BadgerBlitz - NSD Preview: A look at Wisconsin's 2019 recruiting class
football Edit

NSD Preview: A look at Wisconsin's 2019 recruiting class

With head coach Paul Chryst scheduled to announce Wisconsin's 2019 recruiting class Wednesday, contributors Jon Gorman, John Veldhuis and Jon McNamara, along with Jake Kocorowski from Bucky's 5th Quarter, provided their insight on the expected crop.

Note: This report reflects UW's recruiting class as of 12/18/18 and does not include prospects the Badgers could add after the early signing period.

Top Prospect

Logan Brown
Logan Brown (Darren Lee/ Photographer)

Veldhuis: The easy answer here is quarterback Graham Mertz, but I want to put in a word for four-star offensive tackle Logan Brown, who actually ranks as the better prospect of the two. In our latest Rivals100 ranking, Brown checks in at No. 34 in the nation, just missing out on a five-star ranking. Mertz (No. 64) is Wisconsin’s best quarterback prospect in a long while, but Brown should be a factor at one of the offensive tackle spots sooner rather than later.

Gorman: While Brown is ranked higher in the rankings, I’m going to have to go with Mertz. The 2018 Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year, Mertz threw for over 4,000 yards and 51 touchdowns, and is ranked as the No. 2 pro-style QB in 2019. Given the question marks around the position next year, Mertz may be the biggest commitment Wisconsin has ever gotten in the era.

Kocorowski: It's really a coin flip between Mertz and Brown here. *Actually flips coin* I'll go with Brown based on the size and intangibles he already has, plus the slightly higher rating. Tony Kimbrough, Brown's head coach, noted he's already 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, so he will have the size of a Wisconsin offensive lineman when he gets to campus in the summer. The No. 5 offensive tackle and No. 34 player overall in the nation developed a nastiness to him later in his prep career, and with his athleticism, he will fit right in with Joe Rudolph's unit. It's like 1a and 1b with Brown and Mertz, the latter who is enrolling early and getting a huge head start once he arrives in January. You cannot understate how important spring practices can be for young players, especially true freshmen.

McNamara: You could tell there was something special about Brown the first time he stepped foot on Wisconsin's campus in the summer of 2016. During his recruitment, the four-star prospect picked up offers from some of the top programs in the country. And even after his commitment, those schools, plus a few more, kept coming showing up at East Kentwood High School. The response: "Thanks, but no thanks." Expectations are sky-high for Brown when he arrives on campus this summer.

Most Likely to Play Early

Leo Chenal
Leo Chenal (Darren Lee/ Photographer)

Veldhuis: If you’re looking for the biggest opening for playing time on the roster, look no further than nose tackle. The Badgers are going to lose Olive Sagapolu to graduation after this season, which leaves Bryson Williams as the only scholarship player at the position with any experience at the position. Williams should take over as the starter, but they will need a backup for him. One of four-star Rodas Johnson or three-star Keeanu Benton will likely have to beat out walk-on senior Gunnar Roberge for the backup job, but it’s certainly possible.

Gorman: Quarterback will certainly be an interesting one to watch, but I’m actually going to go on the other side of the ball and say Johnson. The four star tackle chose Wisconsin over Penn State and Texas, and should be in the mix early for playing time in Jim Leonard’s 3-4 defense. With Kayden Lyles moving back to offense and Garrett Rand coming back from injury, I would not be surprised to see Johnson crack the two-deep early on.

Kocorowski: Gorman and Veldhuis already mentioned the defensive line position, and I do feel someone like Benton or Johnson has the opportunity to earn playing time early on. I wonder, though, if someone like Leo Chenal can make an impact their first season in the third phase of the game. Inside linebacker will have at least four players with some experience, but I'm looking at Chenal as someone who could contribute early on in special teams - something his older brother, walk-on fullback John Chenal, did this season in playing seven games. At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds and judging off of some of the pics of him, he looks physically ready to play college football.

McNamara: Gotta go with Chenal here. Like his older brother, John Chenal, who played this fall as a true freshman, Leo looks like he's ready to contribute right away on special teams. This isn't a kid who needs a year or two in the strength program at Wisconsin.

The Sleeper

Keeanu Benton
Keeanu Benton (Darren Lee/

Veldhuis: I like what three-star wide receiver Stephan Bracey brings to the table as a kind of late bloomer in the recruiting process. The Badgers flipped him from Western Michigan in November, and Bracey brings great speed and athleticism to the table and is a player who could be a nice slot receiver for UW down the road. Wisconsin’s offense needs as much talent at wide receiver as it can get, so they’re perfectly happy to wait for someone like Bracey to develop into a player after a year or two in the program.

Gorman: This could go in a few directions, but I think Maema Njongmeta will outperform his recruiting hype while in Madison. Njongmeta is undersized at the moment at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, but he is explosive and productive. If he can add 25 to 30 pounds onto his frame without losing speed, he should be a major contributor in a couple years. The Badgers needed to beat out mostly Ivy League schools for his signature, but when all is said and done I wouldn't be surprised if more Big Ten schools were kicking themselves for not offering.

Kocorowski: Gorman took my initial thought with Njongmeta, so I'll go with a position near and dear to my heart, the fullback. With Wisconsin utilizing their fullbacks to a highly successful degree, and upon watching Quan Easterling's senior film, he could develop into a significant contributor in the offensive backfield lead blocking for Badger backs. For next season, there is presumably Mason Stokke, John Chenal and others at the position, but I'm wondering if Easterling, the true freshman from Akron, Ohio, will be able to break out early.

McNamara: I think there are a few options here, but I'll go with James Williams, who quietly took an official visit this summer and committed to the Badgers. Four-star Semar Melvin is the headliner of the cornerback class, but Williams was a four-year starter at powerhouse Chaminade-Madonna in Florida. When the dust settles next fall, Williams could be someone who plays in some capacity as a true freshman.

Most Needed

Rodas Johnson
Rodas Johnson

Veldhuis: I think this has to be Mertz, right? This is a highly-touted recruiting class for the Badgers, but it takes on a different character with or without Mertz in the fold. He is the best quarterback to commit to the Badgers in the recruiting website era, and gives UW fans who are looking to the future some hope to fall back on after a 2018 season that failed to live up to everyone’s expectations. Mertz isn’t going to fix things the minute he walks on campus - and I think the earliest he will compete for the starting job will be before the 2020 season - but getting the four-star prospect early and keeping him committed to UW was Wisconsin’s biggest recruiting win in a while. We’ll find out soon enough if Mertz can live up to the expectations the UW fanbase has projected on to him.

Gorman: The easy answer here is Mertz. Coming off a year in which Alex Hornibrook threw multiple INTs in his last four games, and Jack Coan not taking the stranglehold of the job that many were hoping for, Mertz should be able to come in and compete right away. If Mertz can live up to his recruiting rankings, he should be in the mix for time right away, or at the very least has a shot at being a four-year starter in 2020 after a potential redshirt next season.

Kocorowski: It's Mertz due to the critical nature of the position and the play that was seen this season at quarterback, though we'll see just how long it takes him to develop and compete for a starting spot (maybe 2020?). You could argue a player like Johnson or Benton due to the lack of depth at nose tackle. For sake of another position of need, I look at outside linebacker and Spencer Lytle. A four-star prospect that chose UW over Clemson at first, then received offers from Iowa and Northwestern late in the recruiting process, being an early enrollee will help him get his feet wet at the position. With Andrew Van Ginkel gone after the bowl game, there is an emerging Zack Baun - but who else steps up in the position group? Will guys like Noah Burks, Tyler Johnson, Izayah Green-May and Jaylan Franklin step up, and can Lytle take advantage of the spring ball?

McNamara: The Badgers had to get a big-time defensive lineman in this class, and that's exactly what they're getting Johnson. He's a bit raw having played on the offensive line growing up, but I think Johnson has all-Big Ten potential down the road.

Best Surprise

Cameron Phillips
Cameron Phillips (Nick Lucero/

Veldhuis: I think you can make a case for Johnson here as well. The Badgers needed to sign a couple of defensive linemen in this class, and getting Johnson about a month and a half before signing day over some other pretty good offers - specifically Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State and Texas.

Gorman: I’ll go with Lytle here. It isn’t often that the Badgers are able to go to a California powerhouse and beat out teams like Clemson, Oregon, Notre Dame and Texas, but that’s exactly what they did to secure Lytle’s commitment earlier this year. The four-star prospect should be a perfect fit at OLB in Leonard’s defense, and has a chance to play early with Van Ginkel graduating this year.

Kocorowski: I think the quick courtship between Wisconsin and defensive back Titus Toler, which ended up with the former Colorado commit flipping to the Badgers, was quite the way to cap off the early signing period. With the Buffaloes firing Mike MacIntyre in November, it appears defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard swooped in hard and picked up another California standout from St. John Bosco who held offers from Arizona State, Cal, UCLA and Washington. With the new redshirt rule and the apparent depth in the defensive backfield, it remains to be seen when he could contribute. Think you could also add in the walk-on commitment of IMG wide receiver Cameron Phillips to this category as well.

McNamara: Phillips is exactly who I'm going with. And to get one of the top prospects on your board early in the process as a preferred walk-on just a few weeks before Signing Day was an interesting twist in this cycle. The three-star prospect, who missed his entire senior season at IMG Academy due to an injury, will have a chip on his shoulder during spring ball.

Most Underrated

Julius Davis
Julius Davis (Darren Lee/ Photographer)

Veldhuis: I think in-state running back Julius Davis gets overlooked a little too much - he missed much of his senior season for Menomonee Falls this year, but he was still getting interest from some of college football’s heavy hitters even after his early commitment to the Badgers. Playing time might be hard to come by at first for him, but he’s a talented player who will make the most of his opportunity when it comes to him.

Gorman: has Toler listed as a three star (5.6) recruit, but I think you can make the case that he’s a four-star caliber player. Toler was a late flip from Colorado after its coaching change, and has good size, speed, and athletic ability. Toler is versatile as well, and has lined up everywhere from playing press man coverage, to a deep-lying free safety, to coming into the box for run support. The Badgers may have found themselves another high-upside contributor late in this class.

Kocorowski: Can you designate a four-star recruit as "underrated?" I'm wondering that with Hayden Rucci, who noted he's slated to play the in-line Y-tight end position at Wisconsin. My thought goes more back to the importance of the position in Paul Chryst's offense. Though the Badgers were among the nation's best in rushing the ball this year, I feel the team really missed Zander Neuville, a superb run blocker (UW had to use a jumbo formation with two linemen at times this season) who could make some plays in the passing game. Rucci loves to run block, and he showcased more abilities in catching the ball his senior season. Down the road, I think he could fill a very vital role for the program.

McNamara: I don't think we're talking enough about Gio Paez, a three-star commit from North Carolina. Johnson and Benton deserve the attention they're garnering, but Paez is a big-time get because he can probably help at both end and tackle, depending on the scheme and play call. Paez reminds me a bit of Conor Sheehy, who had a very good career in Madison. Offensive lineman Joe Tippmann was a very close second.