Over the last month one decision weighed heavily on Darian Kinnard. Should he return to Kentucky for one more season or declare for the NFL Draft? There were countless things for the junior offensive tackle to consider. He received feedback from a variety of sources, but Josh Allen’s input was the most significant.
As the Wildcats prepared to play NC State in the Gator Bowl, Kinnard awaited a response from the NFL. UK head coach Mark Stoops said the league’s official feedback would factor heavily into Kinnard’s decision. He received a day two draft grade, projecting either a second or third round selection. It’s the same feedback Josh Allen received following the 2017 season, enough for most to declare for the Draft. Why did Kinnard ultimately decide not to pull the trigger?
“I know personally I have all the confidence in the world in my abilities and how I can play, but sitting down and talking to Josh on the phone, it just made me really sit back and think. This last month was just very stressful, trying to make this decision, but after talking with Josh and understanding where he came from and what he went through, this was probably the best decision for me and my family,” said Kinnard.
“I want to be able to go to the NFL like everybody else. I’m so close but I know there’s some things I gotta work on to make sure I stay in the NFL for a long time. I’m going to come back, work on myself and better my team.”
Allen turned that day two feedback into a first round pick at No. 7 overall, a move worth over $10 million.
“I wanted to be able to come back and improve on all of the feedback I got from the NFL and make sure there was no holes in my game and there was no reason for me to not be a lottery pick next year. I’m just going to come back, bust my ass, play for this team and continue to be the best teammate I can be.”
Becoming a top draft pick is important for Kinnard. Finishing his degree is also a priority. Raised by a single mom, Mandy Headrick, she serves as Darian’s inspiration.
“My mom instilled in me a strong worth ethic. She also taught me that hard work and dedication will reap its rewards. She is the definition of tough and she means the world to me,” he said. “My mom had me before she had her GED and sacrificed and worked extremely hard to attend college. She ultimately earned four degrees and a certification all while raising me as a single parent. She taught me that in life you better finish what you start.”
— ?Darian Kinnard? (@Darian_70) January 4, 2021
Kinnard plans on finishing what he started at Kentucky by proving he is a complete offensive lineman. His new coach, Eric Wolford, spent two seasons working for the San Francisco 49ers and quickly learned that versatility is the most important asset at the next level. Kinnard has started in 26 straight games for Kentucky, beginning at offensive guard near the end of his true freshman season. Most NFL evaluators foresee Kinnard playing in the interior, but he could prove that he can do it all by moving to left tackle in 2021.
“I got the body of a guard and the arms of a tackle. I can move just as well as any tackle. To me, this year is just a finishing statement on the body of work I’ve been doing. At the end of the day, the NFL is going to put me where they’re paying me to do a job. I’ll get it done either way, it doesn’t matter.”
If Kinnard can make a statement similar to the one Josh Allen made in 2018, there’s no doubt he will achieve his goals while helping Kentucky’s offense succeed under new coordinator Liam Coen. Once Luke Fortner decided to return, there was no longer a need to completely rebuild the Big Blue Wall in 2021. Even though there will be some changes, the big men will set the tone.
“Rough and rugged, we’re down to ride for each other. We’re going to be the toughest people on the field. We’re going to go out there and show what we have, ride for our teammates.”