Mark Story

You know who just had one heck of a weekend? Mark Stoops.

Mark Stoops uncomfortable basking in success

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was asked Monday, March 4, 2019, if he had time to sit back and enjoy the success of last season. The Wildcats went 10-3 in 2018 with a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
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Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was asked Monday, March 4, 2019, if he had time to sit back and enjoy the success of last season. The Wildcats went 10-3 in 2018 with a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.

Each year, after the conclusion of the NFL Draft, it has been my custom to anoint draft winners and losers from within the state of Kentucky.

In 2019, the University of Kentucky had five players selected in the NFL Draft. Louisville and Western Kentucky both had none.

Obviously, Mark Stoops and UK are the commonwealth’s undisputed 2019 draft champions.

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For the first time since Mark Stoops became Kentucky coach in 2013, UK had more players chosen in the NFL Draft this year than any other college in the commonwealth. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Former UK Coach Rich Brooks used to say that the gauge of success for the long-suffering Wildcats football program was successfully “doing things that haven’t been done around here in a long time.”

Stoops spent his weekend watching ex-Cats achieve that in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Outside linebacker/rush end Josh Allen went to Jacksonville as the No. 7 overall choice, giving UK a first-round pick for only the third time in the 21st century.

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

Cornerback Lonnie Johnson was taken by Houston in round two (No. 54). Safety Mike Edwards went to Tampa Bay in the third round (No. 99).

Running back Benny Snell, Kentucky’s all-time leading career rusher, was chosen by Pittsburgh in round four (No. 122). Offensive tackle George Asafo-Adjei went to the New York Giants in the seventh round (No. 232).

The five selections were the most for Kentucky in an NFL Draft since it was reduced to seven rounds in 1994.

Not since the Cats had eight players taken in 1979 had UK had as many choices as this year.

Having one player taken in each of the first four rounds was unprecedented in Wildcats football history.

Highlights from University of Kentucky football cornerback Lonnie Johnson's 2018 season.

Heck, the last time UK was even the clear leader among Kentucky schools for most players taken in an NFL Draft was 2012. That year, UK had two, U of L one.

This year, Murray State linebacker Quincy Williams (third round, No. 98 overall to Jacksonville) was the only non-UK player taken from a Kentucky college.

For once, UK was a solid contributor to the Southeastern Conference’s annual NFL Draft dominance. SEC schools had 64 players chosen, far ahead of the second-place Big Ten’s 40.

Every SEC school had at least two players drafted except one: Tennessee had none.

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Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops walked the red carpet in Nashville ahead of Thursday night’s first round of the NFL Draft. Five of his players were selected during the three-day, seven-round draft. Mark Humphrey AP

From the UK perspective, not everything about the 2019 NFL Draft came up peaches and cream.

Allen did not give Kentucky its first top five overall pick since defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson (No. 4 to the New York Jets) in 2003.

It was disappointing that only two members of the Wildcats’ stout, all-senior defensive backfield were drafted.

Cornerbacks Derrick Baity (Houston) and Chris Westry (Dallas) plus safety Darius West (Kansas City) will now have to try to earn their ways into the NFL as undrafted free agents.

The same is true for offensive guard Bunchy Stallings (Jacksonville), wide receiver Dorian Baker (Cleveland) and tight end C.J. Conrad (New York Giants).

Kentucky’s five overall draft picks were a far cry from the UK school record (nine in 1951) or the state record (10 from Louisville in 2015) for most players taken in a single NFL Draft.

Still, on net, the 2019 NFL Draft continued the positive vibe for a Kentucky football program coming off only the third 10-win season (10-3) in school history.

Though he was not the first selection from UK, Snell may have been the Cats’ happiest draft story.

Highlights from University of Kentucky football running back Benny Snell's 2018 season.

At least in the world of mock drafts, the Kentucky running back’s stock had been falling. There was speculation the Westerville, Ohio, product might not even be picked.

Given that Snell is, in many ways, the face of UK football’s turnaround, that would have been a major downer.

Instead, Snell went in the middle of the draft to Pittsburgh, a team that should be ideal for the running back’s move-the-pile style.

Interestingly, the five Kentucky players drafted came from four different UK recruiting classes.

Edwards was one of 10 four-star recruits in Stoops’ ballyhooed 2014 class. He is also the only member of that star-crossed class drafted into the NFL.

Highlights from University of Kentucky football safety Mike Edwards' 2018 season.

Allen and Asafo-Adjei both came from UK’s 2015 recruiting class. Snell came to UK in 2016 and Johnson, a junior-college transfer, signed with Kentucky for 2017.

None of the latter four were ranked above three stars by Rivals.com.

That should give Stoops, recruiting ace Vince Marrow and the rest of the Kentucky coaching staff a compelling story of player development to sell to future recruits.

Early Sunday evening, Christian Academy of Louisville star John Young gave Kentucky a verbal commitment. A four-star, 6-foot-6, 295-pound offensive tackle, Young turned down Georgia, Michigan and Ohio State, among others, to pick the Cats.

Young is now the fifth prospect from Jefferson County in the past two recruiting classes to choose Kentucky.

Taken all together, it was one heck of a weekend for Mark Stoops.

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.

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