Wisconsin cornerback Rachad Wildgoose has left the program to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft, he announced in a tweet this past Friday morning. The announcement came as a major surprise to Wisconsin fans and Big Ten media alike, given his relatively low draft stock from a national perspective. Wildgoose will forego his senior season with the Badgers, a route few defensive standouts have chosen under Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard.
Wildgoose’s decision may have been made easier due to an injury he sustained two weeks ago in Wisconsin’s loss at Northwestern. Wildgoose left the game in the first half, and was seen on the sidelines in a sling during the second half. As has been the case repeatedly during this season, the severity of his injury was unknown — last week’s Minnesota/Wisconsin showdown was cancelled far before the team was required to put out an injury report.
UW Head Coach Paul Chryst hinted at the injury playing a big part in Wildgoose leaving early.
“Each kid makes a decision for different reasons,” Chryst said in his press conference Monday. “You want to listen and be supportive … After he got injured, I think he felt the timing was right.”
It’s been an interesting couple of years for the Miami native. A consensus three-star recruit out of high school, Wildgoose redshirted his freshman season in Madison before starting seven games in 2018 as a redshirt freshman. He got the starting nod in 13 of 14 games last season for the Badgers, missing only then-No. 12 Wisconsin’s division-clinching victory over then-No. 8 Minnesota in Minneapolis.
As the top cornerback on Wisconsin’s defense this season, Wildgoose had an impressive week one performance defending Illinois wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe. He held the ILL wideout to three catches for just 26 yards in the win.
“I think I played well technique-wise,” Wildgoose said after the win over Illinois. “They gave me a lot of targets tonight, given that that was their number one. The ceiling has yet to be reached.”
Leonhard and the Badgers already played one game without Wildgoose covering an opponent’s top wide receiver this fall. In week four, Wildgoose was required to sit out Wisconsin’s game against Michigan due to COVID-19 protocol. A combination of Hicks, Collin Wilder and Scott Nelson rotated into bigger roles that evening, holding Michigan quarterback Joe Milton to an abysmal 9-19, 98 yards and two interceptions.
That’s not to say Wisconsin is better off without Wildgoose — whether by injury or opt-out. Rather, it’s a testament to the depth Leonhard has to his advantage on defense. Nelson commented on Wildgoose’s absence in a positive light after the win at Michigan, but reiterated that the team can excel with a number of different defensive groups on the field.
“We just have a next guy up mentality,” Nelson said. “We miss those guys tremendously, just the energy they bring — we miss having them there. It will be great to have everybody back … I think Coach Leonhard’s scheme is doing a great job of working with all of the guys.”
Wildgoose is the only member of the Wisconsin football team to opt out thus far, but big names across the Big Ten have left a couple of teams scuffling: Micah Parsons from Penn State (1-5) as well as Nico Collins and Dylan McCaffrey from Michigan (2-4), to name a few.
As for where Wildgoose’s NFL career is headed, his draft status still feels very murky. Yet to be mentioned by any prominent analysts as a potential first or second round selection, Wildgoose is an interestingly low-profile candidate for an early opt-out. That being said, if his injury was preventing him from playing anyway, this early opt-out will grant Wildgoose some financial freedom like contacting an agent and conducting private workouts.
Wisconsin fans should expect to see another combination of Wilder, Hicks and Nelson playing in the nickel formation to cover for the loss of Wildgoose, with Caesar Williams the most-likely candidate to take over as the top cornerback.