Welcome back to our ongoing look at the 2022 Wildcat football team here at Last Word On College Football. In case you missed it we kicked off the series with a look at the quarterbacks. Of course, that group is headed by potential first-round pick Will Levis. Today we continue in the backfield with a unit that’s potentially as good as anyone in the SEC. However, there is a question that needs answering. What is it? We’ll tell you as we begin our 2022 Kentucky Running Backs Preview.
A Strong Group With A Lingering Question
Best 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.
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. Under new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello he should get even more opportunities. In fact, Rodriguez showed off good hands at fan day this past week.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis completes a deep pass to running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. pic.twitter.com/wYqNW16i7Q
— Kernel Sports (@KYKernelSports) August 6, 2022
The Elephant In The Room
While there’s no doubt C-Rod is at the top of the list in the SEC one big lingering question remains. In July he pled guilty to operating a motor vehicle under the influence. He was arrested by a university police officer near Kroger Field.
During SEC Media Days Mark Stoops failed to provide any update on his status. Then at Kentucky’s Media Day the UK head man again offered no new information. In addition, UK’s star back has not spoken to the media the entire summer.
While the Big Blue Nation waits on an official update on Rodriguez’s status let’s continue our 2022 Running Backs Preview by looking at the very capable players behind him.
The Next In Line
Of the remaining players in the running back room, the one with the most experience also has 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.
Coming out of spring practice junior Ju’tahn McClain looked like he had the inside track on serving as Rodriguez’s backup. 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.
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.
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.
As we finish up with our 2022 Kentucky Running Backs Preview let’s check out another player who came to Lexington through the transfer portal.
Instant Impact Transfer
On June 28th Ramon Jefferson, the number two ranked player in the 247 Sports transfer rankings, announced he’s headed to Lexington. Jefferson entered the transfer portal on January 14th and originally committed to Colorado. However, he decommitted from the Buffaloes on May 20th and visited Kentucky earlier in June. The 5-10, 215-pounder rushed for 1,155 yards and 13 touchdowns a season ago. In addition, he averaged 6.7 yards per carry for the Bearkats and was named second-team FCS All-American.
So far Jefferson is one of the most talked about players in camp this fall. He seems to be making the jump to SEC football pretty easily. It’s going to be tough keeping him off the field.
More than likely we won’t know until the week of the first game whether or not Rodriguez will not only miss time but how much. Three of the Wildcats’ first four games are against teams from the MAC. UK should take care of business there but Week 2 they head to “The Swamp.” Having Rodriguez on the field could help Kentucky beat the Gators in back to back seasons for the first time since 1976-77.
If Rodriguez misses some time Stoops and Scangarello believe the running back room they’ve assembled will step right in. Honestly having that many players is a great problem to have. Thanks for checking out our 2022 Kentucky Running Backs Preview here at Last Word On College Football. Next time out we’ll take a look at the wide receivers.