Jared Abbrederis leads largely unproven Badgers receiving corps

BY foxsports • July 27, 2013

This is the third in a series of 11 previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 5 start of practice.

Rating (1-to-10 scale): 5

Projected starter(s): Jared Abbrederis (redshirt senior), Jordan Fredrick (redshirt sophomore), Kenzel Doe (junior)

Key backups: Jeff Duckworth (redshirt senior), Chase Hammond (redshirt junior), A.J. Jordan (redshirt sophomore), Reggie Love (sophomore), Marquis Mason (redshirt junior), Jazz Peavy (freshman), Rob Wheelwright (freshman)

The breakdown: There are 15 players listed as wide receivers on Wisconsin's roster, yet the Badgers are still trying to figure out who is capable of contributing behind Jared Abbrederis. Badgers fans no doubt hope the coaching staff can find a couple pieces to the puzzle before Wisconsin begins Big Ten play.

Abbrederis is the unquestioned leader of the unit for a second straight season. As a junior in 2012, Abbrederis caught 49 passes for 837 yards with five touchdowns. But he also didn't catch a touchdown in the team's final eight games and averaged 2.8 catches per game and 40.1 yards during that span. The Badgers went 4-4 in those games.

As a means of comparison, all other wide receivers on Wisconsin's team caught 48 passes for 446 yards with two touchdowns during the season. Jordan Fredrick hauled in 17 passes for 196 yards with a touchdown, and Kenzel Doe contributed 16 catches for 121 yards. Much of the time, they were busy blocking downfield for the Badgers' running backs. But both players are expected to contribute in a more significant role. At least, they'd better if Wisconsin wants to have any success in the passing game.

Last season, Wisconsin ranked 111th out of 120 FBS teams in passing offense, averaging 156.9 yards per game. Part of that was due to Wisconsin's dedication to running the ball and the Badgers cycling through three quarterbacks during the season. But another reason for the lack of production was the inability of wide receivers to create separation on a defender. And once defenses recognized Wisconsin didn't have many options, they surrounded Abbrederis and limited his touches.

Former wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni suggested last season that he hoped a group of three or four receivers could essentially contribute enough to form a No. 2 wideout. New wide receivers coach Chris Beatty isn't taking that same approach this season because he believes the load can be spread out more evenly.

Beatty singled out Reggie Love, Marquis Mason and A.J. Jordan as players that performed well during spring practices. Love, a 6-foot-3, 209-pound sophomore, caught one pass for 19 yards last season. Mason and Jordan have yet to make a catch in a game.

The best player in the bunch could turn out to be freshman Rob Wheelwright, a 6-foot-1, 179-pounder from Columbus, Ohio. Wheelwright caught 48 passes for 903 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior and finished his prep career with 26 touchdown receptions. For what it's worth, he also was rated by Scout.com as a four-star receiver and is considered one of the best in the country for the Class of 2013.

Best position battle: Once again, the focus will be on which receiver can step up as a reliable No. 2 threat behind Abbrederis. Fredrick started opposite Abbrederis last season, but his numbers hardly jumped off the stat sheet. Doe, meanwhile, was used primarily as a speedy slot receiver.

Several players are capable of stepping into the No. 2 or No. 3 role on the team, including Love, Mason, Jordan and Wheelwright. But potential is far different from proving it on the field. And in order for Wisconsin to truly have a successful season, the Badgers will need a more dynamic offense than the one they put on the field last year.

Best of the Big Ten: 1. Nebraska; 2. Indiana; 3. Ohio State

The Cornhuskers possess some serious talent at wide receiver, which means quarterback Taylor Martinez will be able to spread the ball around. Kenny Bell, a junior, tallied 50 catches for 863 yards and three touchdowns last season. Quincy Enunwa added 42 catches for 470 yards with a touchdown and Jamal Turner had 417 yards receiving and three scores.

Indiana didn't play much defense last season, but the Hoosiers sure knew how to put up points. Indiana's top three wideouts -- junior Shane Wynn, junior Cody Latimer and senior Kofi Hughes -- are all back for another season. Wynn recorded a team-best 68 catches for 660 yards and six touchdowns. Latimer was the big-play receiver and caught 51 passes for 805 yards with six touchdowns. Hughes added 43 catches, 639 yards and three scores. Expect even better numbers from all three in 2013.

At Ohio State, senior Corey Brown and junior Devin Smith might just form the best 1-2 combination in the Big Ten. Brown tallied 60 catches for 669 yards and three touchdowns last season, while Smith added 30 catches for 618 yards and six touchdowns. The Buckeyes' offense is stacked, and Brown and Smith are another reason defenses will struggle to contain Ohio State.

As of now, Wisconsin's wide receiver unit ranks in the bottom half of the Big Ten. Until the Badgers can develop more threats, that won't change in 2013.

Wide receivers coach Chris Beatty says: "It's like I tell those guys, 'You earn what you get. The more that we earn, the more that we'll get. If we want to sit back and let Jared take all the reps, we won't get better. But if we show that we need to be on the field, then we'll get more receivers on the field.

"I don't really look at it so much as we have to have three or four guys to collectively be one. We just need to be able to develop reliable, dependable receivers to be able to complement the other side. You've got a proven commodity over there. The other guys have got to earn what they get."

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