Vince Marrow is known across the college football landscape as being an ace recruiter. On top of his tight end coaching duties, Marrow also serves as Mark Stoops’ associate head coach and NFL Liaison. To sum all that up, The Big Dog is crucial in signing the Cat’s top talent. After development, Marrow then assists outgoing players with their initial path to the National Football League. UK has produced eleven Draft picks during the Stoops era. However, there was a two-year stretch that saw the Cats have zero players drafted. As you could imagine, that didn’t sit well with Vince Marrow. His quote following the 2018 Draft was bold yet prophetic, “I guarantee from now on we will not have an undrafted player.”
Since that statement in 2018, Kentucky has produced seven Draft picks in the past two years. That list includes four Wildcats that were selected in the first three rounds: Josh Allen (1st), Lonnie Johnson (2nd), Mike Edwards (3rd), Lynn Bowden (3rd).
Why the Drought?
Linebacker Avery Williamson was a senior on Stoops’ first UK team and was later picked by the Titans in the fifth round of the 2014 Draft. A year later Bud Dupree was taken by the Steelers in the first round and was joined by future All Pro edge defender Za’Darius Smith who was selected by the Ravens in the 4th. LB Josh Forrest was the Cat’s lone draftee in 2016 before Kentucky went on a two-year stretch of not being involved in the Draft process.
“I guarantee from now on we will not have an undrafted player.”
Let’s be honest here, Mark Stoops didn’t exactly inherit a cupboard that was bursting at the seams with talent. College football rosters take time to mature. Converting promising prospects into NFL players inside of a winning environment is not an overnight process. The Cats have enjoyed a successful run in producing pro’s once players that were signed by Stoops came of Draft age. The most fruitful collection was the 2019 group that included the seventh overall selection OLB Josh Allen (Jaguars). He was joined by cornerback Lonnie Johnson (Texans), safety Mike Edwards (Buccaneers), running back Benny Snell (Steelers), and offensive tackle George Asafo-Adjei (Giants). That class totaled five picks from a team that finished the season with a 10-3 record and a Citrus Bowl championship. Do-it-all athlete Lynn Bowden (Raiders) and OG Logan Stenberg (Lions) were drafted in 2020.
So, back to the original question. Why the drought? To say that Stoops had a deep personnel hole to climb out of upon his arrival to Lexington would be a tremendous understatement. The Wildcats are a program that’s dependent on player development after selecting or recruiting players that fit the program’s blue collar culture. As simple as this may sound, hard work was the only solution. Draft picks began to flow once the players signed and developed by Stoops were in the program for a requisite amount of time. As the head coach once famously said, “We’re just gettin started bro.” He’s right. Kentucky’s roster is now littered with future professionals.
2021 Pro Day
Much like Marrow predicted, all NFL eyes were on Kentucky’s Pro Day on Wednesday. Linebacker Jamin Davis has been jetting up recent Mock Drafts and garnered league-wide attention. He didn’t disappoint. Davis measured 6’3 ½, 234-pounds. He blazed the 40 in 4.37 seconds and posted a 42-inch vertical jump. Combine those measurables with his junior tape, and you can see why NFL franchises are willing to spend a first round pick on the Ludowici, Georgia native. The only question that remains about Davis is when he’ll hear his name called on the event’s first night (1st Round). Cornerback Kelvin Joseph is also being mentioned in first round circles. Joseph recorded a 4.37-40 which validated the numbers that were coming out of his training facility. Tackle Landon Young also impressed by throwing up 34 reps of 225-pounds on the bench press and running a 4.9-40 while measuring 6’6 ½, 310-pounds. Cornerback Brandin Echols’ 42.5 vertical leap and 4.34-40 certainly improved his position.
— AJ Rose-6’1, 215. 4.39-40, 34’ vertical, 24 BP reps.
— Boogie Watson-6’1, 241. 4.69-40, 30’ vertical, 19 BP reps.
— Phil Hoskins-6’4, 313. 5.13-40, 30.5 vertical, 20 BP reps.
— Quinton Bohanna-6’4, 327. 5.3-40, 29’ vertical.
— Drake Jackson-6’1, 293. 31’ vertical.
You can read a full rollup of Pro Day results on KSR.
The Big Dog Was Right
Kentucky could produce up to seven players that will be taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. Seven. Marrow nailed it. The future also looks promising. It’s worth repeating, UK is a program that is known for recruiting prospects that are a fit to its culture and player development. “Recruit and Develop” has been a consistent mantra for Stoops and Marrow. The Youngstown duo is now beginning to see the fruits of their labor. The 2022 Draft could also be friendly to the Big Blue Nation. Third level defenders Yusuf Corker, Davonte Robinson, and Tyrell Ajian will have their chance to improve NFL scouts during the 2021 season and at Pro Day a year from now. Defensive end Josh Paschal is a two-time team captain and warrants serious NFL consideration. Offensive tackle Darian Kinnard spurned the League to return to UK in order to improve his Draft stock. Kinnard’s early projections are ranging in the first round. Fellow Big Blue Wall member G Luke Fortner could also hear his name called.
Kentucky pass catchers could dominate the 2022 Pro Day. Can you believe it? It’s true. Receivers Wan’Dale Robinson and Josh Ali will be given ample opportunities to play on Sundays. Liam Coen’s passing game will feature both. Same can be said of tight ends Justin Rigg and potentially Keaton Upshaw if he decides on an early departure. Defensive players OLB Jordan Wright, ILB DeAndre Square, CB Cedrick Dort, and NT Marquan McCall will also be closely monitored by NFL scouts. That leaves us with the catalyst of the Kentucky rushing attack, Christopher Rodriguez Jr. One of the nation’s top returning running backs is scheduled to be featured by Liam Coen which could lead to a profitable pay day next April. It’s worth noting, Jamin Davis was not on Draft boards at this time a year ago. There could be a player develop into a similar situation. Who will it be? We’ll see.
Kentucky isn’t new to developing NFL talent. The Wildcats developed eleven draftees between 2008 and 2012. For additional context, UK had twelve players drafted during the late 80’s-early 90’s. However, I can say without hesitation that Kentucky’s current and future status in the NFL Draft is peaking and could potentially be nearing the program’s pinnacle. “Recruit and Develop” is gaining steam.
So, I guess you could say that the Big Dog was right when he said the following in 2018, “I guarantee from now on we will not have an undrafted player.”