Kentucky football: Ranking the Top 25 players of the decade
Kentucky football overcame a disastrous first half of the 2010s to finish strong with 4 consecutive bowl seasons, including the 2018 campaign, when it won 10 games. We’ve previously named our All-Decade UK offense and defense. But now, here are the Top 25 Wildcats from the 2010s (including only their work in the 2010s, sorry Randall Cobb).
25. Mike Hartline, QB
Hartline’s senior season was 2010, but he led UK to a bowl while passing for 3,178 yards and 23 touchdowns, which is enough (barely) to get him onto this list.
24. Stephen Johnson, QB
Never a glamour guy, Johnson passed for 4,342 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2 seasons and led UK to its first winning seasons in nearly a decade.
23. Cory Johnson, DT
Johnson was a 2nd-team All-SEC pick by the AP in 2015, when he had 67 tackles, a pair of sacks, and a 77-yard fumble return touchdown.
22. C.J. Conrad, TE
Conrad had 80 catches for 1,015 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career and was a hellacious lead blocker.
21. Garrett Johnson, WR
A consistent receiving threat on some poor passing teams, Johnson finished his UK career with 155 catches for 2,089 yards and 11 touchdowns.
20. Terry Wilson, QB
An injury ended his 2019 season in Week 2, so Wilson’s stats (2,249 passing yards and 13 touchdowns and 591 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns) don’t speak to his clutch play or leadership abilities shown in 2018, Kentucky’s best season since 1977.
19. Jon Toth, C
Toth started 48 consecutive games and his play as an interior lineman helped Kentucky go from a 2-10 campaign his freshman year to a bowl in his senior year in 2016.
18. Winston Guy, S
Only 2 of Guy’s 4 seasons were in the 2010s, but he topped 100 tackles in each, had 5 interceptions and even returned a few kicks.
17. Za’Darius Smith, DE
A JUCO product, Smith was part of Mark Stoops’ first recruiting class and delivered 119 tackles and 11 sacks in his 2 seasons at UK.
16. Jordan Jones, LB
An undersized linebacker, Jones was always intense and had 251 career tackles, including 28.5 tackles for loss.
15. Larry Warford, G
Warford’s final 3 seasons were in the 2010s, and he was a 2nd-team All-SEC pick in each, starting 37 consecutive games for UK.
14. Avery Williamson, LB
Williamson started for 3 seasons at UK and finished his career with 296 tackles, posting back-to-back 100 tackle seasons for 2-10 UK teams in his last 2 years.
13. Drake Jackson, C
Jackson has started 32 consecutive games and earned 1st-team All-SEC honors from the AP for his role in helping UK lead the league in rushing in 2019.
12. Boom Williams, RB
Williams’s stunning burst of speed is attested to by his 6.8 yards per carry for his career, which featured 2,513 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
11. Austin MacGinnis, K
How high can a kicker be ranked? We considered moving MacGinnis even higher. He’s UK’s all-time leading scorer, missed 2 extra points in 4 years and connected on 79.7% of his field-goal tries, including several game-winners.
10. Max Duffy, P
Duffy owns Kentucky’s season (48.6 ypp) and career (46.5 ypp) punting average records, and his directional skills have made him a massive weapon in flipping the field over the last two seasons.
9. Logan Stenberg, G
Stenberg is a nasty, physical blocker who has started every game in the past 3 seasons, earning all-SEC honors in 2019 with his work at left guard.
8. Bud Dupree, DE
An astounding athlete, Dupree had 247 tackles, including 39.5 tackles for loss and 25.5 sacks at UK.
7. Danny Trevathan, LB
Only the final 2 years of Trevathan’s career were in the 2010s, but in those years, he had 287 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks and 4 interceptions.
6. Randall Cobb, WR
Only Cobb’s final season came in the 2010s, but in that season he posted 84 catches for 1,017 yards and 7 touchdowns, 424 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns, 3 passing touchdowns, and a punt return touchdown. Had he played more than 1 season in the decade, he’d be an easy top 5 pick, and possibly a top 3 pick.
5. Bunchy Stallings, G
Kentucky recruited Stallings over Mississippi State by sending 2 coaches to walk through a snowstorm to visit his school just before Signing Day. He then went from part-time starter to superstar, earning All-American honors in leading Benny Snell to the school rushing record in 2018. Choosing offensive linemen to single out is always difficult because of the lack of stats and quantifiable information on their play. But Stallings typified the blue-collar approach that UK offensive lineman coach John Schlarman has emphasized and he went from a recruiting afterthought to an All-American.
4. Mike Edwards, S
Edwards overcame injuries early in his career to become a dynamic playmaker in the secondary for Stoops’ improving defenses that turned the fortune of Kentucky football. Edwards finished his career with 317 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions and 23 passes defended. He was the heart and soul of defenses that went from allowing 31 to 28 to 17 points per game.
3. Lynn Bowden, WR/KR/PR/QB
As a wide receiver, Bowden was probably a top 10 choice. Then he went and had a historic rushing season at quarterback over the last 7 games of his junior season. The numbers include 1,303 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns, 1,297 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, 422 passing yards and 2 touchdowns and two punt return scores.
The numbers also don’t reveal how timely so many of his plays were — the bomb to put UK in position to win in The Swamp, the punt return and huge day to save the Missouri game in 2018, all those rushing yards in 2019 (2nd player in UK history to have multiple 200-yard rushing games). He’s a legend at whatever position he wants.
2. Benny Snell, RB
If Kentucky’s improvement in the late 2010s started with attitude, Snell was the man at the heart of that attitude. Playing with an Ohio-sized chip on his shoulder, Snell had a message for everybody who had failed to recruit him or rank him based on his 40-yard dash times. He ran like a man possessed, using his 225-pound frame like a bowling ball en route to 3,873 rushing yards and 48 touchdowns.
1. Josh Allen, LB
The best Kentucky player of the 2010s was the best Kentucky player since … who? Tim Couch? Art Still? Babe Parilli?
Josh Allen invites those kinds of comparisons. He didn’t as a recruit, when he was a 2-star nobody headed to Monmouth before Kentucky stumbled upon him late in the process.
Allen had 4 tackles as a freshman. He became an All-SEC level player as a sophomore and a junior (128 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 14 sacks combined). Then he turned down the NFL Draft and had a monster season in 2018, amassing 88 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, and 17 sacks. He was a consensus All-American, winner of the Bednarik and Nagurski Awards, and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Most important, he was the driving force in Kentucky’s best season since 1977. Again, the question with Allen isn’t whether he was the best, it was who (if anybody) has ever been better at Kentucky.