Best Group In The SEC?
After an unexpected and shocking loss to St. Peter’s in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Big Blue Nation now turns its focus to Spring football. In our last preview, we looked at the quarterbacks. This time out we’re staying in the backfield were led by an All-SEC performer UK has arguably the best group in the conference. Let’s take a look at him and his more than capable cohorts with our Kentucky Spring Preview Running Backs.
Is He The Top Running Back In The League?
A season ago Chris Rodriguez was second in the league with 1,378 yards on the ground, with only Tyler Badie gaining more. In addition, he finished seventh in touchdowns with 10. Rodriguez thought about entering the 2022 NFL Draft but ultimately returned for his senior season.
Let’s do it!! pic.twitter.com/2TEeWOnNjo
— Chris Rodriguez Jr (@CROD_JR) January 10, 2022
As C-Rod mentioned in his tweet a desire to re-write the history books was a big reason for his return. He needs only 1,134 yards to break Benny Snell’s record of 3,873. Should Rodriguez have another strong year he should eclipse that easily. Furthermore under former offensive coordinator Liam Coen he showed he’s also a pass-catching threat. Last year he hauled in 13 passes and three more touchdowns.
By coming back for another year he gets a chance to enhance his draft stock for 2023. He also had a surprising problem with fumbles in 2021 after being sure-handed his entire time in Lexington. Show the scouts he can hold onto the ball and his pass-catching ability and he should be a second-day pick next year.
While Rodriguez leads the way the Cats are in no way a one-man backfield. As we continue with our Kentucky Spring Preview Running Backs let’s look at the players who will be pushing for playing time.
Poised For A Breakout Year?
Right behind Rodriguez is the guy with one of the best names in college football, Kavosiey Smoke. As a junior in 2021 Smoke ran for 416 yards and four touchdowns. He broke the century mark with 104 yards in their big win over LSU. In 2019 he gained 616 yards and has 1,306 yards for his career.
While Kentucky did rediscover the forward pass last season the attack under new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello shouldn’t be much different than what Coen ran. As a result, there’s plenty of opportunity for Smoke as a change of pace back in 2022.
Continuing on with our 2022 Kentucky Spring Preview running backs let’s look at a few other guys who are pushing for playing time.
The Next In Line
Following close behind Rodriguez and Smoke on the Kentucky depth chart is junior Ju’tahn McClain. A season ago the Fairfield, Ohio native ran for 165 yards averaging nearly five yards per carry. In addition, he caught six passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. His high water mark came in the 34-17 win over Vanderbilt where he had 69 yards on 10 carries. Furthermore, he picked up 28 yards in the Citrus Bowl win over Iowa spelling Rodriguez when Smoke was unable to play. One of the things to watch throughout the spring is the battle between McClain and Smoke over the backup role to Rodriguez.
La’Vell Wright is an in-state product out of North Hardin. As a freshman he ran gained 118 yards on only nine carries with one touchdown. If you’re scoring at home that’s a whopping 13 yards per carry. At 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds he has the size and speeds the coaching staff is looking for at the running back position.
RB La’Vell Wright – UK
🔹2021 – 3⭐️ RB55
🔹18% Explosive run rate
Between week 12-13 he had 9 carries and 3 routes run on 17 snaps:
Encouraging late season production by the true freshmen. Wright will be the future of UK’s backfield. pic.twitter.com/ZeT6vfPYxc
— Dirty Mike and the Boyds (@FF_DirtyMike) March 13, 2022
Another player to watch is Michael Drennen II, a former top 300 recruit who picked Kentucky over USC and others back in 2020. He played in eight games in 2020 as a true freshman at wide receiver before moving to running back last year. He gained 17 yards and a touchdown in limited playing time in 2021. The potential is there, he just needs an opportunity.
With the possible exception of linebacker, there’s no position on Mark Stoops’ 10th Kentucky squad that’s as loaded as running back. Thanks for checking out our 2022 Kentucky Spring Preview Running Backs here at Last Word On College Football. Next time we’ll look at an area where the Cats have some question marks wide receiver.