Wisconsin Badgers beat writer Jesse Temple will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Badgers’ success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find every report here.
Note: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Wisconsin will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered. The list does not include incoming freshmen because their potential impact is unknown at this time.
No. 12 — Jordan Fredrick, wide receiver
Why he’s No. 12
Fredrick is Wisconsin’s leading returning receiver, and he’ll no doubt be as important as any wideout on the team in 2014. Unfortunately, the term "leading returning receiver" doesn’t mean what it used to at Wisconsin. That’s because Fredrick caught all of 10 passes for 106 yards without a single touchdown last season.
Still, Fredrick has played in 27 career games with 10 starts, and he has tried to pattern his game after former teammate Jared Abbrederis. Fredrick has talked often about Abbrederis’ precise route running, his hard work on and off the field and his ability to be a role model to teammates. Those are traits Fredrick will try to embrace as he takes on more of a leadership role now that he’s a redshirt junior.
How Fredrick will be used in 2014 remains to be seen. He’s clearly the No. 1 receiver as fall camp approaches, but some of that has to do with the lack of other receivers emerging.
Expectations for 2014
Fredrick has done a pretty solid job of being a possession-type receiver. But one of his biggest areas of growth will need to be becoming more of a deep ball threat. Consider that in two years, Fredrick has never caught a pass for more than 20 yards. In 2013, his longest catch was 19 yards. Some of that has to do with Abbrederis taking command of all the long balls, but Fredrick’s statistics have to take a considerable leap in 2014.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Madison native has yet to catch more than three passes in a game. And he only caught a pass in six of 13 games a year ago. No one is saying Fredrick needs to produce Abbrederis-like numbers — which would be awfully tough anyway — but if he can average even three or four catches a game, it would go a long way.
Abbrederis (78 catches), tight end Jacob Pedersen (39 catches) and running back James White (39 catches) are all gone, so there are a lot of passes to be had. Even if Wisconsin operates with a wide receiver-by-committee approach, Fredrick ought to be at the top of that group.
"You’ve just got to prove them wrong, which kind of gives you a little chip on your shoulder," Fredrick said this spring of the entire receiver group. "It comes with any team or any person that they say you can’t do something, it makes them work a little harder. So it’s actually nice hearing that. If people weren’t worried, maybe we’d get a little more relaxed and not work as hard.
"That’s the biggest thing is we’ve just got to keep working hard. But going into the season, none of us are really worried. As a group, we know we can make plays and we’ve just got to do it."
What would they do without him?
Wisconsin is desperately trying to develop more wide receivers to play, including Reggie Love and Jazz Peavy. But the group with true game experience is so small that Fredrick’s value to this team is far greater than it would be on other teams. Of the team’s returning receivers, only Kenzel Doe (34 games) has appeared in more games than Fredrick.
Alex Erickson and Rob Wheelwright may well end up with better numbers than Fredrick in 2014, but as of now, neither has put together the numbers of Fredrick, who still leads the team in career receiving yards with 302.