John Clay

Kentucky’s NFL Draft showing might already be helping Cats’ recruiting

Kentucky Coach John Calipari was vilified for his over-the-top claim that “we might have just had the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history” after five players were selected in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft.

Down the road, however, when Big Blue Nation looks back on the 2019 NFL Draft, it just may remember it as one of if not the biggest day in Kentucky football history.

After all, no sooner had the final selection been announced April 27 than Mark Stoops reeled in commitments from three coveted recruits in a nine-day span. Four-star Christian Academy of Louisville offensive guard John Young pledged to the Cats on April 28. Three-star defensive back Andru Phillips out of Mauldin, S.C. committed to Stoops on April 29.

This past Monday, Lexington Catholic quarterback Beau Allen, a three-star prospect, announced he was turning down Mike Leach (Washington State) and Neal Brown (West Virginia) to play for UK, where his father, Bill, was a quarterback.

Add that trio to Lamar Goods, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound four-star defensive tackle out of Canada who committed April 8 and the Cats are off to a good start with their class of 2020.

While Kentucky’s draft showing may not have been the deciding factor, it surely played a role. Having five players selected for the first time since the draft was reduced to seven rounds in 1994 was affirmation for a program that recorded its first 10-win season since 1977.

Four went in the first four rounds. First-round pick Josh Allen went No. 7 overall to Jacksonville. Cornerback Lonnie Johnson was taken in the second round (54 overall) by Houston. Safety Mike Edwards was picked in the third round (99 overall) by Tampa Bay. Pittsburgh drafted running back Benny Snell in the fourth round (122 overall). When offensive guard George Asafo-Adjei was selected by the New York Giants in the seventh round (232), it was the most Kentucky players taken in an NFL Draft since 1979.

Not one of the five was above a three-star prospect out of high school. Johnson, Edwards, Snell and Asafo-Adjei were dubbed three-star recruits by 247Sports. Allen was a two-star. That they became NFL Draft picks — three in the top 100 — is a tribute to the staff’s developmental skills.

Now we’ll see if that affects remaining recruits, starting with Justin Rogers, a four-star guard out of Oak Park, Mich. Ranked as the nation’s 30th-best prospect, Rogers is to make his choice May 20. Georgia and Ohio State are believed to be the leaders, but Kentucky and Tennessee have gained ground.

A few in-state plums are crossing the border. Covington Catholic tight end Michael Mayer, ranked No. 1 in the state by 247Sports, committed to Notre Dame. Four-star Frederick Douglass guard Walker Parks, son of former UK lineman David Parks, committed to Clemson. And three-star Boyle County wide receiver Reese Smith has committed to West Virginia.

Meanwhile, Rivals ranks Bowling Green defensive back Vito Tisdale as the state’s No. 1 prospect. Oklahoma and Alabama are among Kentucky’s competition for the 6-1, 201-pound safety. North Hardin defensive tackle Octavious Oxendine, ranked as the state’s seventh-best prospect by 247Sports, is considering Jeff Brohm and Purdue as well as UK and Tennessee. And Stoops will have to hold off the hometown Cards for Louisville Male wide receiver Izayah Cummings, a three-star prospect also considering Purdue and West Virginia.

Ohio produced Snell, Edwards and Asafo-Adjei, of course. And UK is in the thick of it for three-star wide receiver Kalil Branham out of Columbus (ranked as Ohio’s eighth-best prospect by 247Sports) and three-star running back Torrance Davis out of Cleveland (ranked 11th in Ohio by 247Sports). Among others.

It’s a long way to Dec. 18 and the start of the early signing period, of course. A lot can happen between now and then. But if what happened April 25-27 in Nashville wasn’t the defining moment for Kentucky football, it sure didn’t hurt.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader