The top 10 Kentucky Wildcats football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. QB Drew Barker, Soph.
The 6-3, 218-pound top recruit is good enough and showed off enough upside for Patrick Towles to take off to Boston College – now he needs to be special. A dual-threat dominant force as a Kentucky high school superstar, and with a next-level arm to go along with his prototype size, all the skills are there to rise up and be the type of playmaker to work the entire offense around. He completed half of his passes for 364 yards and a score with two picks, and ran for 45 yards and a touchdown, and now the pressure is on. Able to start pushing the ball deep, with the receiving corps that’s in place the numbers have the potential to skyrocket if he can get hot from the start, and he’ll get a little bit of time to grow into the job. But he’s the franchise now, sink or swim.
2. DE Denzil Ware, Soph.
Unstoppable this offseason and a blur in the spring game, the former superstar recruit looks the part of the next great SEC pass rusher. The type of Von Miller-like hybrid everyone is looking for, the 6-2, 255-pounder will play a variety of roles on the outside, but his main job will be to get to the quarterback and be a disruptive force in the backfield. Snagged out of Florida and away from the Gators – along with Alabama, Florida State, and just about every other football powerhouse – he had a strong freshman season with 39 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss in his time in the rotation. Early on this season he’s expected to become the defense’s signature star.
3. RB Stanley Williams, Jr.
Boom Williams doesn’t provide a ton of pop in his 5-9, 196-pound body, but he makes up for it with tremendous wheels and quickness averaging over seven yards per carry with a team-leading 855 yards and six scores. He might not be built to take a pounding, but when he was able to get on the field he had his dominant moments for the offense, coming up with five 100-yard games including 107 yards against South Carolina and 113 yards and two scores against Auburn. He’s not a workhorse – he didn’t carry the ball more than 18 times – and he only came up with 13 catches, but he’s too valuable getting the ball in his hands out of the backfield. While he didn’t return any kicks after averaging close to 27 yards per try as a freshman, the coaching staff will make sure he gets the ball in a variety of ways.
4. FS Marcus McWilson, Jr.
A top tackler in a terrific secondary, the 6-0, 208-pound veteran came up with 66 stops with a sack and two broken up passes, doing most of his work against the run. Able to play either safety spot or see time as a nickel defender, he’s a blazer with Ohio high school track champion-level speed. While he’s not going to deliver the massive hit, he’s a good, sound tackler in the open field and a veteran among a ton of young talent.
5. WR Garrett Johnson, Jr.
The team’s leading receiver yardage-wise came up with 46 grabs for 694 yards and two scores averaging over 15 yards per pop. The 5-11, 175-pound veteran is the key part of an outstanding receiving corps on the deep ball, coming up with 160 yards on nine grabs against Auburn and 119 yards against Missouri. He was consistent and reliable, the more he can use his quickness in the open field on the move, the better.
6. PK Austin MacGinnis, Jr.
The all-star caliber kicker hit 13 of his 17 attempts missing a 51-yarder along with a 46-yard try and a 37-yarder the only truly makeable whiff. He doesn’t have a cannon for a leg, but he’s reliable from around 45 yards away and is automatic from midrange hitting seven straight early on.
7. CB Chris Westry, Soph.
At 6-4 and 195 pounds, the sophomore is a very big, very rangy defensive back with the size to end up at safety and the raw speed to be a matchup problem for receivers as a corner. In his first season he came up with 36 tackles with two picks with eight broken up passes with a steady year. He’s good to the tools to work anywhere in the defensive backfield, but as long as he can hold his own on the outside, he’ll be too interesting a factor not to keep him there.
8. WR Dorian Baker, Jr.
At 6-3 and 208 pounds, he’s a big target who led the team with 55 catches for 608 yards and three scores, coming up with eight catches with two scores against EKU and with seven grabs against both Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. He’s got the deep ball skills and the physical ability to win his share of 50/50 balls while also going across the middle and making the tough plays when needed.
9. NT Matt Elam, Jr.
A true anchor on the nose at 6-7 and 360 pounds, Alabama and Ohio State wanted him, but Kentucky was able to keep its guy at home bringing in the giant body needed for the middle of the line. He saw time early on with ten tackles as a true freshman and an interception, and last year came up with 23 stops. He’s not going to get into the backfield, and he won’t be spectacular, but he’ll hold his own in the interior.
10. CB Derrick Baity, Soph.
The big, fast corner came up with a strong first season making 19 tackles with two broken up passes as part of the rotation. At 6-3 and 180 pounds, he could end up working at safety with the ability to bring some pop against the run. But for now, he’s expected to work on the other side of Chris Westry to give the Wildcats one of the biggest corner tandems in college football.