Another Big Year Coming Up?
With four players taken, including three in the first 65 picks, the 2022 NFL Draft was another successful one for Mark Stoops and Kentucky football. Even though seven players didn’t get selected, as many draft experts suggested, it’s still a great year. In fact, after not having anyone chosen in 2017 and 2018, UK had 17 players taken over the last four years. Big things are expected in 2022 and that should translate to another big draft weekend. Let’s take a look at who might get the call next year in Kansas City with our Early 2023 Kentucky NFL Draft Preview.
Consensus First Round Pick?
During Kentucky’s pro day one player who consistently turned heads was quarterback Will Levis. As a result, the senior has shot up every early mock draft into the first round. In fact, he’s worked his way up into the Top Ten. Furthermore, CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso has him going number one to the Houston Texans. The 2023 class possibly includes C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young yet Levis is projected ahead of them. In last year’s draft one quarterback, Kenny Pickett went in the first 73 picks.
Under then offensive coordinator Liam Coen Levis put up big numbers in 2021. In his first season as a full-time starter following two years as a backup at Penn State. Levis completed 66% of his passes for 2,827 yards and 24 touchdowns for Kentucky. He also rushed for 376 yards and nine more touchdowns.
Vince Marrow on Will Levis' rising NFL Draft stock: "[Scouts] really like him. I think when they came to that Pro Day and watched him throw and he made every throw — but what people really don’t see is his leadership and how tough he is and how he can galvanize a team."
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) May 6, 2022
One thing Levis needs to do in 2022 is cut down on turnovers. A season ago his 13 interceptions not only led the SEC but placed him third in the nation. Footwork is a big thing new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello is working on with Levis. Should the number one pick come to fruition he would be Kentucky’s first since Tim Couch went to the expansion Cleveland Browns back in 1999. Only 17 schools have had two overall number one picks.
Three More Skill Selections
Many were surprised when Chris Rodriguez came back for another year. However, the chance to not only graduate but break Benny Snell’s all-time rushing record was a big factor. In 2021 C-Rod finished second in the SEC with 1,378 yards. As a result, he only needs 1,135 to break the record. Rodriguez needs to address the fumble issue which plagued him last year. Work on that and prove he can catch the ball out of the backfield in Scangarello’s new offense should make him a second-day pick. Of course, Rodriguez has a recent DUI charge to deal with. As a result, he may miss a couple of games in 2022.
Wan’Dale Robinson transferred back to Kentucky and had arguably the best season by a receiver in school history. His reward was the 43rd pick to the New York Giants. Now Kentucky has another Robinson in Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson who the Cats hope will thrive in the new offense. During his time in Blacksburg, Robinson hauled in 113 catches for 1,555 yards and nine touchdowns. While it’s probably unfair to expect similar numbers a great year gets his name called next April.
If not for an injury that sidelined him for all of 2021 tight end Keaton Upshaw‘s likely a 2022 draft pick. Under Scangarello’s offense that heavily features tight ends, he should easily top his 16 catches and three touchdowns. That of course was the days before UK rediscovered the forward pass.
Continuing on with our Early 2023 Kentucky NFL Draft Preview let’s move to the other side of the ball where the Cats have several possible draft picks.
Talented Linebacker Group
Kentucky’s had recent success with linebackers heading to the league. The most recent was Jamin Davis, who went in the first round to Washington back in 2021. Each of these players has work to do but has a great chance of ending up in the league.
DeAndre Square is a “Super Senior” who has started since he was a freshman. A year ago Square finished third on the team in tackles with 81 and sacks with three. In addition he had nine-and-a-half tackles for loss. He’s a solid contributor who needs that breakout season to put him over the top.
Moving down the line Jacquez Jones transferred in from Ole Miss and made an immediate impact leading the team with 82 stops. One of his biggest strengths is pass coverage, something he’ll need at the next level. Last year he finished with four pass breakups and an interception. Of course, his biggest play came in the win over Florida.
Despite not being 100% after recovering from a torn ACL J.J. Weaver put up some impressive numbers. In 2021 he had 34 tackles including 10.5 for a loss and a team-leading six sacks. Now 100% healthy a huge season could push him to the league in 2023. However, he may be better off staying one more year.
Rounding out the list is Jordan Wright who only played six games in 2021. Despite that, he finished with 30 tackles and a sack. Another “Super Senior” Wright’s stat line is actually better than some Cats who’ve made the league.
Finishing up our Early 2023 Kentucky NFL Draft preview is a look at the offensive line.
From the Big Blue Wall To The NFL
Over the last four years, Kentucky’s had five offensive linemen drafted and several others sign free-agent deals. Two guys want to be the next ones up. Guard Tashawn Manning transferred from Auburn for his final year. New offensive line coach Zach Yenser thinks he can be really good. Of course being really good at Kentucky can only be a good thing.
In addition to Manning, Kenneth Horsey has started 21 games at UK and a big season and possible move to tackle showing his versatility can only enhance his chances.
While these are the guys we featured you never know when someone else has a breakout season and moves into the draft. Thanks for checking out our Early 2023 Kentucky NFL Preview here at Last Word On College Football.