2016 Production and Accolades
If you wanted to fire up a Kentucky football fan between the 2015 and 2016 season, all you had to do was say, “the wide receivers are going to be really good under Lamar Thomas.” No position group was more divisive than the wide receivers. Dropping passes is an incomprehensible phenomenon for fans. Luckily, we saw fewer drops in 2016 (even though they don’t keep stats for comparison, it’s safe to say that was the case).
With Drew Barker at quarterback, the receivers were explosive against Southern Miss, with the play of Tavin Richardson (2 big plays for 74 yards), Jeff Badet (72-yard touchdown) and Garrett “Juice” Johnson (143 yards and 2TDs) providing optimism for the future. An awful second half and Barker’s injury against Florida changed our minds and the offense’s scheme quickly.
It took Kentucky almost half a season, but after the Alabama game, Stephen Johnson got settled in the pocket and went to work. The deep posts to Jeff Badet were a thing of beauty. Garrett Johnson was the Cats’ most reliable (at times) receiver in the intermediate passing game. Dorian Baker made big plays down the stretch while C.J. Conrad and Ryan Timmons provided relief in the quick passing game.
Numbers for UK’s Top 10 Receivers:
There’s no denying the receivers improved under Lamar Thomas. They weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either.
Lamar Thomas’ impact was immediately felt. Through the first three games, people forgot about the drops…but they didn’t go away for good. Jeff Badet’s potential touchdown-drop-turned-interception changed the momentum of the Georgia game and Juice had a mid-season slump. A hamstring injury kept Dorian Baker from significantly contributing until the second-half of the season and Johnson could never get the timing right on the quick RPO pass to the tight ends.
With that being said, the unit showed signs of improvement. Downfield blocking helped the running backs bust big runs and the receivers made big plays when they needed to. Juice had a few homeruns against UofL and Dorian Baker finished the season strong, providing plenty of optimism for the future.
- Ryan Timmons: The Kentucky kid had an up-and-down career, but he finished on a high note. Third on the team in receiving in ’16, Timmons made the routine, under-appreciated plays that kept drives alive.
- Jeff Badet: Kentucky’s best deep ball threat will graduate from UK and transfer for his final year of eligibility. The fastest player on the team, Badet led the team in receiving yards with 670. He was sixth in the nation in yards per catch at 21.61.
- Zy’Aire Hughes: The athlete from McCracken County will play an important role in the slot. He’ll fill the hole left by Timmons and allow Juice to take reps at outside receiver.
- Dakota Holtzclaw: The tallest player on the team, the former early enrollee used the redshirt year to add much-needed size.
- Justin Rigg: A special teams participant in the first three games until a lacerated kidney sidelined him for the season, few players received more praise during bowl practice than Rigg. He’ll receive plenty of reps next year, but will likely be featured more as a blocker than a pass-catcher.
- Clevan Thomas: The early enrollee has South Florida breakaway-speed, lethal in the short passing game. What makes Thomas different than UK’s previous speedsters is his size; Thomas is a hair shy of 6-feet tall. Thomas’ father, Clevan Sr., was a defensive back for Florida State in the 90s.
- Javonte Richardson: Until Lynn Bowden committed to Kentucky (another potential slot WR), Richardson was the highest-ranked commit in the class. One of the top 300 prospects in the nation, Richardson has everything you want in an outside receiver: size, speed and the ability to create space.
- Isaiah Epps: Epps could be the steal of the class. Without much attention from scouting services, Epps excelled at Oklahoma powerhouse, Jenks. Expect to hear plenty of praise from Freddie on NSD.
- Joshua Ali: Teammates with defensive end Chris Whittaker, Ali is a jack-of-all trades who will bring plenty of speed to Lexington.
Losing big-play Badet hurts, but there are plenty of contenders to be the “next man up” (Richardson, Richardson, Jabari Greenwood, Kayaune Ross, etc.). That storyline will dominate the offseason, but there’s only one storyline to pay attention to: will the 2014 class live up to the hype?
Dorian Baker and Juice Johnson have shown flashes of greatness throughout their inconsistent careers. You’ll rarely watch any football game without seeing at least one drop. It happens. Next year, it must be an anomaly for the upperclassmen. They must set the tone for the younger players and provide leadership. If they do, the passing game can be the best we’ve seen at Kentucky under Stoops. If they do not, there are plenty of hungry underclassmen waiting for their chance.
On a larger scale, Darin Hinshaw’s primary focus should be on the short passing game. Kentucky needs to make the screen pass a threat. Efficiently executing screen passes opens up the vertical pass game, maybe even more than an effective run game. There must also be a concerted effort to get the ball to C.J. Conrad. A weapon in the red zone, he must be used as such.
The Wildcat pass-catchers were better in 2016. If they put it all together and use the offseason to their advantage, they will be the best we’ve seen in quite some time in 2017.