A season after signing its biggest recruiting class in recent memory, Kentucky has taken something of a step back from the high school talent pool. Heading into Early Signing Day, the Wildcats are ranked 37th in 247sport.com’s team rankings and 13th in the SEC. Kentucky is putting more of its eggs in the transfer basket, with the Wildcats already taking commitments from a pair of transfers who were 4-star recruits from their high school classes, Cincinnati’s JQ Hardaway and Alabama’s Tanner Bowles. UK’s high school recruiting class seems to be split between a group of high-impact guys who can, and may, play early and another group of lower-ranked prospects who impressed Mark Stoops and UK with potential for development. Here’s the breakdown on the Wildcats’ high school recruiting situation.

Highest-rated player: 4-star WR Shamar Porter

A year after Kentucky added 4-star receivers Barion Brown and Dane Key — and then saw each play at an SEC All-Freshman Team level — the Wildcats are at it again. Porter, from Ensworth High in Nashville, is ranked as 247sports’ 232nd best player in the nation. The 6-3 standout should be big enough to make plays on the outside (like Key), but swift enough to contribute in the middle of the field (like Brown).

Porter is a track star as well as a football star, and he obtained early offers from Georgia, Tennessee and a bevy of other P5 programs. But Porter shut down his recruiting early, taking his only official visit to Kentucky. Nabbing Porter a year after Brown shows that Kentucky has made significant recruiting inroads in Nashville — not entirely illogical considering the struggles of Vandy, and that Lexington is as close as Knoxville from the capital of the Volunteer State.

Did they bolster the QB room?

Nope. Kentucky will be adding its next quarterback via the transfer portal. The Wildcats’ QB recruiting efforts have not fared well. Destin Wade is still in the program, but the last UK-recruited player to end up as its starting QB was Patrick Towles, who signed with the Wildcats in 2012. But given the progression of transfers Stephen Johnson, Terry Wilson and Will Levis, transfers have treated the Wildcats well.

With the pending return of offensive coordinator Liam Coen in the worst-kept secret in football, UK is planning to add a downfield passer to utilize the wealth of receiver talent … but more on that later.

Best position group: Wide receivers

It was true a season ago, and not much has changed. Kentucky has had about as much trouble producing wide receivers as it has quarterbacks. But on the heels of Coen’s 2021 work with Wan’Dale Robinson, the Wildcats nabbed Brown and Key.

For a 2nd consecutive season, the Wildcats are adding playmakers on the edge, with Porter being the most prominent example. Ohio product Anthony Brown could also surprise. Brown, who is a very high 3-star recruit (No. 428 in the nation per 247), has the speed outside to replicate some of Barion Brown’s 2021 success. Ardell Banks and Jakob Dixon are both 6-4 athletes, and Stoops and company think they can bring them to the next level. There’s plenty of production and potential with these guys.

Biggest need filled: Defensive back

Kentucky’s secondary has been excellent, but the Wildcats have had a bit of a patchwork feel in recent years. Keidron Smith helped as a transfer import, but with Smith and fellow senior Tyrell Ajian departing, junior corner Carrington Valentine checking out the NFL and former standout Vito Tisdale coming back from serious injury, the Wildcats definitely needed some depth.

Enter 4-star Alabama signee Avery Stuart, who visited Florida State after visiting UK but then committed to the Wildcats. Florida 4-star Jaremiah “Grady Judd” Anglin Jr. is another piece of that puzzle. And hometown recruit Ty Bryant is a legacy Wildcat who has been well-trained at Frederick Douglass High (former home of Key, Clemson OT Walker Parks and many others). These secondary recruits may not see a ton of time in 2023, but in a couple of years, this might well be an all-SEC group.

Biggest potential flip: 3-star OL Koby Keenum

This probably was a much more potent angle a month ago. But Keenum, an Alabama offensive lineman with the kind of nasty streak that coaches love, was still being heavily recruited by Mississippi State long after his commitment. Keenum made an official visit to Starkville on Dec. 2, and he had also visited Ole Miss. But he has indicated that he’s firmly on board with the Wildcats.

Given Kentucky’s recent offensive line issues, Keenum is a big get. Northern Illinois transfer Marques Cox is probably a more immediate solution. But getting Keenum on campus and in an SEC weight room will likely show dividends in 2024 or 2025.

Also, 3-star running back Khalifa Keith did flip in November from Kentucky to Tennessee. The Wildcats are expecting to deal with their running back situation via transfer, with rumors of a starting P5 running back committing to the Wildcats in the near future.

Final takeaways on this class …

Kentucky very much split its recruiting efforts between high school recruits and transfers. It’s fair to wonder how this will impact the Wildcats’ long-term situation. Kentucky pretty clearly seems to have recruited both for immediate impact and long-term development. UK would love to have the next Benny Snell or Josh Allen, but it certainly didn’t want to turn away a 4-star playmaker or defensive back in the process.

Part of UK’s story is that it has basically pulled back on in-state talent. Since the 2021 class, when UK grabbed 6 of the top 9 recruits in Kentucky, the Wildcats have worked more sparingly in the state. That continues now, with defensive end Tommy Ziesmer the only 1 of the top 9 in-state recruits UK will sign. With Louisvillian Jeff Brohm coming home from Purdue to coach the Cardinals, this is a trend that may well continue.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a Kentucky class that will make many headlines. How well the long-term guys pan out will be key … as will the returns on the transfer signees.