The season is quickly approaching and the Wildcats are putting in work on the recruiting trail. Vince Marrow and the rest of the staff are collecting the best wide receiver haul of the Mark Stoops era in the 2020 cycle. It is much needed.
The wide receiver position has been a spot of weakness on the UK offense since the former Florida State defensive coordinator took over the program in 2013. This season, under wide receivers coach Michael Smith, Kentucky is going to attempt to change that.
Entering the year, Kentucky has one solid answer and multiple players with some big time snaps under their belt. The Wildcats have experience at quarterback and will enter 2019 with 11 scholarship wideouts. It’s time for the this group to produce and it feels like they have the required pieces to make some noise in the SEC.
Lynn Bowden, Jr. was one of the biggest recruiting wins in recent memory and the Youngstown, Ohio blue-chipper evolved into a true gamebreaker for the Wildcats in 2018. Bowden led the offense with 67 grabs and a very efficient 80.7% catch rate. Despite averaging just 11.1 yards per catch, Bowden was easily Kentucky’s best big play option on offense.
In the upset wins over Florida and Penn State, Bowden was responsible for multiple chunk plays that helped produce scores. In the road loss to Texas A&M, he took a jet sweep 54 yards to paydirt for UK’s only offensive score of the night. Against Georgia, the slot receiver recorded six catches for 52 yards. He roasted Louisville’s olé defense by scoring two touchdowns on six receptions. No matter who the Wildcats played, Bowden was a huge part of the gameplan.
Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Vanderbilt’s Kalija Lipscomb are the only returning receivers who collected more grabs than Bowden last season. The receiver/wildcat quarterback/return man extraordinare will be an All-SEC pick at SEC Media Days next month in Hoover. With the offense putting more trust in Terry Wilson, Bowden will be called on to make more plays vertically and he has proven to be capable in that regard. He’ll look to become Kentucky’s first wideout in nearly a decade to record over 1,00o yards in a season and that feels like a pretty safe bet.
Enjoy the playmaker in 2019 because this will likely be his last season playing in the blue and white. The guy is a pro.
After the 2016 season, Kentucky had a big hole at the wide receiver position. Jeff Badet unexpectedly left the program for Oklahoma and Dorian Baker suffered a season ending injury in fall camp. That opened a big opportunity for the five wide receivers added in that recruiting haul.
Lynn Bowden, Jr. contributed right away. JaVonte Richardson redshirted and later left the program for the junior college ranks. Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, and Clevan Thomas, Jr. were thrown in the fire right away. As expected, they struggled in their rookie campaign.
The coaching staff decided to redshirt Thomas in 2018, while Ali and Epps were a major part of the rotation this past season. The two outside receivers combined for 18 receptions, 191 yards, and a 60 percent catch rate. Those numbers are not good enough and must improve with these two becoming upperclassmen.
Entering this season, 63.6 percent of UK’s receivers will be underclassmen. That’s a big number, but should tell you that the future of this position should be very bright. We saw a bit of the young talent in the spring game.
Bryce Oliver came from out of nowhere to have a huge spring game and it’s pretty evident that he will be a huge part of the rotation this season. The redshirt freshman has the ability to play both outside and inside with a very solid catch radius. He’ll be a guy Mark Stoops and Eddie Gran will be asked about a million times in fall camp, but there are other players available.
B.J. Alexander has the measurables you are looking for in an outside receiver (6-foot-3, 189 pounds) but must just put it all together on the field. Allen Dailey, Jr. had 1,441 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns in his senior year of high school and played sparingly last year. He’s another big target on the outside. Akeem Hayes and Clevan Thomas, Jr. both can contribute in the slot. True freshman Tae Tae Crumes and DeMarcus Harris are likely headed for redshirt season.
There is talent there and UK needs a couple of these guys to take the next step.
Ahmad Wagner spurned a bunch of football programs out of high school when he decided to play hoops at Iowa. After a few years in Iowa City, Wagner decided to give the gridiron a try for two seasons. Kentucky was finally able to land the big outside receiver.
Wagner did not play football until his senior season of high school. That year he recorded over 1,00o yards and 17 touchdowns. He collected first-team All-State honors in Ohio and it was clear he was a special talent. Last year, Wagner was thrown to the fire late in the season and he produced. Just not in the way you would expect.
The 6-foot-5 wideout drew three pass interference penalties in a small sample size and one setup the game winning touchdown at Missouri. He was a total project and entering his senior season, Kentucky will be putting more on his plate. Look for Wagner to be used on deep vertical shots and in the red zone. He could develop into a unique weapon for UK to use in the passing game.
Wide receiver has long been a position of weakness for the Kentucky offense, but now it is time for that to change. UK has a nice blend entering 2019. They have one superstar, a couple of upperclassmen who are in make or break seasons, and a ton of youngsters with potential. Hit on a couple of those upperclassmen, have a couple rookies turn into a reliable option, and this position will be in great shape.