot by committee, and that so far has been the case. Doe, when healthy however, has the potential to prove us wrong and help take the pressure off both Abbrederis and Stave. Increasing his targets, along with having Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen out there should allow for the Badgers to not only be successful throwing the ball, but also to strengthen an already potent running game with Gordon, James White and Corey Clement.
Doe has the hands, speed, athleticism, and skill to be just that. Already a junior, Doe worked on his speed in the spring when he joined the Wisconsin track team with teammate Dez Southward. He’s proved he can handle kickoff and punt returns. He’s proved he can be effective as a slot receiver. He has the potential to be a legitimate threat in the “Jet Sweep” to keep defenses honest. After being in Wisconsin’s system for this long, he seems primed and ready for a much bigger role on the team.
Additionally, having Doe return punts and kickoffs will certainly keep Wisconsin coaches and fans relieved as it would lower the risk of Abbrederis getting hurt. Doe certainly has the talent to take it to the house so the production wouldn’t necessarily drop off either.
Unfortunately, Doe has had health issues early this season and tweeted that though he tore his hamstring, but he should be back for the Northwestern game on October 5th. I certainly hope he does and that my prediction starts to take form.