The time it takes for incoming players to develop into contributors greatly varies. Levels of contribution also differs. Factors that drive on-field significance are influenced by opportunity, talent, depth chart mobility, willingness to work, and more. In this post we’ll discuss Kentucky’s offensive players that are in differing development stages for the 2017 season. These Wildcats will be divided amongst five categories that are named: It’s Time, National Honors, Conference Honors, First to Second Year, and Red to Blue Shirts. Please note that not all offensive players fit into these predesignated columns.
Let’s get started:
The name of this developmental stage is self-explanatory. The following player entered the program with a high probability to succeed and has been on the team for an adequate amount of time to start playing at a high level. Expectation has exceeded output; it’s time to step up or get stepped over on the depth chart.
Receiver Blake Bone
Bone started his UK career with 20 receptions, 210 yards, and 1 touchdown in his freshman campaign. His numbers dipped as a sophomore: 14 catches, 194 yards, and 2 TD’s.
2016: Caught 5 passes for 82 yards. A significant statistical jump in his senior season is mandatory. The outside or X receiver group will be crowded with JaVante Richardson joining Kayaune Ross, Dorian Baker, Tavin Richardson, and others. Playing time will be fiercely contested for in spring practice and fall camp.
This Wildcat is accomplished to the point of collecting national level awards. He could compete for All American honors if projected improvement continues on current, established pace.
Running Back Benny Snell
Throughout 2016, fans and media types were racking their brains to name a historical UK running back that Snell compared to as a rookie. The Freshman All American developed into the program’s standard for all RB’s to measure against by the Austin Peay game as he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark.
2016: 186 carries, 1091 yards, 13 touchdowns.
These Cats could find themselves on All SEC Teams at the end of next season. This projection is based off prior production and also considers work ethic, maturity, talent level, and developmental ceiling.
Receiver Dorian Baker
The rising senior’s best season came as a sophomore: 55 catches, 608 yards, 3 TD’s. In three seasons Baker has caught 88 passes for 1,015-yards, and 6 touchdowns.
2016: 14 catchers, 208 yards, 2 TD’s in limited time due to injury. Call it a hunch; Baker finished 2016 strong and could be in store for a special senior season.
Tight End CJ Conrad
Known throughout the SEC as one of the conference’s best blocking TE/H-Backs. Conrad was close to having a breakout receiving season as a sophomore but QB Stephen Johnson missed on several sure completions that would have given him a higher number of catches. That situation must be remedied in the offseason.
2016: 19 receptions, 262 yards, 4 TD’s. The SEC produced several top level TE’s a year ago. The canvass is wide open for Conrad to secure a spot on the all-conference team.
Guard Nick Haynes
2016: PFF 2nd Team All SEC, Haynes was a consistent force within the interior of the UK offensive line. With Jon Toth’s departure to the NFL, the senior from Niceville, Florida will be called upon to lead John Schlarman’s unit that played at an extremely high level in 2016. Haynes is considered the unit’s top technician.
Receiver Garrett Johnson
“Juice” Johnson career numbers: 107 catches, 1,550-yards, and 9 touchdowns. Poised to become UK’s big-play receiver. Word from the Training Center is that he’s diligently working to finish his Wildcat career with a bang.
2016: 39 receptions, 585 yards, 5 TD’s.
Cole Mosier/Landon Young
2016: Due to positional time share, it’s unlikely that one will be named to an all-conference team. However, the combination thereof has the potential to play at an All SEC level. Mosier is the OL’s rock. Landon Young is the group’s future rock star.
First to Second Year
The most populated category, this collection of prior true-redshirt freshmen and JUCO transfers established early playing time in 2016. Their jump from rookie to veteran status could prominently influence UK’s win/loss column.
Tight End Greg Hart
Coaches throughout the Southeastern Conference rave about Kentucky’s blocking TE’s. Hart is a physical football player on the field and a resilient leader off.
2016: 6 catches, 32 yards. Hart is Eddie Gran’s designated blocking TE or H-Back dependent upon formation.
Quarterback Stephen Johnson
This story has been well documented on numerous occasions. The JUCO transfer took over for Drew Barker on a full-time basis in week three against New Mexico State. While fumble prone and at times inaccurate in short to intermediate routes, the California native went on to lead the Wildcats to a New Year’s Bowl. Johnson was named the MVP of the Governor’s Cup after standing toe-to-toe with the eventual Heisman Trophy winning QB Lamar Jackson: 16/27, 338 yards, 3 TD’s passing; 8 rushes, 83 yards rushing.
2016: 145/265, 2037 yards, 13 TD’s, 6 INT’s passing. He also rushed for 327 yards and 3 scores.
Receiver Tavin Richardson
There were moments in 2016 that Richardson established himself as the Wildcat’s go-to receiver for the future. Consistency should be more present in his second season.
2016: 9 catches, 160 yards.
Receiver Kayaune Ross
Battled injuries; Ross is a physical specimen that presents Lamar Thomas with an answer in the Red Zone.
2016: 2 catches, 10 yards, 1 TD.
Guard Logan Stenberg
2016: 1st Team Freshman All SEC. Stenberg is a rising star.
Tackle Mason Wolfe
2016: Provided depth and played on special teams. Another developmental project that will show strides.
Red to Blue Shirts
The following players redshirted and are expected to compete for playing time in 2017.
Offensive Lineman Luke Fortner has been described as “Jon Toth” like. If that proves to be true, Fortner will be a plug-and-play lineman that can play multiple positions.
Quarterback Gunnar Hoak went 5/5 in last year’s spring game and will push Stephen Johnson for the starting quarterback job. At a minimum, Hoak will be a consistent backup for Darin Hinshaw.
Receiver Za’Aire Hughes seems to be the forgotten name within the inside or slot receiver position previews. Hughes has an opportunity to impress in spring practice prior to the arrival of Lynn Bowden and Josh Ali. Expect to see the Paducah native active on special teams.
Center Drake Jackson will be expected to compete for the starting center position vacated by Jon Toth. Jackson was ranked as one of the nation’s top centers coming out of Woodford County HS.
Tackle Tate Leavitt was expected to compete for immediate playing time a year ago. After adjusting to SEC football last spring and fall camp, it was decided that a redshirt year would best benefit the Hutchinson CC product.
Tight End Justin Rigg was the talk of fall camp. An injury forced a redshirt but did not stop Vince Marrow from gushing over his prized TE from Ohio.
Running Back AJ Rose simulated Lamar Jackson and Justin Thomas on the scout team which should bode well for Eddie Gran’s Wildcat package going forward. AJ Rose is a name that the BBN should get used to hearing going into spring practice. We had Rose evaluated extremely high on National Signing Day.
Player development is the absolute backbone of a program like Kentucky. 5-star prospects aren’t overpopulating its locker room. Mark Stoops and staff rely on early evaluation and good ole fashion hard work to better his team on an annual basis. Spring practice starts soon.