The Kentucky Wildcats have never been a major football school. They haven’t won a National Championship in 63 years, an SEC Championship in 37 years, and haven’t had a first-round draft pick since Dewayne “The Bust” Robertson more than a decade ago.
Yes, new coach Mark Stoops seems like he’ll be adding much more talent with increased recruiting efforts, but we’re not at this stage yet. No, we’re not in 2017, where the Wildcats could have 5-6 guys getting drafted. Instead we’re in 2013, and maybe one, if any, Wildcats will be selected in the 2014 NFL Draft.
But if there is one prospect that stands the best chance of getting drafted, albeit probably be a late-round selection, it’s inside linebacker Avery Williamson. In 2012, Williamson was second in the conference in tackles with 135, nearly 50 more than the next closest Wildcat. In addition to being a tackling machine, he also has a knack for big plays: 4.5 tackles-for-a-loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. Not too shabby for a ‘Mike’ backer.
Williamson isn’t without faults, hence why he’s looking more like a later-round pick. Even though he’s got good size (6-foot 1, 245 pounds), he’s not as physical as you’d like your Mike ‘backer to be. He’s a good form tackler, but has had a lot of trouble taking on and shedding blockers, which leads me to believe he’s much better suited playing inside a 4-3 as opposed to a 3-4, where he’d be lined up across from a guard every play.
Defensive end Alvin Dupree is the most likely to improve his stock during Stoops’ first season. Dupree has changed positions multiple times in the last few years, but it seems like Stoops is eyeing Dupree to be his rush end, similarly to Bjoern Werner or Tank Carradine, whom Stoops coached to All-American levels last year at Florida State.
At 6-foot 3, 255-pounds (and still an underclassman, mind you), Dupree has enough size to play outside linebacker at the next level (where he played last year), but will need to improve his drops, which haven’t simply been up to par. If Dupree adds on his 6.5 sacks from last year, he could boost his stock enough to declare early.
Donte Rumph is another fringe prospect that will be using his senior season to boost his stock. A massive run-stuffer (6-foot 3, 320 pounds), Rumph is a talented prospect but is too hindered by his weight. When he keeps his weight and conditioning in check, he can blossom (like in 2012 with four sacks and six TFL’s). But, he’s going to have to work himself back in shape after missing most of spring and fall practices with shoulder surgery. If Rumph gets back in shape and looks like he did last year, there’s no doubt he’ll get drafted next May.
But the real talent, at least in my humble opinion, lies with freshly signed JUCO defensive end Za’Darius Smith. At 6-foot 5, 260 pounds with a great first step and excellent athleticism, Smith is everything you look for in an NFL defensive end. Smith is coming off an ankle injury, so it’ll be interesting to see how his first year in Lexington starts off.
Similarly to the Auburn’s draft prospects, this isn’t their year. About three years down the road, when all these stud recruits have had some time to develop and gain experience, then we can get excited about Kentucky’s draft prospects. Until then Wildcat fans, continue watching that unbelievable basketball team of yours.