John Clay

NFL Draft confirms why Louisville is getting better of Kentucky

Kentucky Wildcats defensive tackle Cory Johnson (67) and teammates prepared to lift weights during University of Kentucky football NFL Pro Day held in the Nutter Indoor Facility on the UK campus in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 4, 2016.
Kentucky Wildcats defensive tackle Cory Johnson (67) and teammates prepared to lift weights during University of Kentucky football NFL Pro Day held in the Nutter Indoor Facility on the UK campus in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 4, 2016. Lexington Herald-Leader

You don’t need to be a football fanatic to figure out why Louisville has dominated archrival Kentucky over the past five years.

You need only study the history of the spectacle that begins Thursday night in Chicago when commissioner Roger Goodell strides to the podium and announces the start off the 2016 NFL Draft.

A little later in the evening, probably between the 10th and 15th selections of the first round, a team will turn in a draft card containing the following name and information: Sheldon Rankins, defensive tackle, University of Louisville.

It will be the continuation of a trend. If Rankins indeed is chosen Thursday — which nearly every mock draft predicts — it will mark the fifth first-round pick U of L has produced over the past three seasons, including at least one in each of those three seasons.

During that time, Kentucky has had just one first-round pick, defensive end Bud Dupree, selected by Pittsburgh with the 22nd overall pick last year, making the Georgia native the first ex-Cat to hear his name called in the first round since Dewayne Robertson in 2003.

The disparity doesn’t stop there. Over the past 10 years, Louisville has had 33 players taken in the draft. Kentucky has had 15. Over the past five years, 18 Cardinals have been chosen, compared to seven Wildcats.

True, a large portion of that Louisville advantage is directly attributed to last year, when a school-record 10 Cardinals were drafted. Only Florida State, with 11, had more players picked.

You can discuss facilities and fan bases and coaches and conferences and contracts and uniforms and all that stuff. What it normally comes down to in college football (as in most sports) is which team has the best players. The NFL is in the business of drafting the best players.

Consider the conference breakdowns. With a few exceptions — looking at you, Danny Kanell — most analysts consider the SEC the best college football conference. So does the NFL. Last year, the SEC, of which Kentucky is a member, led all leagues with 54 players drafted. The ACC, of which Louisville is a member, was second with 47.

Bobby Petrino’s predecessor at Louisville, Charlie Strong, did a terrific job recruiting and developing, while down the road at Kentucky, then-coach Joker Phillips struggled. Strong is now at Texas. Phillips is now out of college football.

If you go by the recruiting rankings, current UK coach Mark Stoops is making up ground. His classes have been well-regarded by the gurus, even if that has yet to show up in the victory count. In fact, the two Kentucky players with the best draft chances over the next three days — the event lasts through Saturday — have Stoops to thank for their success.

Josh Forrest was a Phillips recruit, but it was Stoops who developed the former wide receiver at linebacker. Forrest is projected as a fifth- or sixth-round selection. It also was Stoops who signed defensive tackle C.J. Johnson out of junior college. Johnson could go in the sixth or seventh round.

Meanwhile, at Louisville, the shouting might be over after Rankins goes Thursday. Linebacker James Burgess and offensive tackle Aaron Epps, both prospects, are more likely to end up as undrafted free agents. As a whole, Louisville’s best players are its younger players.

In fact, after Rankins, the second player with a Kentucky connection likely to be picked is Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, a transfer from Ohio State.

And, if the experts are correct, Western Kentucky could be the state school with the most players drafted. Tight end Tyler Higbee could go as high as the fourth round. Quarterback Brandon Doughty is projected as a sixth-round pick. Cornerback Prince Charles Iworah could go in the seventh.

Not that we should be surprised. Western Kentucky went 12-2 last season, leading many people to think the Hilltoppers were the best FBS team in the state. The NFL might agree.

UK players drafted (last 10 years)

Year

Round

Player

Drafted by

2015

1

Bud Dupree

Steelers

2015

4

Za’Darius Smith

Ravens

2014

5

Avery Williamson

Titans

2013

3

Larry Warford

Lions

2012

6

Danny Trevathan

Broncos

2012

6

Winston Guy

Seahawks

2011

2

Randall Cobb

Packers

2010

3

Corey Peters

Falcons

2010

4

Trevard Lindley

Eagles

2010

5

John Conner

Jets

2009

6

Myron Pryor

Patriots

2008

4

Jacob Tamme

Colts

2008

4

Keenan Burton

Rams

2008

6

Andre Woodson

Giants

2008

7

Stevie Johson

Bills

NFL Draft: U of L vs. UK

Year

Louisville

Kentucky

2015

10

2

2014

4

1

2013

0

1

2012

1

2

2011

3

1

2010

0

3

2009

2

1

2008

5

4

2007

4

0

2006

4

0

Total

33

15

NFL DRAFT

Thursday: Round 1, 8 p.m.

Friday: Rounds 2-3, 7 p.m.

Saturday: Rounds 4-7, Noon

TV: ESPN, NFL Network

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