As far as the team goes, every football player is important. All 22 starters. All 22 backups on the two-deep. And beyond. In the treacherous Southeastern Conference, you’re only as good as your weakest link.
Reality says some are more important than others, however. Depends on the year. Depends on the position. Depends on the makeup of the team. Most talented does not automatically mean most important.
With Kentucky opening the season Saturday, here is one man’s ranking (mine) of UK’s 20 most important players (not most talented players) to the Cats’ success in 2018.
1 . Benny Snell: Let’s start with the only player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in successive seasons. The junior running back figures to again be the heart and soul of Eddie Gran’s attack.
2. Josh Allen: Let’s go with UK’s best NFL prospect at No. 2. The senior outside linebacker is a possible first-round draft pick. For Kentucky’s defense to show improvement, Allen must play like one.
3. Miles Butler/Chance Poore: No pressure, but senior Butler and/or true freshman Poore are replacing the school’s all-time leading scorer in Austin MacGinnis, who made several game-winning kicks.
4. Offensive left tackle (to be determined): Saturday brought the awful news that junior starter Landon Young is lost for the season. That’s made doubly worse by the fact the left tackle protects the quarterback’s blind side against some of the best edge rushers in the SEC — thus the nation. Whether it be sophomore E.J. Price, redshirt freshman Nassir Watkins or senior George Asafo-Adeji, Young’s replacement has to be more than a stand-in.
5. Quinton Bohanna: The Tennessee native impressed as a true freshman. With fellow D-lineman Josh Paschal out indefinitely, the nose guard from Tennessee needs to anchor the defensive line.
6. Boogie Watson: At outside linebacker, Watson replaces Denzil Ware, who transferred to Jacksonville State. A good Boogie would take some of the pressure off Allen on the other side.
7. Kash Daniel: The native Kentuckian should assume the leadership role left by Courtney Love. Now Daniel just has to do it on the field.
8. Terry Wilson/Gunnar Hoak: Mark Stoops hasn’t announced his starting quarterback, who will be helped by the experience surrounding him. Still, it’s the quarterback. He is always important.
9. Max Duffy: The sophomore punter from Australia follows Matt Panton, another punter from Australia. A transfer from Columbia University in New York, Panton had previously kicked in a college game. Duffy has not.
10. Tavin Richardson: The junior wideout finished 2017 strong with five catches for 89 yards in the Music City Bowl. With dependable Garrett Johnson graduated, Richardson needs to keep it going.
11. Jordan Jones: We all know the senior linebacker’s talent. If Jones can stay healthy and away from penalties, the Ohio native could find himself on an All-SEC team.
12. Lynn Bowden: More comfortable now as a sophomore receiver, Bowden could provide the big plays last year’s offense lacked.
13. Logan Stenberg: The junior might be UK’s best player you never hear much about. Phil Steele ranked Stenberg the 16th best draft-eligible offensive guard heading into 2018.
14. A.J. Rose/Sihiem King: Benny Snell can’t carry the ball every time. (Can he?) A senior, King’s role expanded last year. A sophomore, Rose turned in a standout spring.
15. C.J. Conrad: Remember how each year UK promises the tight end will be a bigger part of the offense? This could be the year and Conrad, an NFL-ready senior, could be the man.
16. Mike Edwards: The senior safety is not just the best player in the secondary, but the leader of the secondary. He’ll also play some slot corner, one of the more important spots in today’s game.
17. Dorian Baker: Having missed a chunk of 2016 (hamstring) and all of 2017 (dislocated ankle), the senior wide receiver is looking for a throwback season.
18. Lonnie Johnson: By the end of 2017, the junior college transfer was starting at cornerback. For jucos, the second year is often better than the first.
19. Drake Jackson: As a redshirt freshman, Jackson solidified the offensive line when he became the starting center last season. Now Jackson needs to take the next step.
20. David Bouvier: The former walk-on from Lexington Catholic was under the radar until he earned raves during training camp. He might replace Charles Walker at slot receiver on offense and punt returner on special teams.
Central Michigan at Kentucky
3:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)