Another Big Draft Coming Up?
It was another big night for the Kentucky Football program in the recent NFL Draft. Six players were taken including the second first-round pick for Mark Stoops in three years. That set a record for the most players chosen in the modern draft and most overall since 1979. Of course, then the draft was twelve rounds long. As the caliber of players heading to Lexington improves so does their draft chances. We are a year away from next year’s festivities but it looks like another big one for the program. Let’s take a look at who could hear their name as we check out the 2022 Kentucky NFL Draft Prospects.
First Round Pick
When you look at Kentucky draft prospects you start with offensive tackle Darian Kinnard. Projected as a second or third-round pick, the senior spurned the 2021 draft. However, he followed in the shoes of Josh Allen, who passed up the 2018 draft and returned to school. The result saw him picked seventh by Jacksonville in 2019.
Kinnard’s moving from right to left tackle this year as a blindside protector for whoever Kentucky’s quarterback is to show his versatility. He’s already considered one of the best-run blockers in college football. How good? Well, number one.
Darian Kinnard is the highest-graded run blocking OT returning to college football this season (91.9) pic.twitter.com/6P1YYmcEIw
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 14, 2021
The Athletic already has him as a top 25 pick and another big season will only move him up the mock drafts. Continuing on with our 2022 Kentucky NFL Draft Prospects let’s look at more potential offensive picks.
A Big 1-2 Punch
Had he not missed two games due to COVID-related issues Christopher Rodriguez likely would have topped 1,000 yards. It would have been the fifth straight year the Cats had a player crack that mark. Even so, he still led the team with 785 yards and 11 touchdowns. In addition, he led the SEC with a whopping 6.6 yards per carry. New offensive coordinator Liam Coen already says he plans on C-Rod getting at least 25 touches per game. If it all works outlook for him near the top of the rushing leaders in 2021. Should Rodriguez graduate next year it’s likely he declares for the draft.
After two seasons at Nebraska wide receiver, Wan’Dale Robinson transferred back home to Kentucky. During his two years in Lincoln, Robinson hauled in 91 passes for 914 yards and three touchdowns. In addition, he rushed for 580 yards and four scores. Robinson gives Kentucky that home run threat every time he touches the ball. Once Kentucky finds its quarterback look for the former Mr. Kentucky Football to have a big season. If it indeed does happen Robinson will likely find success similar to what Rondale Moore did last season.
In addition to Robinson, Josh Ali is another receiver likely hearing his name called. Kentucky’s leading receiver last season with 54 catches took advantage of the NCAA allowing players another season due to COVID. With defenses keying on Robinson look for Ali to put up similar or even better numbers this year.
Continuing our look at the 2022 Kentucky NFL Draft Prospects we now turn our attention to the defense.
Two Big Guys Up Front
If you follow Kentucky football at all then you know the story of Josh Paschal. His career was nearly sidelined due to malignant melanoma in his foot. However, it was caught early and after receiving treatment he was back out on the field. A season ago Paschal recorded 32 tackles and by all accounts dominated the recently completed Spring practice. Like many other Cats, he elected to return for another year rather than declaring for the draft.
Marquan McCall should move into the nose guard spot left by Quinton Bohanna, who was taken by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round. At six foot three and 370 pounds, he has the size NFL scouts love. He only needs to live up to expectations and he’s a late-round pick in waiting.
Pair of Talented Linebackers
With Jamin Davis off to Washington offensive coordinator, Brad White wants DeAndre Square to shoulder the load left by the first-round pick. In three years at Kentucky Square has 164 tackles including 10.5 for a loss. A big jump in 2021 similar to Davis and Allen puts Square in the mix as a mid to late-round pick.
Much like Square linebacker Jordan Wright is another player White says needs a strong senior season in order to move up the draft boards. In his three years in Lexington Wright has 76 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and an interception. During the Spring White said he’s expecting a big jump from Square. With Kentucky’s success at developing linebackers, he’s another late-round possibility.
Defensive Back U?
Over the last six years, Kentucky’s put six guys from the secondary in the NFL. In 2022 they’ve got at least two more likely candidates. Safety Yusuf Corker‘s been our defensive MVP runner-up two years’ running so maybe 2021 is his year. A season ago Corker finished second on the team in tackles after leading the squad in 2019. As a result, he earned All-SEC honors from both Phil Steele and Pro Football Focus.
His running mate cornerback Cedric Dort started 12 games as a sophomore but became a backup to Kelvin Joseph and Brandin Echols. Of course, both players heard their names called on draft day. This season he’s back in the starting line-up and looking towards a big campaign. In all honesty, the entire Kentucky secondary could be on this list but for now, we’re sticking with Corker and Dort.
Wrapping up our 2022 Kentucky NFL Draft Prospects we look at a few other guys who might get that call.
Three More On Offense
After all the frustrations the Big Blue Nation’s had with the offense getting the ball to a tight end over the years it’s odd seeing two players on our list but yet here they are. Senior Justin Rigg’s another player taking advantage of an extra year from the NCAA. He’s caught 30 passes in his UK career and averaged 12 yards a reception last season. Alongside Rigg is Keaton Upshaw. His 16 receptions were second on the club a season ago and led the team with three scores. With Coen’s new pro-style offense a point of emphasis is the tight end position. Once again a good season from the guys could end in a late-round pick.
Our final player is offensive guard Luke Fortner. Over the last few years, several members of the “Big Blue Wall” have heard their names called and he could be the next along with Kinnard. Heading into 2021 Fortner’s started 23 consecutive games opening holes for some of the school’s all-time best rushers. Of course, there’s always the possibility of another Davis who comes out of nowhere to be a first-round pick.
In his eight seasons in Lexington Stoops has had 18 players chosen in the NFL Draft. In the decade before UK only had 16 players chosen.
— Mark Stoops (@UKCoachStoops) May 7, 2021
Recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow said shortly after the 2021 draft as many as a dozen players could have their name called. At this point who are we to doubt him. Thanks for checking out our 2022 Kentucky NFL Draft Prospects here at Last Word On College Football. Next time out we’ll switch from the current to future Cats with a look at the incoming recruiting class.