With the commitment of Justin Rogers now on the books for the class of 2020, Kentucky landed their 28th blue-chip prospect (four or five-star ranking) in the Mark Stoops era. Playing in the SEC, Kentucky is always going to be fighting an uphill talent when it comes to the recruiting game, but Stoops and recruiting ace Vince Marrow have helped close the gap.
When Kentucky lands a top notch prospect, it is imperative that they are spot on with their evaluation and are able to develop the player to get him on the field to be a contributor to the team. Early on in the Stoops era, we saw Kentucky miss on some guys and attrition took some out of the program. This played into the fact that it took Kentucky four years to finally post a winning record.
In the first two recruiting classes, Kentucky reeled in nine blue-chip prospects and only Za’Darius Smith became a draft pick. The cornerstone of the first class was Jason Hatcher and the Louisville Trinity alum was dismissed from the team following his sophomore season. Drew Barker and Matt Elam were hailed as big time recruiting wins, but neither could become a full-time starter at Kentucky. Boom Williams, despite not getting drafted, was very successful at the college level. The highest rated wide receiver Kentucky has landed was Thaddeus Snodgrass and the member of the 2014 class transferred to the Division III level after not making an impact at UK.
Where it all began to change for the program was with the class of 2015 despite it being the lowest ranked recruiting haul of the Stoops era. The highest rated commit was Eli Brown who would transfer to WKU after three seasons to what appeared to be a family decision. After that there were not many misses. C.J. Conrad was the only other blue-chip and he was a four-year starter and a third-team All-SEC performer his junior season. Josh Allen and George Asafo-Adjei became draft picks and it looks like Logan Stenberg will be too in the 2020 draft.
Following the 2015 class, Kentucky came through with a very strong instate haul in 2016. Kash Daniel, Drake Jackson, and Landon Young each became quality starters and will be integral parts for the 2019 team. Each will have a shot at all-conference honors while Young has the size and skillset to turn into a day one NFL Draft selection. This began a very hot run of hits on blue-chippers.
The class of 2017 has a very strong chance to become the best signing group of the Stoops era and it starts with the star power. That year Kentucky reeled in five blue-chip prospects headlined by Lynn Bowden. The junior bursted onto the scene last season and all signs point towards a monster junior season. After that, Joshua Paschal, Tyrell Ajian, and Yusuf Corker have all played a reserve role on defense after each taking a redshirt season. It’s clear that they will be a big part of the defense moving forward. UK lost Ja’Vonte Richardson after one season when the big bodied receiver moved to junior college.
This past season we saw Kentucky continue this hot streak. Chris Oats started one game and flashed signs of future stardom in a reserve role. He’ll be a day one starter this season. Darian Kinnard joined the offensive line rotation as a true freshman and he’ll be RT1 entering his sophomore year. Marquan McCall flashed signs of potential and if he’s able to stay in playing shape he’ll be an excellent nose man in UK’s 3-4 scheme.
In the class of 2019, Kentucky was able to have more defensive success by pulling in edge prospects Jared Casey and JJ Weaver out of Louisville in addition to Ohio safety and legacy recruit Moses Douglass. Kentucky continues to add some big time line of scrimmage talent in the class of 2019 with Lamar Goods and John Young on the board with Justin Rogers.
We’re seeing Kentucky turning their top recruits into big time players and that is a very good sign.
The Kentucky football program is as hot as it has ever been on the recruiting trail and it looks like the staff will continue to reel in four-star prospects. In the last two seasons, we’ve seen Kentucky land two major transfers (Ahmad Wagner and Xavier Peters) who were both top-300 recruits out of high school. It will be vital for Kentucky to have a strong hit rate on these players because that is how you turn 7-8 wins into 9-10 wins with consistent top 25 finishes.
With that said, Kentucky’s success is always going to be related to how they evaluate three-star prospects. For every blue-chip there is going to be a couple three-stars and Kentucky must continue to develop these types of players. They’ve had a ton of success with this in the past (Benny Snell, Josh Allen, Bunch Stallings, Josh Forrest, Jordan Jones, etc.) and that will need to continue in the future.