NFL Draft analyst John Vogel previews the Kentucky Wildcats ahead of the 2021 season. Predictions, pre-season grades, and more:

The Kentucky Wildcats saw a solid season in 2020, continuing to build on the momentum that they have built over the last few years. While the 5-6 record (4-6 in the SEC) doesn’t portray it as solid as it was, Kentucky was wildly competitive in just about every game they played in 2020. They took on two formidable opponents in the western conference last season (Auburn and Alabama) on top of their usual run through the SEC East.

Head coach Mark Stoops has done a phenomenal job turning the Kentucky Wildcats into a formidable SEC opponent. His focus has been to bring in high three-star talents and use his coaching staff to develop them. Keeping the talent in-house has been essential for Kentucky, and it’s helped them tremendously to build a competitive roster.

This season’s biggest test out of conference for Kentucky will be on the road against Louisville (Nov. 27th). In the conference, the Wildcats travel to Georgia (Oct. 16th) and will host LSU (Oct. 9th) and Florida (Oct. 2nd). It will prove to be a formidable schedule for the Wildcats this season.

The Kentucky Wildcats offense will be led by QB Joey Gatewood (R-Jr)

#2 | HT: 6’4″ | WT: 215 | High School: Bartram Trail (Jacksonville, FL)

Joey Gatewood was highly sought after as a 5-star high school prospect. After two years at Auburn, Gatewood transferred to Kentucky, where he spent 2020 playing sparingly, including his first start against Georgia. He’s a big-bodied quarterback who offers some athletic ability.

The lack of experience has really been harmful to Gatewood’s progression as a player. He wasn’t eligible to play with Kentucky until September 30th and missed an opportunity to battle Terry Wilson for the starting position. In his start against Georgia, it was clear that there was an upside, but he was extremely raw. His athleticism is limited due to a lack of speed, and he showed almost no touch ability. He struggled tremendously against the pressure the entire game as well. I wouldn’t expect Gatewood to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft, but he’s definitely a must-watch to see how he progresses.

Pre Season Grade: PDFA.

Darian Kinnard takes on Jordan Davis in action from a Kentucky Wildcats/Georgia Bulldogs matchup in 2020.
Darian Kinnard UK falls to Georgia 14-3 Photo By Jacob Noger | UK Football

OT Darian Kinnard (Sr)

#70 | HT: 6’4″ | WT: 335 | High School: St. Ignatius (Knoxville, TN)

Darian Kinnard enters the season as the most experienced offensive lineman on the Kentucky Wildcats offensive line. With 26 starts on his resume, Kinnard enters his third season as the full-time starter for Kentucky. He’s powerful, very stout, and has an excellent body size that will attract NFL teams.

Here’s the main problem with Kinnard. He’s inconsistent and still very raw from a fundamental standpoint. He flashes a lot of recognition ability and adjusting, so there’s upside there. However, he lacks the lateral quickness to handle speed rushes and constantly poorly places his hands. He will be a developmental player with much brute strength and must show some refined ability in 2021.

Pre Season Grade: PDFA.

RUSH EDGE Josh Paschal (R-Sr)

#4 | HT: 6’2″ | WT: 270 | High School: Our Lady of Good Counsel (Prince George’s County, MD)

Josh Paschal is an intriguing RUSH EDGE prospect, entering his third season as a Kentucky starter. He was utilized all across the Kentucky Wildcats front as a 1-tech, a 3-tech, and a 5-tech rusher. Paschal offers some athleticism and ability to drop into coverage in a limited role but doesn’t traditionally fit a defensive lineman in three or four-man fronts.

He’s still raw as a pass rusher but has a subtle move that gets him off the block with relative ease when the play moves his direction. Because of his lack of hand technique, he can easily be locked and prevented from being an impact pass rusher. I’m sure that the versatility that he offered Kentucky will be intriguing to NFL teams. However, I’m not sure if he gets drafted without some real work on his finesse ability.

Pre Season Grade: 6th/PDFA.

The most intriguing Kentucky Wildcats defender is Off-LB Jordan Wright (R-Sr)

#15 | HT: 6’4″ | WT: 230 | High School: Dillard (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

Justin Wright celebrates a big play for the Kentucky Wildcats defense following a turnover.

Justin Wright would be the most highly touted prospect on this defense right now. Wright is a phenomenal tackler who earned his first starting role in 2020 with the Kentucky Wildcats. He also flashed good instincts, positioning, and zone coverage ability.

Wright’s speed is somewhat limited, not having the top-end ability. While he is an excellent wrap-up tackler, he does try to go high with his initial contact and struggles to bring down stronger runners. He will be an intriguing prospect who will see a lot of NFL interest but needs another terrific year.

Pre Season Grade: 4th/5th Round.

Slot CB Cedrick Dort Jr (R-Sr)

#3 | HT: 5’10” | WT: 180 | High School: Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, FL)

Cedrick Dort Jr is probably the most experienced man in the Kentucky back end. Dort played some on the perimeter in 2020, sharing time with Davonte Robinson, but will definitely be better suited to the slot role in the NFL. He was more effective, in my opinion, in that role last year for Kentucky.

Dort doesn’t have a lot of straight-line speed. He flashes the ability to make up for it with physicality, but he isn’t consistent enough doing that. His size will limit him as a tackler. He didn’t show much wrap-up ability but instead wanted to make tackles with contact. He has good hustle, but he doesn’t show the instincts to be in position consistently. Dort flashed enough to be a depth piece, but I don’t know if he will hear his name called in the draft.

Pre Season Grade: 7th/PDFA.

CB Davonte Robinson (6-Sr)

#9 | HT: 6’1″ | WT: 210 | High School: Henry Clay (Lexington, KY)

Garrett Juice Johnson. The University of Kentucky football team vs EKU on Saturday, September 9, 2017, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Davonte Robinson was slated to be the starting cornerback for the Kentucky Wildcats in 2020 before Kelvin Joseph arrived from LSU. Robinson settled into a backup role nicely, making big plays when on the field and flashing good tackling ability. He was often placed in man coverage against tight ends but looked much more comfortable in zone coverage. He will be attractive to teams like Seattle, who want rangy, long zone coverage cornerbacks.

While Robinson flashed tackling ability, his pursuit angles were often slightly off, especially around the line of scrimmage. He showed good recognition against the screen and other underneath concepts but struggled to work off of blocks effectively to make those plays. Regardless, he has some upside, and one final year in the Kentucky defense as a starter should help him develop tremendously.

Pre Season Grade: 6th/PDFA.

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By John Vogel

NFL Draft Analyst. Dad.

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