FOX Sports Wisconsin’s Jesse Temple analyzes 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. 23 — Alex Erickson, wide receiver
Why he’s No. 23
Erickson’s potential is through the roof, and — if he progresses in the way some hope — he could be in line to replace Jared Abbrederis. Consider how similar Erickson’s career path has been to Abbrederis’ up to this point.
As a senior at Darlington (Wis.) High, Erickson was almost unstoppable on offense. He rushed for nearly as many yards (1,239) as he had passing (1,250) and scored 33 touchdowns. He also tallied 50 tackles and three interceptions as a safety and cornerback. He earned first-team all-conference honors as a defensive back and quarterback, yet he didn’t garner a single Division I scholarship offer.
Erickson spent his first season at Wisconsin as a walk-on for the scout team and converted to wide receiver. Now, he’s proven so valuable that he can’t stay off the field — just like Abbrederis, a former walk-on with no scholarship offers who switched to wide receiver at Wisconsin.
"There’s a lot of parallels there," Erickson said last fall. "The biggest thing I’m trying to do is establish that work ethic that he has. If you’re out here watching practice, you know he’s one of the hardest working guys out here, he’s flying up and down the field, he sacrifices his body for the team. You can learn a lot from him."
Expectations for 2014
Erickson appeared to be in position to take the reps occupied by Abbrederis, but he suffered an injury that kept him out of action during the spring. Still, he’s shown enough to the coaches that he’ll be in the receiver rotation in a big capacity, along with Jordan Fredrick, Kenzel Doe and perhaps Rob Wheelwright.
Erickson caught nine passes for 127 yards last season, but his production will need to increase along with the rest of the wide receivers. Fredrick is the only returning wideout to have caught even 10 passes a year ago. And none of the current receivers caught a touchdown pass.
Erickson has shown he’s a solid possession receiver, but he can also make big plays. His 14.1 yards-per-catch average is the best among any returning player.
What would they do without him?
Wisconsin’s wide receiver group will only be as good as the sum of its parts. And that means the Badgers simply won’t be as effective without Erickson’s talents. The amount of experience is already limited to four receivers with Erickson. Without him, the pressure to perform would grow exponentially for Doe, Fredrick and Wheelwright.
There are other wide receivers on the team — Jazz Peavy, Reggie Love, Connor Cummins — but they have a combined one catch for 19 yards (which belongs to Love). At least a few of Wisconsin’s incoming group of five freshmen receivers will be counted on to play immediately, but the pressure will lessen if Erickson has a good year.