There’s no question that COVID-19 impacted the 2021 college football recruiting class. The season was in upheaval, flying was difficult, visits were limited. It was, to be direct, a good season to keep recruiting local. Fortunately for Kentucky, it was a bumper class of talent in the Bluegrass state, and the Wildcats largely took advantage. Kentucky’s class will not be the largest or the top-ranked group in the SEC, but it should nicely supplement the Wildcats’ existing core of talented players.

Let’s take a closer look at the 2021 signing class ahead of Wednesday’s start of the Early Signing Period, understanding nothing is official until the scholarship is signed:

By the numbers

  • SEC rank: 11th
  • National rank: 36th
  • 5-stars: 0
  • 4-stars: 2
  • 3-stars: 15

Top player: Jager Burton, OG, 4-star

Burton (FYI, his first name is pronounced like Rolling Stone Mick Jagger) was the in-state talent the Wildcats had to nab, and they did exactly that. A teammate of Clemson OL Walker Parks, 2021 UK commit Dekel Crowdus and 2022 standout WR Dane Key, Burton played with and against outstanding talent at Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High. He was offered by all the big Power 5 schools, and some thought Clemson or Ohio State might hold an advantage.

At 6-4, 271 pounds, Burton will probably add some weight to play inside at the next level. But Burton will see snaps immediately in Lexington, and could well start by the second half of his freshman year. Kentucky has quietly made noise on the offensive line, and keeping Burton hope helps to ensure the future of that group.

Class Strength: Receivers

Given UK’s struggles in the passing game, which ultimately cost offensive coordinator Eddie Gran his position, there’s a need for impact playmakers at wide receiver. The ‘Cats will sign a couple of players who could well fit that bill. In-state WR Dekel Crowdus is Kentucky’s other 4-star recruit, and he simply has another gear in open space. On the other hand, 6-3 Alabama target Christian Lewis could be the outside threat Kentucky has sorely needed. Lewis is ranked just 3 spots below a 4-star ranking on 247sports, and given his outstanding play this season, could well end up a 3rd 4-star signee for UK.

Kentucky’s 4th-highest ranked addition is Bowling Green tight end Jordan Dingle, whose brother just entered the transfer portal from Georgia Tech. Dingle, at 6-4, 235 pounds, will be another option for working the middle of the field for the Wildcats. And incidentally, the UK’s 5th-highest recruit is another WR, Georgia standout Chauncey Magwood. Between UK’s needs at the position, the impact of a new offensive coordinator who will be looking to pass more, and a talented incoming group, these guys are arriving at just the right time.

Class weakness

It’s a pretty complete class, particularly in light of the fact that the one conspicuous hole is the defensive line, which UK dedicated much of its 2020 class to recruiting. One thing that does stand out — while Kentucky was thrilled to pick up in-state safety Jordan Lovett (5th-highest ranked player in Kentucky), the Wildcats’ one big in-state miss was South Warren safety Jantzen Dunn, who is a 4-star recruit and the No. 2-ranked player in the state. Dunn chose Ohio State, and he would have been another outstanding addition to this group. If Lovett winds up being the better player (which he could), it will take a little of the sting out of missing out on Dunn.

Grading the QB class

Kentucky completed the QB class early in this group, taking in-state pro-style passer Kaiya Sheron. Sheron is the 9th-ranked player in Kentucky and a 3-star recruit. He had a highly decorated high school career, and Kentucky went after him early in the process. Sheron had been offered by Marshall and visited Louisville, but he and UK connected in March, so his offer sheet isn’t especially imposing.

With Terry Wilson — apparently — moving on, the UK quarterback situation for 2021 will likely be some combination of former Auburn QB Joey Gatewood, UK redshirt freshman Beau Allen and Sheron. It would be surprising to see Sheron play significantly next season. Gatewood is a veteran with significant upside and Allen is probably Kentucky’s future at the position. However, if UK’s recent past with quarterbacks teaches anything, it’s that the guys who might be plan B or plan C often end up seeing critical snaps.

Did they close the borders?

Yes, as much as ever before. As noted, Dunn got away to Ohio State, but other than that, the Wildcats nabbed the in-state guys they wanted. Burton and Crowdus were both bigger needs, and Dingle, particularly if his brother transfers in to join him, could end up having a bigger impact than Dunn.

The Wildcats have picked up 4 of the top 5 players in the state, and 6 of the top 9. Running back La’Vell Wright, from North Hardin High, is a surprise candidate from that group. The only Power 5 players from Kentucky who aren’t committed to the Wildcats were Dunn and Somerset linebacker Tristan Cox, who is going to Purdue and is the 11th ranked player in the state.

Final thought …

On a year when much of America was stuck staying home, Kentucky did a fair amount of staying at home in recruiting, locking up virtually all of the state’s best players and grabbing a handful of under-the-radar types outside the state. It’s not a class that will overwhelm with prestige or numbers, but Kentucky quietly filled many of their needs.

Outside from keeping in-state players home, the Wildcats focused on picking up a handful of explosive playmakers in the passing game, something that aligns well with their needs. Guys like Crowdus, Lewis and Dingle will likely get early opportunities to shine in a revamped Kentucky offense. If they succeed, the on-field results will be much sweeter than any Signing Day plaudits.