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Badgers roster breakdown: Starting QB Graham Mertz facing high expectations after roller-coaster season
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UW POSITION PREVIEW | QUARTERBACKS

Badgers roster breakdown: Starting QB Graham Mertz facing high expectations after roller-coaster season

From the Badgers roster breakdown: Everything you need to know about every position on Wisconsin's football team series
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Graham Mertz

Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz finished last season with nine touchdowns and five interceptions after battling a COVID-19 infection and shoulder injury.

As the University of Wisconsin football team prepares to kick off the 2021 season, the Wisconsin State Journal is offering an unprecedented inside look at this year's roster.

From players breaking down their teammates' performances in camp and what to expect this season, to beat reporter Colten Bartholomew sharing his expertise on key position battles and players to watch, we've got Badgers fans covered.

In the first part of our position-by-position breakdown series, UW tight end Jake Ferguson discusses this year's quarterback corps as we take an in-depth look at Graham Mertz and Co.:

Depth chart

Projected starter — Ht.; Wt.; Yr.; Hometown

Graham Mertz — 6-3; 227; So.; Overland Park, Kan.

Key backups

Chase Wolf — 6-1; 200; Jr.; Cincinnati

Danny Vanden Boom — 6-5; 207; Sr.; Kimberly, Wis.

The rest

Deacon Hill — 6-3; 248; Fr.; Santa Barbara, Calif.

Teammate's take

In the first part of the Wisconsin State Journal's 2021 Badgers position-by-position breakdown, UW tight end Jake Ferguson shares his take on the quarterback room this season.

Overview

Graham Mertz - UW vs. Illinois

Graham Mertz (above) enters a season as the known starter for the first time in his UW career. He took the first team reps throughout spring practices and entered fall camp with high expectations. Mertz was named to the preseason watchlist for the Davey O’Brien Award, given to the top quarterback in the country, and he’s been in the spotlight as one of the Big Ten Conference’s most important players coming into the season.

But the Mertz hype train fell off the tracks for a time last season. After lighting up Illinois (above) for five touchdowns in his starting debut, Mertz struggled with his timing, accuracy and footwork through the middle of the season, finishing with nine TDs and five interceptions. However, he was battling through a COVID-19 infection and shoulder injury, along with his top two receivers being injured for a majority of the season. Mertz believes his issues were solved through repetition during the offseason, and UW’s chances of winning the Big Ten ride on Mertz elevating his play and thereby the Badgers' offense as a whole.

A healthy receiving corps should allow Mertz to push the ball down the field more often, an area in which he’s among the best in college football. He completed 7 of 18 passes of more than 20 air yards last season, per Pro Football Focus. Those throws resulted in 220 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Mertz must eliminate the turnovers he committed last season. He gave away the ball an average of once per game between picks and fumbles.

Chase Wolf - UW vs. Minnesota

Chase Wolf (above) projects to be Mertz’s backup and Danny Vanden Boom is the elder statesman in the room. Wolf brings more athleticism to the QB spot and stepped in to throw a go-ahead touchdown pass against Minnesota, but he had two interceptions in eight attempts last season. Wolf’s mobility was a useful weapon at times, but opponents often knew he was coming into games for designed quarterback runs.

Ready to make a leap

Mertz has all the physical tools a quarterback needs and says he’s in a better mental space than ever before entering this season.

If Mertz can play as well as he feels, Russell Wilson’s program record of 33 touchdown passes set in 2011 could be in jeopardy.

University of Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz speaks to the media Friday about head coach Paul Chyst's work with the quarterbacks.

Looking forward

If things go well for Mertz, it could be his last season at UW.

Enter freshman Deacon Hill (above), who gained recruiting buzz after he committed to UW and stuck to his word after some late offers, including one from UCLA. Hill isn’t likely to compete for the starting job immediately, but he could put pressure on those second or third spots on the depth chart. His arm strength is his best asset, but adjusting to the speed of the college game after not playing at the highest level in high school would be a tough ask.

Hill and 2022 commit Myles Burkett could be battling for first- and second-team reps as soon as next season.

The number

6.27 | Average yards per pass attempt by the Badgers last season, the program’s worst since 2004 (6.17).


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