Kentucky needs to replace outgoing seniors on defense to maintain depth
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops is recruiting under the most difficult circumstances of his tenure.
With three years of the Stoops era in the books, the Wildcats have posted a record of 12-24, with no winning seasons, and thus, no bowl games. When Stoops was new to the Bluegrass state, he could sell recruits fresh ideas for UK football and point to his past success at Arizona and Florida State.
The honeymoon period is over.
To Stoops’ credit, Wildcats recruiting hasn’t slipped in recent years. The best class signed by his predecessor, Joker Phillips, ranked No. 37 in the country and No. 11 in the SEC (when the conference still only had 12 teams in 2011) according to 247Sports composite rankings. Stoops signed the No. 22 class in 2014 (No. 10 in the 14-team SEC) and the current Kentucky class of 23 commits ranks No. 25 overall and No. 9 in the SEC.
UK’s biggest areas of need are in position groups hit hardest by graduation, where depth takes a hit. The current recruiting class demonstrates that Stoops is following a depth-based plan that focuses on developing young talent and taking chances on high-volume intake.
Losing after 2015: Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips
Ideally, a team signs one quarterback every class to prevent a panic on the depth chart. Kentucky has had three-star quarterback Gunnar Hoak committed since April, long before junior Patrick Towles announced his transfer. With Towles having transferred to Boston College, signing Hoak becomes even more important.
Hoak will join returning Wildcats signal-callers Drew Barker and Reese Phillips.
Losing after 2015: Marlin Lewis, Jabari Johnson, Farrington Huguenin, Corey Johnson, Daron Blaylock
UK’s defensive line loses significant numbers heading into 2016. The good news for the Wildcats is that there is adequate depth already on the roster from the past three classes. Anytime a position group is losing a noticeable chunk of the depth chart, it’s a good time to replenish that unit with more young talent.
DT Kobe Smith, WDE Jaylin Bannerman, DT Kordell Looney and DT JaQuize Cross – all rated three-stars according to 247Sports industry composite – make for a solid defensive line class by the numbers.
Losing after 2015: Josh Forrest, Ryan Flannigan, Khalid Henderson
Kentucky’s depth chart at linebacker for 2015 was largely divided between freshman, seniors and junior Jason Hatcher. The freshmen of this past season, especially the redshirt freshmen, should be ready for increased playing time, including starting roles.
Commitments from three-star recruits ILB Kash Daniel, OLB Jordan Bonner, ILB Roland Walder and OLB Jamar Watson make for notable depth additions to a young core.
Losing after 2015: A.J. Stamps, Fred Tiller, Cody Quinn, Glenn Faulkner
Stoops refuses to ever be caught thin in the secondary. Despite a substantial number of returning redshirt sophomores and true sophomores for 2016, the third-year coach already has three more defensive backs lined up to help replace the departing seniors.
Three-star commits CB Jordan Griffin, CB Tobias Gilliam and CB Davonte Robinson will help keep the cupboard completely stocked in the secondary.
If Stoops and his staff can hold onto the current high-volume class, they can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s a three-star-heavy group, but the 2016 class isn’t about finding immediate contributors as much as replenishing the position groups that relied the most on seniors in 2015.
It’s difficult for a program that hasn’t been to a bowl game since the 2010 season to expect to land many four-star recruits on National Signing Day. The Wildcats are in position to sign a pair of four-star offensive linemen, OT Landon Young and C Drake Jackson, helping to replace departing seniors upfront.
As a former defensive coordinator, Stoops has already done an excellent job of building depth on defense. On offense, Kentucky returns most of its supporting cast. If the Wildcats can figure out the quarterback position – in Towles’ absence – 2016 could be the season they make some noise in the SEC East beyond the month of September.