Wisconsin football position preview: wide receivers

In what is arguably a year of relative uncertainty for the Badgers, the wide receiver position could be a wildcard in determining how successful the Badgers are in 2011. While Wisconsin runs what is and always will be a run-first offense, the Badgers have two proven talents — one of whom possesses the tools to become an elite talent — at wideout. However, beyond those two there is little experience and it’s difficult to identify those who will become the Badgers’ third and fourth receivers. Without further ado, let us continue the Wisconsin football summer position preview by looking at the Badgers’ wide receivers.

Likely Starters

Nick Toon, redshirt senior
strengths: possesses the combination of size, athleticism and speed of a prototypical elite wideout, big play threat
weaknesses: injury problems, attitude concerns

Jared Abbrederis, redshirt sophomore
strengths: good hands, smart player, good route runner
weaknesses: doesn’t possess elite speed, could stand to add some bulk to his frame, questionable big play ability

No. 1 receiver Toon and No. 2 receiver Abbrederis have different strengths at the wide receiver position and give the Badgers flexibility in playcalling because they compliment each other nicely.

Toon has the tools to become an NFL receiver, but has struggled with injuries in the past year. He caught 54 passes for 805 yards as a sophomore but couldn’t stay on the field last year as a junior, when a nagging turf toe injury and deep thigh bruise kept him off the field for four games and limited him in many others. Still, Toon was able to lead all Badger receivers with 36 catches and 459 yards last season. Coming off of a spring foot surgery, Toon needs to prove he can regain his 2009 form, build upon it and become the star wideout so many, including himself, expected him to be.

Abbrederis kind of came out of nowhere in 2010, catching 20 passes for 289 yards as a redshirt freshman. His consistent approach, route running skills and good hands forced offensive coordinator Paul Chryst to set up what was basically a platoon at Wisconsin’s No. 2 wide receiver position last season between Abbrederis and now-departed seniors David Gilreath and Isaac Anderson. Now, Abbrederis and his sure hands could provide a security blanket for Jon Budmayr in the quarterback’s first year as a starter. Listed at 6-foot-2 and just 180 lbs, Abbrederis is a rather lanky target at wideout, but he’s had a full off season add strength to his frame. Badger fans should be excited to see the progression of one of the teams’ most solid young contributors in 2011.

The challengers

Manasseh Garner, sophomore
strengths: good size and strength, showed good hands in the spring, good athleticism for his size
weaknesses: needs to get quicker and sharpen route running

Jeff Duckworth, redshirt sophomore
strengths: great hands, good route runner
weaknesses: lacks explosiveness, elite speed

One of the pleasant surprises of Wisconsin’s otherwise dull spring game was watching Garner, a former tight end, lead all receivers with four catches for 57 receiving yards. I didn’t really know much about him until recently, but ESPN’s player profile describes him as “an extremely versatile athlete” and indicates he could’ve played defense coming out of high school. This kind of versatility could make Garner a weapon for Chryst down the road, who could use Garner like he used Travis Beckum in the past. However, this versatility likely means Garner needs some sharpening on the finer aspects of being a wide receiver, especially in route running.

Duckworth, the only receiver besides Toon and Abbrederis with any previous game experience, will likely end up as the Badgers’ No. 3 or 4 receiver. He’s a “prototypical” Wisconsin receiver, with great hands, route running skills and intangibles, but a lack of speed and explosiveness.

The others

Chryst likes to rotate his receivers, so don’t be surprised if any or all of these young guys get some chances to play in 2011:

Kenzel Doe, freshman
strengths: quickness, speed, elusiveness
weaknesses: size, questionable hands

Isaiah Williams, redshirt freshman
strengths: size, hands
weaknesses: speed, elusiveness

Chase Hammond, redshirt freshman
strengths: very good size, route running, hands
weaknesses: sub-par speed

Marquis Mason, redshirt freshman
strengths: very good size, athleticism
weaknesses: still a bit raw as a receiver, needs to overcome spring injury

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