I'm not going to sugarcoat it- the Badgers are in trouble at wide receiver. Or at least they will be, if another receiver doesn't step up to take the pressure off of Jared Abbrederis.
Let's look at some blind resumes from the 2012 season, just to illustrate my point a little bit more.
Wide receiver A: 49 receptions, 837 receiving yards, five touchdowns
Wide receiver B: 48 receptions, 446 receiving yards, two touchdowns
In case you were trying to guess, player A is Abbrederis, who averaged 17.08 yards per reception as a junior. And while player B's stats pale in comparison, that's still respectable for a young, up-and-coming receiver.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, "player B" is actually the combined stats of every other wide receiver that caught a pass for the Badgers last year. That includes Jordan Fredrick, Kenzel Doe, Jeff Duckworth, Chase Hammond, and Reggie Love.
If you're looking for a reason why the Badgers rushed for under 60 net yards on three separate occasions last year, look no further. Other teams knew they could just focus on stuffing the running game if they contained Abbrederis, and it worked.
The Badgers were pretty-one dimensional last year, and a few things will need to happen if Gary Andersen wants to change that in his first year at the helm. Here's what you should pay attention to when the Badgers open fall camp on Aug. 5.
Will someone step up as the No. 2 wide receiver?
If the Badgers are going to get better at wide receiver, it'll have to come from in-house. There were rumors that Andersen and his staff were looking at using a scholarship on a JUCO wide receiver even after the Badgers put signing day in the rear-view mirror, but the Badgers will have to work with the options that were already on campus last year, in addition to their two incoming freshmen: Rob Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy.
If you're looking for the most likely candidate to make a jump and take some pressure off of Abbrederis, it's probably Jordan Fredrick. Fredrick caught 17 passes for 196 yards as a redshirt freshman, and I like the physical attributes he brings to the position. Fredrick is big enough to stick at receiver, and I think his blocking has improved since the start of the spring. He's more of a possession receiver than a home-run threat, but the Badgers will take what they can get. If Fredrick can compete with defensive backs and reel in catches consistently the Badgers probably won't complain. Abbrederis is the deep threat- all they really need is someone else that can catch the ball consistently.
I think Kenzel Doe can be a useful player for the Badgers as well, but if you're looking for someone with a higher ceiling to bet on I would go with either A.J. Jordan or Marquis Mason. Jordan impressed me during the spring, since he dropped fewer passes as camp moved along and he has the athleticism to make some spectacular catches. As for Mason, his physical tools always make him an intriguing pick. I thought he was catching the ball pretty well this spring too, at least until another injury kept him out of practices. Mason probably has the highest ceiling for the Badgers if he puts it all together and stays healthy, but I would put my money on Jordan if I had to pick a dark horse.
As for the freshmen, they'll definitely get a chance to play right away for the Badgers. Wheelwright in particular seems like the most likely candidate to me, since he stands at 6-foot-3 and will have had a chance to put on a bit more weight during the summer. Both Wheelwright and Peavy have a long way to climb up the depth chart if they want to see the field, but we'll see if they can stick once camp opens up next month. It would certainly be a welcome surprise for Andersen if either of them can help the Badgers in their first year on campus.
Is the third coach the charm for this position group?
In the span of three seasons DelVaughn Alexander, Zach Azzanni and now Chris Beatty will have coached Wisconsin's wide receivers. Few other position groups have been so hard hit by coaching turnover, and I'm willing to bet that it has stunted a few players' development along the way.
Azzanni in particular seemed to be making some headway with the group, at least when it came to blocking for the running game. Beatty has said he preaches a lot about consistency and wants his players to be more "quarterback friendly," but we'll see when the regular season starts if Beatty's message and techniques have helped Wisconsin's wide receivers step up to the next level. If at this time next year we're still talking about how Wisconsin's wide receivers need to run their routes consistently and be more "quarterback friendly," it's pretty safe to say that Wisconsin's offense will have been a little too one-dimensional for the second straight year.