With head coach Gary Andersen scheduled to announce Wisconsin's 2014 recruiting class Wednesday, BadgerBlitz.com contributors Jon Gorman, John Veldhuis and Jon McNamara provided their insight on the expected class.
Gorman: I was very close to putting Jaden Gault in this spot, but I have to give the nod to D.J. Gillins. Considering his position, where he's from and the skill-set he brings to the table, Gillins is the total package as a high school quarterback. He has the chance to give Wisconsin something they haven't had at the position since Russell Wilson graduated in 2011.
Veldhuis: Rivals.com ranked Dareian Watkins higher, but I think D.J. Gillins has the highest ceiling in Wisconsin's 2014 signing class. It's no secret that the Badgers need better quarterback play if they want to stay near the top of the Big Ten's pecking order, and Gillins fits what Wisconsin wants to do at quarterback in the future. He's a mobile passer who can keep plays alive even when they start to break down, but he'll obviously need time to learn the offense and get acclimated to the college game. I'm not going overboard like some people I've seen and expecting him to win the starting job as a true freshman, but as an early enrollee Gillins could get a big boost down the road when he's ready to really compete. If he develops the way the Badgers think he can, then I'd be surprised if another prospect makes a bigger impact at Wisconsin.
McNamara: When it's all said and done, I think we'll look back at this class and say defensive tackle Jeremy Patterson was the top prospect. At 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds, Patterson is an athletic nose tackle who figures to play a huge role in Dave Aranda's 3-4 scheme. Florida made a big push late for Patterson, but the Badgers will earn his signature Wednesday.
Most likely to play early
Gorman: You can probably give this to any of the wide receivers entering Madison, but I will go with Krenwick Sanders. Sanders is the total package athletically and coming off of a dynamic senior season, he's in strong position to get snaps early and often.
Veldhuis: There are a few different candidates who could see the field as early as next year, in no small part because this is Gary Andersen and his staff's first full recruiting class. If we're going by sheer percentage then I don't think you can overlook Rafael Gaglianone, because usually teams don't bring kickers in on a full scholarship to have them sit on the bench and wait their turn. The Badgers also try to give junior college recruits a chance to play, so you might see Serge Trezy sooner rather than later. I could also see Jaden Gault or another offensive lineman getting a lot of reps, and with the sheer number of wide receivers they are bringing in and the amount of playing time that is available, I would bet a wide receiver like Dareian Watkins gets some snaps as well.
McNamara: I think Thomas Hammock is going to have a lot of fun incorporating Taiwan Deal into Wisconsin's running attack, and I think that happens right away this fall. At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Deal appears to be ready physically to compete and it's very likely he'll be the Badgers' third tailback in 2014 behind Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. Because of the change of pace he can provide as a power back, I don't see how Deal redshirts if he's healthy and able to digest the playbook.
Gorman: Krenwick Sanders was an excellent candidate for this position, but my choice here is Austin Hudson. An under the radar prospect from powerhouse Plant High School in Florida, Hudson looks like a prototype of the true free safety role that Tanner McEvoy played for the Badgers last year. Hudson has great speed and athleticism, excellent ball skills and a willingness to get physical when needed. He will play sooner rather than later.
Veldhuis: I think Austin Hudson, another early enrollee, could end up looking like a nice pickup for the Badgers. Hudson picked up an offer during camp and committed a few days later, and I thought he looked pretty athletic -- if he stays as a safety I think that might be a good fit. He picked up some late interest from Georgia and Missouri, so the Badgers might have pounced at the right time when Jacksonville State was his only other offer. Ula Tolutau could also fit here, since he won't actually enroll at Wisconsin until 2016.
McNamara: By design, Michael Deiter's recruitment was pretty quiet. And it was only until after he committed this past summer that we really found out about all the schools battling for the 6-foot-5, 295-pound prospect from Ohio. Deiter is currently on campus and it wouldn't be surprising to see him crack the two-deep at guard this fall. At the end of his career, I envision him being a multi-year starer for the Badgers.
Gorman: Wisconsin prides itself on nothing more than developing powerhouse offensive linemen from the state of Wisconsin. For that reason, Jaden Gault was the most needed recruit in the 2014 class. As the process went on, Gault received offers from almost all of the big names, and despite an official visit to Arkansas, remained firmly committed to the Badgers. It was crucial in Gary Andersen's first class to keep the fence up around Wisconsin, and by and large, he did that.
Veldhuis: Had Craig Evans signed with the Badgers he would have been my pick, but with him out of the picture I agree with Gorman that Gault was the most important get in this class. He's been committed since August of 2012, and when you consider Wisconsin's depth issues on the offensive line it's clear the Badgers needed to keep him home and fend off some other schools. Coaching changes can give prospects like Gault a chance to slip through the cracks and sign with an out-of-state school, but the Badgers made him a priority and in return, he helped them recruit other prospects.
McNamara: I think the clear answer here is Jeremy Patterson, but I'll go in a different direction and say Ula Tolutau, who was the best player in Utah this past fall. Wisconsin probably won't "need" him right away when he arrives on campus in 2016, but his commitment could go a long way in Gary Andersen's pursuit of Polynesian players. It's no secret that Andersen would like to incorporate this demographic into the culture of his football team, and Tolutau could be the first of many.
Veldhuis: I was actually pretty surprised the Badgers landed D.J. Gillins, since at the time I thought he was going to end up at Boston College. But I think Wisconsin took advantage of a big opportunity when it secured a commitment from Dareian Watkins, who was originally committed to Northwestern -- and Northwestern commits usually stay that way, since the Wildcats don't want their "committed" prospects to look around at other schools. Watkins could play a variety of positions, but I think they try and see if he can stick at wide receiver first. They need talent at that spot, and this could be a perfect marriage of available playing time, talent and timing. The Badgers owe Watkins' commitment in large part to Chris Beatty, who previously recruited him during his time on the Illinois' staff.
Gorman: After Dareian Watkins committed to Northwestern, most thought his recruitment was over. But wide receivers coach Chris Beatty stayed on Watkins throughout the process, and eventually landed his commitment. Given his playmaking ability, Watkins, like the other wide receivers coming into fall camp, will have an opportunity for early playing time.
McNamara: I thought running back Caleb Kinlaw was a pleasant surprise for Wisconsin. He was committed to Georgia Tech but took an official visit to Madison in the fall. Just days later, he flipped to the Badgers. A 5-foot-9, 184-pound back, Kinlaw should provide some much needed depth to the position and perhaps a nice speed option in the backfield.
Veldhuis: I think Jacob Maxwell could surprise some people. He earned an offer from the Badgers late in the process, and some people were even saying he out-played some of Wisconsin's other in-state linemen during the high school playoffs. He already has the size to play on the line in the Big Ten, and with some time to develop this two-star could turn into another in-state gem for the Badgers. You could also slot TJ Edwards in here: the Badgers flipped him from Western Michigan, and I like his film so far. The Badgers are certainly doing their homework on a lot of players as Maxwell was once committed to Northern Illinois before picking up his offer from the Badgers.
Gorman: This award also goes to Austin Hudson for me. Listed as only a two-star recruit, Hudson brought in offers from both Georgia and Missouri, two big-time SEC schools, after his commitment to Wisconsin. Had Hudson not been injured for much of his junior season, I suspect his recruitment would have gotten much larger.
McNamara: Had Derrick Tindal, a two-star recruit, been healthy as a senior, I think he would have been more heavily recruited. He's well put together a 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, and could contribute early for the Badgers at cornerback.
Prospects included in this reported were updated as of 2/4/14