Ex-Cats

Kentucky’s Josh Allen probably won’t be the No. 1 draft pick. Where will he land?

Josh Allen: A look back at the Kentucky edge rusher’s 2018 season

Highlights from University of Kentucky football linebacker Josh Allen's 2018 season.
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Highlights from University of Kentucky football linebacker Josh Allen's 2018 season.

Despite his repeated claims to be the best player available, a monstrous banner in downtown Nashville and the Citrus Bowl Twitter account changing itself into his No. 1 cheerleader, it seems unlikely that University of Kentucky star Josh Allen will be selected with the top pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday.

And that’s fine. Allen, a versatile defender, shouldn’t fall outside of the top 10 picks, and probably will go somewhere in the top six. He’s all but assured of becoming UK’s 17th first-round selection in the NFL or AFL Draft and could be its highest overall selection since the Cleveland Browns took Tim Couch with the top pick in 1999. That honor currently belongs to defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, who was selected fourth overall by the New York Jets in 2003.

Unless it trades down, it won’t be Arizona, the holder of the top pick entering the draft. Most mock drafts have San Francisco favoring Nick Bosa, an edge rusher out of Ohio State who missed most of his senior season, but it’s possible that Arizona could take Bosa instead of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, to whom they’ve been linked for much of the last month, and put a wrench in the 49ers’ plans.

Any of the other next four teams — the Jets, Oakland, Tampa Bay and the New York Giants — could find themselves in the position of deciding for or against Allen.

NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger on Tuesday as part of a mock draft alongside Eric Allen, a senior reporter and team insider for the Jets, had Allen going to the Jets at the No. 3 spot.

“I just think that this kid is a self-made player,” Baldinger said. “ ... I just think he’s gonna be a building block around this revamped Jets team. Not just defense, but the team.”

Fellow defensive stars Rashan Gary (Michigan, edge), Ed Oliver (Houston, DT), Devin White (LSU, LB), Quinnen Williams (Alabama, DT) are the most likely culprits if Allen gets pushed further down the draft board than desired. Draft-day trades and other minutiae could impact things as well, but every team picking in the top group is in need of an improved defensive front, and Allen has reportedly met with all of them.

Most projections agree with Baldinger’s: that the Jets — who will use a 3-4 scheme like Allen played in at UK — will take Allen with the third overall pick ... unless they trade it, which has been widely speculated.

At the end of the day it’s all speculation, though — every team in the top five could trade down and leave every mock draft in America bleeding out on the sidelines.

The only certainty is that UK Coach Mark Stoops has a prime spot waiting for Allen on the poster of first-round picks he’s coached during his career.

“There’s no doubt that he will be a successful pro just because of the way he lives his life, the way he is driven to be great,” Stoops said. “He’ll be on that board, and probably front and center.”

OK, there’s one more certainty: Allen isn’t going to shake the chip off his shoulder he’s carried since he was a two-star recruit in high school.

“I’m going to be proving people wrong until the day I die,” Allen told Bill Bender of Sporting News this week. “I believe it. This next step that’s coming, I feel like a couple teams could pass on me not knowing what my abilities are. I feel like I’m going to be proving people wrong in the NFL again.”

Another first-rounder?

UK cornerback Lonnie Johnson’s combination of size and speed have him projected as a second- or third-round selection, but his name has been tossed around as a first-round sleeper. NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah, while acknowledging that it was higher than his personal rating, had Johnson going No. 20 overall to the Steelers in his latest mock draft, based on buzz.

Stoops stoked the fire a little more on Tuesday.

“I think I got a chance to get Lonnie in there as well,” Stoops said, referencing his poster of first-rounders. “ ... I just got a question from a general manager this morning. We were on the phone talking and just wanted to confirm some things that he and I had already talked about. So, hopefully, he’ll get that opportunity to go in the first round. I think he will.”

Johnson, a junior-college product who was surrounded by violence whole growing up in Gary, Ind., is someone with whom Stoops did not have “one difficult conversation” while he was on campus.

“He’s handled his business every day that he’s been here,” Stoops said. “He’s gone to class, he graduated early, he works hard, he’s spent three years being a corner. He’s got great upside. I’m not saying he’s perfect, but he has done everything right since he’s been here and I’ve got a great appreciation for him.”

NFL Draft

When: Thursday (Round 1), Friday (Rounds 2-3), Saturday (Rounds 4-7)

Where: Nashville

Thursday’s TV: 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes, NFL Network)

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