There wasn’t an NFL Combine invitation in any of Jojo Kemp’s mailboxes, so when the NFL came to him, Kentucky’s senior running back tried to put on a memorable performance.
At UK’s Pro Day on Wednesday, Kemp put up impressive numbers in the vertical jump, bench press and other drills in front of scouts from 23 NFL teams.
“Some people didn’t know I was that strong, so I lifted pretty well and jumped really well,” he said after the event at UK’s indoor training facilities. “That tells you I’m strong with a lot of explosiveness. I got a lot of positive feedback; I’m eager to get some more.”
If Kemp had been invited to the combine in Indianapolis last week, his 36.5-inch vertical jump would have placed him in the top five of all running backs. It also was the best of the UK players who participated in that event Wednesday, just edging defensive back Blake McClain, whose leap was 36 inches.
Kemp’s 23 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press would have tied him for third among the players in his position group at the combine.
The times vary depending on what scouts asked, but the time reported by UK officials for Kemp in the 40-yard dash (:4.54) would have tied him for 13th overall among combine running backs.
All those numbers and some other intangibles hopefully will land him on a roster even if it’s not on draft day, said Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, who watched the morning’s events along with several other Cats coaches and current players.
“I do think Jojo would have a great opportunity to make a team, make a roster,” Stoops said of the senior, who finished No. 12 on UK’s career rushing list with 1,709 yards on 338 attempts with 19 touchdowns.
“Very productive running back, very good on special teams. He brings you the energy you’re looking for. He’s a great guy in the locker room; I’d think he’d have a good opportunity to make a team.”
Kemp wasn’t the only one hoping to catch the attention of a professional scout. UK had 12 other players, including former quarterback Maxwell Smith and former offensive lineman Jordan Swindle, participating in select drills.
I do think Jojo would have a great opportunity to make a (NFL) team, make a roster. Very productive running back, very good on special teams. He brings you the energy you’re looking for. He’s a great guy in the locker room.
Mark Stoops, on Jojo Kemp
For two Kentucky players, Boom Williams and Jon Toth, it was a chance to improve times or show even more versatility to teams after they both participated in the combine.
“I thought I did well in the offensive line drills, the field work at the combine,” said Toth, who started 48 straight games for UK at center. “Just wanted to come out and do my best at everything.”
Toth improved his vertical jump from 25.5 to 26 Wednesday and had a minimal improvement on his 40-yard dash time.
Williams said he didn’t improve his combine dash time much (4.51 seconds), but he did go through different sets of drills that he hopes will make him more attractive to a team.
“I’m just trying to give them some different looks, show them that I can be versatile, that I can help the offense wherever I am and wherever I play and that Coach can put me anywhere,” Williams said Wednesday.
Three UK defensive backs, J.D. Harmon, Marcus McWilson and McClain, all ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash according to UK’s numbers, which weren’t confirmed by scouts there.
That would put them in the range of some of the top 20 safeties and cornerbacks at the combine. McWilson’s 19 reps in the bench press would have tied him for sixth. The 36-inch vertical jump for McClain would have tied him for 13th in Indianapolis.
All of the players were eager to make a good impression, McWilson said.
“Being able to showcase our talents, our abilities, definitely gives us an opportunity,” McWilson said. “I’m grateful for it. We’ve been looking forward to March 8.”
While there’s not necessarily a first-round NFL Draft pick in this group like a Bud Dupree, Stoops thinks some of the UK players could be difference-makers in the league, which will hold its draft April 27-29 in Philadelphia.
News and notes
There were scouts from 23 teams at the combine: the Bengals, Cardinals, Falcons, Ravens, Panthers, Bears, Browns, Lions, Packers, Colts, Jaguars, Chiefs, Chargers, Dolphins, Patriots, Giants, Jets, Raiders, Steelers, 49ers, Buccaneers, Titans and Redskins.
▪ Former Kentucky linebacker Jason Hatcher was listed as a player expected to do drills at Pro Day and he was there, but NFL rules prohibited the former Louisville Trinity star from participating. The rules mandated that he live within a 30-mile radius of campus or be a UK graduate. Maxwell Smith lives in Lexington and graduated from UK, a team spokesman said.