As we head into July and voluntary workouts continue for Wisconsin, AllBadgers.com looks at a few potential key contributors on the football roster.
During these evaluations, we will hypothesize just exactly what a stellar, standard and subpar season could be for each individual player. On Wednesday, we dive into another position in the program where the team will need to replace some significant production from the 2019 season.
Jonathan Taylor departed Madison on way to becoming a second-round draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts, but there is talent in the backfield. One of the potential contributors tasked with taking on more responsibility will be Nakia Watson, who will head into his redshirt sophomore season.
Last year, Watson was the second-leading rusher for UW behind Taylor -- gaining 331 yards on 4.5 yards per carry with a couple of touchdowns. His two biggest games on the ground came against non-conference opponents South Florida (14 carries, 80 yards, one touchdown) and Kent State (12 carries, 63 yards).
However, Watson also made a crucial impact on special teams. As he told me in a BadgerBlitz.com article in November, he played a role in communicating to other members of UW's kickoff return unit and also takes on the opposing team's "Most Dangerous Man," or MDM.
Wisconsin eventually returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season.
UW's production on offense could be linked to how Watson continues to develop heading into his third year in the program.
In this scenario, Watson emerges in his second full year of contributing and showcases the ability to be a back who can stay on the field for all three downs. Will he get to 2,000 yards like Taylor? No, but with Garrett Groshek and Isaac Guerendo -- and we will see how Julius Davis and Jalen Berger also fare in terms of reps in 2020 -- let's estimate that this hypothetical situation could have him above 1,300.
Special teams-wise (depending upon if they keep him on that unit with his offensive reps potentially increasing), he continues to help Wisconsin have success on the kickoff return unit in opening gaping holes for whomever takes over Aron Cruickshank's role.
Even with the potential of a handful of contributors, Watson still sees an increased role within the offense in carrying the rock and shows development from the year prior. Others see their duties increase and vary depending upon what head coach Paul Chryst, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and running backs coach John Settle ask of them -- but he also sees a substantial increase in rushing yards compared to a year prior.
Let's say in this particular universe, he works to near three times the amount of yards on the ground compared to 2019.
Similar thoughts to the "Stellar" scenario here for special teams where he still asserts himself in this phase of the game.
In this hypothetical discussion, this may be something more reflective on the offense as whole. The yards per game overall go down, thus the average points on the scoreboard decrease as well. That could be because of how the offensive line solidifies, or maybe opposing defenses stack up against the run if the passing game does not keep them honest.
Watson still improves his numbers from last year in this scenario, however, but others may also step up in the running back room to have more carries as well.
I've always been pretty high on Watson's capabilities, so I do feel he will increase his output from a year prior in a more impactful manner. There are questions for the offense in terms of replacing Taylor, wide receiver Quintez Cephus, and an interior of the offensive line led by All-American center Tyler Biadasz.
However, I'm an optimistic guy. I think it will be fun to watch the Texas native receive the opportunity to showcase his talents further.