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NFL Fits

The draft has come and gone with the UK football program making a big mark. Over last weekend in the Music City, five Wildcats heard their name called apart of the three-day extravaganza in addition to five other players agreeing to training camp deals.

It was a historic day that is beginning to have benefits for the program on the recruiting trail. The Kentucky football brand is only getting stronger, but there’s plenty of time this summer to focus on that. Now we need to see just what type of situation each player is going into at the start of their professional career.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Josh Allen (1st Round, 7th overall)

Tom Coughlin won two Super Bowls as the head coach of the New York Giants and there his teams were paced by some tremendous edge rushers. After having the best defense in the NFL in 2017, the Jags took a step back in 2018 due, in part to, a limited outside pass rush. They addressed that need with their first pick in 2019.

After ranking second in the NFL in sacks in 2017, Jacksonville slipped to 22nd this past season on their way to a disappointing 5-11 season. Even with a large amount of money contributed to new quarterback Nick Foles, the defense is going to lead the way for the Jags in the AFC South.

Under defensive coordinator Todd Wash and linebackers coach Mark Collins, Allen will be used at the Sam linebacker position he played in his first three seasons in Lexington opposed to the Jack edge position he played in 2018. In the hybrid 4-3 scheme, Allen will be asked to play pass coverage quite often but the Jags will be sure to have the pass rushing phenom scream off the edge.

On the defensive line, the Jags have three-time All-Pro selection Calais Campbell at end and former top-three pick Marcell Dareus at tackle. There is talent in the front seven with athletic linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith playing inside. Josh Allen should get plenty of opportunities to do what he does best and that is speed rush. This defense is filled with a ton of young, talented pieces and Allen fits that mold. If he is able to adjust to the NFL game quickly, he’ll have a great shot at defensive rookie of the year honors.

Houston Texans: Lonnie Johnson, Jr. (2nd round, 54th overall)

The former junior college prospect became a starter halfway through his junior season and turned into a very reliable piece for Kentucky’s stalwart defense in 2018. With great size, length, and athleticism, Johnson wowed scouts in the pre-draft process and became a day two pick at the NFL Draft.

The Houston Texans picked him up on Friday night and he was their first defensive selection of the draft. Entering this season, Romeo Crennel’s defense has two solidified corners in Jonathan Joseph and Aaron Colvin, but the former is 35 years old. Houston needs the big, athletic corner to be a contributor on all special teams in addition to providing depth to the outside corner spots.

The corner that Johnson will be competing with will be NFL journeyman Briean Boddy-Calhoun who will only be making $900,000 in the last year of his contract this fall. Houston also scooped up Central Michigan corner Xavier Crawford in the sixth round, but the expectation will be for Johnson to emerge as a major contributor in 2020 and then become a full-time starter in 2021.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Edwards (3rd round, 99th overall)

One of the best secondary players to ever suit up at Kentucky was drafted on late Friday night and will be heading to Tampa to play for first-year head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Edwards will be entering a secondary room that is young, but full of opportunity.

Last year the Bucs started a rookie and a second-year play at their two safety spots on their way to having the sixth worst defense in the NFL according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA advanced stats rankings. The Bucs will be having a lot of open competitions. Edwards will bring versatility to the team by being able to play both safety positions in addition to being a slot corner. It will be a heated training camp battle down in the Sunshine State.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Benny Snell (4th round, 122nd overall)

The program’s all-time leading rusher and perhaps the most beloved player to ever wear the blue and white went off the board much earlier than expected. Benny Snell heard his name called in the first round of the Saturday session and there couldn’t have been many better situations.

Many draft analysts believed Snell would be a sixth or seventh round selection or even go undrafted if things got crazy. However, the Steelers are looking for something a little different at running back and Snell fits that.

Following the departure of Le’Veon Bell to the Jets, there was an obvious hole to fill on the Pittsburgh roster. After going linebacker, receiver, corner to start the draft, the Steelers knew they would have to go running back soon. In the fourth round, they selected Snell and he’ll be competing for the RB2 role.

James Conner was a legit RB1 for Pittsburgh last year rushing for 973 yards, recording 55 receptions, and collecting 13 touchdowns in a breakout season. After that there is a void. The Steelers want to have a physical running game and former NC State utility man Jaylen Samuels is best suited in a third down back/fourth wideout type role. So for Conner’s primary backup it’ll be a battle between Snell and Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher Ralph Webb.

So this summer at Steelers camp it will be the the SEC’s sixth all-time leading rusher (Webb) and 12th all-time leading rusher (Snell) going at it for playing time and potentially a roster spot. That will be some big boy football.

New York Giants: George Asafo-Adjei (7th round, 232nd overall)

UK’s biggest draft surprise occurred in the final round when the G-Men and now notoriously known general manager Dave Gettleman selected UK’s starting right tackle to help round out their draft. Up in New York/New Jersey, the former top-500 recruit in the class of 2015 will be finally making the full-time move to guard.

Due to roster construction, Kentucky had to use Asafo-Adjei at right tackle but now he’ll be moving to his more natural position on the interior. The West Chester, Ohio native had an impressive showing at UK’s pro day after not being invited to the combine and that is likely the main reason he heard his name called in the draft.

The Giants spent a second round pick on an offensive guard last year and acquired Kevin Zeitler from the Browns in a trade this offseason. In camp, Asafo-Adjei will be competing with Nick Gates and Chad Slate for the primary backup guard role and a spot on the 53-man roster. Gates was an undrafted free agent who was hurt last season while Slate spent 2018 on the practice squad. Asafo-Adjei will have a legit opportunity to make the club with a good training camp.

Derrick Baity, Jr. (Houston Texas, Undrafted Free Agent)

Four-year starting field corner Derrick Baity, Jr. went undrafted, but it did not take long for the Houston Texans to sign him. There he will be reunited with fellow UK corner Lonnie Johnson and there is a big need for corners on J.J. Watt’s defense. If Baity can outperform Johnson and fellow draft pick Xavier Crawford in camp he could make the 53-man roster.

Dorian Baker (Cleveland Browns, Undrafted Free Agent)

The three-year starting wide receiver signed quickly with his hometown team after the draft and it will be a very steep uphill climb. The Browns acquired Odell Beckham this offseason to team up with Jarvis Landry in addition to Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins being quality third and fourth options. For Baker to have any chance, he’ll have to make a ton of plays on special teams.

Chris Westry (Dallas Cowboys, Undrafted Free Agent)

During the entire draft process there was one specific NFL franchise that seemed to be infatuated with Chris Westry and that was the Cowboys. Many believed that Dallas would select him, but it was almost immediately after the draft when he was signed. The 6-foot-4 corner joins fifth round pick Michael Jackson, Sr. and there are reserve spots to be had. It’s clear that Dallas really likes Westry and he should get plenty of looks in camp.

Darius West (Oakland Raiders, Undrafted Free Agent)

After early reports linked UK’s starting free safety to the Giants and Chiefs, the former blue-chip prospect landed on the Raiders for a shot at making Jon Gruden’s club. The silver and black took Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram at the end of the first round, but he is likely a strong safety. West brings free safety experience and great speed to the table. If he balls out on special teams he should have a legitimate chance to make the team.

Bunchy Stallings (Jacksonville Jaguars, Undrafted Free Agent)

The first-team All-American did not hear his name called in the draft, but immediately signed with the Jags to join fellow UK teammate Josh Allen in Jacksonville. With Nick Foles now in town and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo calling the shots there could be some wide open competition for some spots on the offense. However, Stallings appears to have a steep hill to climb to crack the rotation.

C.J. Conrad (New York Giants, Undrafted Free Agent)

An unexpected heart issue popped up at the combine causing C.J. Conrad to not be able to workout and forcing many teams to totally remove him from their draft boards. This likely costed UK another draft pick, but we’re all just happy to hear that Conrad appears to be fine and should be able to continue his playing career. With NYG, Conrad enters the offseason with a great chance at cracking the rotation and to become a special teams starter.

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Article written by Adam Luckett

Twitter: @AdamLuckettKSR