Jonathan Taylor took 320 of the Wisconsin Football team’s carries last year, so with him gone, who will be running the ball this year?
Paul Chryst and the Wisconsin Football team have some decisions to make after the departure of star running back Jonathan Taylor. Taylor accounted for 320 of Wisconsin’s 600 total rushing attempts last year. The next most was Nakia Watson with 74, and with Taylor as such an effective workhorse, there was rarely a need for others to run the ball.
In all three years that Taylor was at Wisconsin, no other player had more than 100 carries, and the least that he had was 299. With him gone, expect a more by committee rushing attack. Those carries have to go somewhere, and unless someone really impresses in camp, those 300 carries will be split multiple ways.
Now, the real question is how tight of a hold the upperclassmen backs will have on the position and how many guys will emerge to take on carries. Last season, Watson and Garret Groshek combined for 116 carries and are the only returning backs with over 20 carries. They could see a rise in workload to fill the void left by Taylor.
On the other hand, there are four young backs that are chomping at the bit to get on the field. There will be an opportunity for any of them to step up and take the job in camp. Even several of them could be able to work themselves in the rotation.
As I stated earlier, there are 300 carries that these backs are competing for. There is plenty of snaps available for anyone who shows the ability to be a difference-maker before the season.
With six running backs fighting for their spot in the lineup this season, we’ll take a look at what each one brings and what their most likely outcome for the season is, starting with the more experienced backs and the leader in carries returning, Nakia Watson.
Watson was a four-star recruit who came to Wisconsin in 2018 after rushing for 3,719 yards and 51 touchdowns in his high school career. After redshirting in 2018, he became the Badgers top backup running back last year in terms of carries and had 74 attempts for 331 yards.
That resulted in an average of 4.5 yards per carry which is not bad, but less than Taylor’s 6.3 average. At 5’11” 229 pounds, he has a very similar build to Jonathan Taylor at 5’10” 226 pounds. Out of all the backs, Watson has the greatest chance to become the Badgers feature back this season.
Next up is Garrett Groshek, who is in his senior season at Wisconsin. He may be the most known name of the backs on the Wisconsin Football team due to the number of snaps he took on third downs last year.
He’s carved out a niche for himself as a pass blocker and a pass-catcher as he led Wisconsin running backs in receptions and receiving yards last year. He only had 42 carries for 194 yards and two touchdowns and probably won’t see a big uptick in carries. He will likely keep his role as third-down back but could get some extra carries here and there if no other backs can step up and prove they can take them.
In the next tier down from the two experienced upperclassmen are two guys who had a combined nine carries last season. Brady Schipper had only eight carries for 25 yards last season, all at the end of blowout games and six of them coming against Kent State. Schipper had arguably a more impressive high school career than Watson with 3,975 yards and 40 touchdowns while averaging 7.2 yards per carry. He is a bit slimmer at 5’11” 206 pounds and could be a quicker change of pace to Watson.
Isaac Guerendo is the least experienced back of all four returners this year. He has only one career rushing attempt and one reception. He did, however, make a huge play last season when he had a 49-yard kick return against then eighth-ranked Minnesota on a trick play reverse return when he took the ball from the returner and fooled the kickoff team.
He has flat out speed and won state in the 100-meter dash with a 10.51, 4×100 relay, and long jump, while also having three state runner up finishes.
Finally, there are two freshmen, Julius Davis and Jalen Berger, who will look to make an impact in their first year of college football. Davis is a three-star recruit from Menomonee Falls, WI. He had 3,067 yards and 32 touchdowns in high school, even with being sidelined for two games with an injury his senior season. He is very elusive and only 190 pounds, which makes it easier for him to change direction and evade tacklers. Here’s one of his best runs from high school:
— Delaney Brey (@DelaneyBrey) August 18, 2018
Closing things out is yet another New Jersey running back committing to Wisconsin, four-star recruit Jalen Berger. Berger is a versatile player who can run the ball effectively and also catch the ball out of the backfield or play in the slot.
During his senior season of high school, he rushed 111 times for 840 yards, an average of 7.6 yards per carry. He also caught 27 passes for 357 yards and four touchdowns. He has great explosiveness to get to the edge and turn the corner, and he will try to carve out his own niche as a shifty and versatile back. In this video are a few examples of his explosiveness and pass-catching ability.
Don Bosco Prep’s (NJ) @JalenBerger is a straight baller.
Dude is one of the most complete running backs in the country and is set to announce his college choice tomorrow during the All-American Bowl.
— Zack Poff (@Zack_Poff_MP) January 4, 2020
At the end of the day, Nakia Watson will probably shoulder the Badgers load of carries. He has the best build to be a feature back for the Wisconsin Football team. However, he will likely not have over 300 carries like Taylor, but maybe somewhere from 150 to 200. The other carries could be taken by any of the young backs, but Berger, being a four-star recruit, has a great chance to compete with the more experienced players.