Boogie Watson was vastly underappreciated during his stay in Lexington. High production and dependability were traits that led Watson to play in nearly fifty career games including 29 starts. The old football adage applies when discussing Watson, “The best ability is availability.” His absence will be more discernible when Louisiana Monroe rolls into Kroger Field.
The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Jamar “Boogie” Watson to a free agent contract following the 2021 NFL Draft. Watson played a great deal of football for Coach Mark Stoops. First, we’ll take a look at Watson’s impact as a Kentucky Wildcat and then project how the Cats replace the outside linebacker.
Boogie Watson is a 6’3, 244-pound outside linebacker that played in 49 games including 19 consecutive starts. Watson totaled 107 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 14 QB hurries, 5 forced fumbles, 4 pass breakups, 1 interception, and 1 fumble recovery during his Wildcat career. His efforts in 2020 earned the Maryland native second-team All SEC honors by Phil Steele. His senior season produced 40 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 5 QB sacks to go along with a spectacular interception against Mississippi State.
Watson started his career opposite of Josh Allen to form one of the program’s most effective pass rush duos in program history. Allen left Lexington as UK’s all-time leader with 31.5 QB sacks. Watson’s career produced 18.5 sacks which is good enough to be ranked 5th in Kentucky history. The now Steeler showed versatility by playing both outside linebacker roles. His production and veteran presence will be missed on a defense that is faced with replacing six starters. So, what’s next for Brad White?
Watson’s vacated outside linebacker position is where the two-deep depth chart gets complicated. K.D. McDaniel served as Watson’s backup a year ago but only played in five games and recorded one tackle. McDaniel is listed at 6’2, 250-pounds. Joining him is Georgia Tech transfer Justice Dingle. The former Bowling Green Purple played defensive end in his final season in Atlanta but is now transitioning back to outside linebacker. A highly sought after prospect, Dingle possesses game experience which could prove to be an invaluable quality. Yet another option is to move Jordan Wright from Sam linebacker to the Jack position. This move makes the most sense if JJ Weaver’s return from surgery is timely. Wright at the Jack would also give UK the opportunity to put its best four linebackers on the field at the same time.
What Does All This Mean?
Replacing the program’s 5th ranked pass rusher is going to be more of a challenging proposition than most think. Watson’s production and influence on Brad White’s defense cannot be undervalued. K.D. McDaniel served as Watson’s backup a year ago and will challenge Justice Dingle for the starting role. Moving Jordan Wright from Sam to Jack is a proven option. Also, incoming true freshman Trevin Wallace is the wild card for multiple linebacker spots in UK’s 3-4 scheme.
In this series we previously discussed replacing Mike linebacker Jamin Davis. Kentucky registered just 15 QB sacks in 2020. Thus, I’d argue that finding a substitute for Boogie Watson could be equally as challenging. Brad White and the Kentucky defense has to replace six pros. To me, this is as much of a storyline as Liam Coen’s new offense and the quarterback competition.
Check out the rest of Freddie’s series on how Kentucky will replace its new pros: