Re-Evaluating Wisconsin Football's 2011 Recruiting Class
When your recruiting class features twice as many 2-star recruits as 4-star players, your team will either sink or improve. Thankfully for the Wisconsin football team, they've improved as former coach Bret Bielema found a number of 2- and 3-star rated players who have been valuable contributors to the team.
One extra piece of the Badgers recruiting class that has helped them immeasurably was the transfer of Russell Wilson, who is included in this class as he certainly was a part of the 2011 recruiting class—only that he came in with three years of experience under his belt.
The stars of this class come at running back and in the secondary, where Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon was recruited alongside Michael Caputo, who despite carrying only three stars, was excellent in 2013 for the Badgers.
Overall, the class features three 4-star players, 11 3-star players and six 2-star players. The class was ranked No. 39 by 247 Sports and 9th in the Big Ten. Despite this, the Badgers made two Rose Bowls since these recruits have come on campus.
Let's take a look back at Wisconsin's 2011 class and how those players performed in Madison.
Russell Wilson (transfer from N.C. State)
Scott Tolzien wins the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award and graduates after two years as a starter, leaving a gaping hole at quarterback for the Badgers.
Meanwhile, in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 29 Russell Wilson is granted his release from N.C. State. On June 27, Coach Bielema announced that Wilson would be joining the Badgers. From there the rest is history.
The Badgers were two Hail Marys away from a perfect regular season with Wilson at the helm, and he took them to their second consecutive Rose Bowl while throwing for more than 3,000 yards, completing more than 72 percent of his passes and throwing for 33 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
One could say Wilson doesn't really count, but he was certainly recruited to come to Wisconsin in 2011, and that's good enough for me. The future Rookie of the Year and Super Bowl-winning quarterback may have spent more time at N.C. State but in just one year, he became a Badger through and through.
Gordon redshirted his first year on campus, but he has since proved himself to be one of the best backs in the country. With a career 2,328 yards on just 288 carries to go along with 16 touchdowns, Gordon has been well beyond the 18th-best running back in his recruiting class. With a potential Heisman campaign on the way this season, this was a home run of a get by Bielema.
Watt is an interesting case. Brother of J.J. Watt, the All-Pro defensive lineman for the Houston Texans and former Badger, it made sense that Coach Bielema and his staff would take a flier on the 2-star linebacker from Pewaukee, Wisconsin.
Watt quickly made the transition from outside linebacker to fullback, where he has flourished. While not typically used as a ball carrier—he has three career carries—his work as a lead blocker and as a receiver have made him invaluable to a team that still uses a fullback.
Both of these recruits are textbook examples of Bielema knowing where to find diamonds in the rough. While a 4-star running back, Gordon was hardly overlooked. It was Watt who came out of nowhere to become a key contributor for the Badgers.
This group hasn't been all bad, but they certainly have underperformed. While none carried that many stars nor a particularly high ranking—the highest rated of the bunch was Jordan, who was ranked as the 89th best wide out—the Badgers could have used more production out of this group.
The biggest thing that has come out of this group has been Doe's return ability. He has a punt return for a touchdown (against Utah State his sophomore year) and a kickoff return touchdown (against South Carolina in this past year's bowl game). Unfortunately for Doe, his two return touchdowns are two more than the number of receiving touchdowns he has.
Fredrick made the move from safety to wide receiver and may be moving back to safety this upcoming season, while Jordan has shown small flashes but hasn't really amounted to much thus far. Last but not least, Willis left the team right before the 2012 season.
This year gives those still remaining a good chance to prove themselves, as Doe looked like the alpha dog receiver (almost by default) in the spring, while Jordan will certainly get his chances this upcoming season. This group underwhelmed significantly, and in a Jared Abbrederis-less world, the Badgers passing game will be further strained by the lack of production from this group.
With Jacob Pedersen on the team, and with the Badgers passing game in a post-Russell Wilson world in relative shambles, there weren't too many catches to go around. With that being said, of these three, Arneson has really been the only one to do anything.
Traylor hasn't seen the field much, nor has Maly, but Traylor seems to figure into the team's passing game this season. As for Arneson, he has done quite a bit in limited playing time, turning 10 catches into four touchdowns, including a highlight-reel grab against Ohio State.
This group has a lot of potential as both Traylor and Arneson should be key cogs in the Badgers' passing game this season as well as providing support in the run game as blockers.
While neither of the two players recruited on the offensive line carried many stars, both have been extremely impressive on the field. Ball has been pretty good whenever he's seen the field, while Marz looks to be a starter for the second straight season.
One would love to see the Badgers consistently churning out 4- and 5-star offensive linemen, but the strength of the program has been how the wheels keep turning. The Badgers have lost so many early-round picks and their offensive line has rarely skipped a beat. In terms of value, these were excellent grabs but you would still love to see more out of a recruiting class.
To keep this brief, neither Hayes nor Adeyanju, both given 3-star rankings out of high school, have contributed at all. Adeyanju has two total tackles while Hayes has yet to earn a varsity letter. With neither name penciled in anywhere on this year's depth chart, this was a real swing-and-miss by Coach Bielema and his staff.
If it weren't for the new coaching staff's scheme change, the bad miss at this position would be even more glaring. With an influx of new talent and some holdovers from previous recruiting classes, the mistakes here are not too bad, but they could have been.
Keefer missed all of last season with a torn meniscus, but he could still have a bright future in front of him, as he recovers from the brutal injury.
Landisch, given just a 2-star ranking out of high school, has played 38 games for the Badgers and has been everything the coaching staff could have hoped for and more from the 2-star player.
While Keefer presents something of a lost opportunity, as knee injuries can be incredibly difficult to come back from, Landisch has been one of the best surprises on the team, as he has become a sure tackler and a leader in the clubhouse.
Caputo was maybe the best defensive player last season not named Chris Borland and was the only recruit from the northeast in the 2011 class. Both Hillary and Gaulden will be called upon this season to step up alongside Sojourn Shelton, as the secondary has gone from a weakness to a strength over the course of this group's Badgers career.
Floyd hasn't really seen the field much but could contribute this season. Last but not least, Hammon has performed well above his 2-star label. Hammon started two games last season and played in 12, recording 24 tackles and a sack.
Caputo and Hammon both have turned the safety position into a relative strength, while the trio of cornerbacks have all done their part, particularly Hillary, as he's gotten quite a bit of game action and will be called upon to play across from Shelton this year. While light on stars—a theme under Bielema—there weren't any swings-and-misses in this group as Floyd tries to work his way up the depth chart.
Star rankings courtesy of 247 Sports.