Turnover margin is a statistical line that can greatly impact a team’s win/loss record. Kentucky finished the 2020 season with an SEC leading +12 margin. 2020 was also the year of the interception. UK picked off 16 passes which ranked first in the SEC and tied for third in the nation. In this post we’ll take a look at which players and position groups led the Cats in interceptions and project 2021 personnel.
Kentucky cornerbacks contributed five interceptions during the 2020 season. Kelvin Joseph paced the Cats with four picks. That number was good enough to finish the season tied for eighth in the nation and second in the SEC. Joseph was later selected in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Fellow corner Brandin Echols also heard his name called on Draft Day after the New York Jets took the former junior college defensive back in the sixth round. Echols pitched in one interception last season. Replacing Echols and Joseph will be a tall task for coordinator Brad White. Veteran and former starter Cedrick Dort looks to take over for Echols and sophomore Carrington Valentine will compete for the other cornerback position.
Kentucky linebackers produced the most interceptions a year ago with six. Led by Washington’s first round draft pick Jamin Davis’ three INT’s, a group of three linebackers contributed one a piece. They were: Jordan Wright, Boogie Watson, and D’Eryk Jackson. Replacing Jamin Davis will be another difficult proposition for the Wildcat defense. In addition, Boogie Watson now calls Pittsburgh home. However, incoming Ole Miss transfer Jacquez Jones is a seasoned veteran that looks to fill the void left by Davis’ exit. Will linebacker DeAndre Square is the quarterback of the defense and will provide solid leadership for all linebacker spots in Stoops’ 3-4 scheme. Edge defender Jordan Wright has displayed havoc producing numbers in the past and will be joined by JJ Weaver.
The safety/nickel position is loaded with multi-year starters that should provide a solid backstop for new starting cornerbacks. Safeties and nickel defenders produced three interceptions in 2020. All SEC safety Yusuf Corker is the leader of the third level. Corker intercepted two passes last season. Fellow safety Tyrell Ajian contributed one pick and returns to join nickel Davonte Robinson to construct a veteran, senior-led collection of explosive defenders.
Two of the more athletic interceptions of the 2020 season were made by defensive linemen. Defensive end Josh Paschal intercepted a Mississippi State pass and rambled for 76 yards before being tackled on the two-yard line. Defensive end Phil Hoskins tipped a Georgia pass to himself for a pick. Hoskins is now a Carolina Panther. Paschal is poised for a senior breakout season following a strong spring performance. Two interceptions from the defensive line is somewhat of a high number that may be difficult to replicate in 2021.
What Does All This Mean?
Players that contributed 62.5% of Kentucky’s 2020 interceptions are now in the NFL. Perusing the 2021 schedule shows that UK will face several pass-heavy offenses which will provide a high number of opportunities to produce interceptions. Time will tell.
Hurry up football season.