Football recruiting mailbag (7/5): Answering all the big questions

Justin Rowland, Publisher
Cats Illustrated

The future of Kentucky's football program is looking pretty good.

Jarren Williams was impressive at The Opening, highly-touted and sought-after linebacker Xavier Peters committed to the Cats on July 4th, and UK's class is ranked in the top 15 nationally at Rivals.com.

In other words, it's a good time to answer some questions that have arisen recently.

Note: Mailbag questions are generally reworded from any specific question because so many of the same questions are asked.

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Dual-threat quarterback

4 STARS

Kentucky
Lawrenceville

RR: 5.8

Ht: 6'3.0"

Wt: 205.0

Class: 2018

POSITION

-

NATIONAL

STATE

Commitment status:

verbal

Kentucky

Where can Jarren Williams realistically finish in the rankings after his performance at The Opening?

I wasn't at The Opening but it sounds like he did exactly what I would have expected him to do, and that people are seeing what I've been seeing for a long time, plus a little extra on top because of his maturation as a passer. I would say that talk about a potential five-star ranking is probably premature, and that's just playing the odds. While I'm not giving my opinion pro or con on the point, and the hype from Oregon is undeniable, the fact is the recruiting world is largely a conservative industry. Players normally move incrementally, not exponentially, up or down in the rankings. There are exceptions. And Landon Young is proof that you can start the process a little-known prospect (later a three-star) and make the slow climb to a five.

My guess is Williams ultimately ends up on most outlets as a high four-star recruit in the top 100 of the national rankings, and that's based also, in part, on the fact that I expect him to continue to improve at an impressive rate.

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Should Kentucky fans be worried about the possibility of Jarren Williams flipping?

No, no, no ... no! If there's one question that I've heard just about every day since May, it's this. And if there's one question that's come to rub me the wrong way, no offense to anyone asking, it's this. There's no reason to ask the question.

Yes, Jarren Williams decommitted before. Yes, Mac Jones decommitted. Yes, other players have decommitted. Yes, Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, etc., really liked and/or wanted Jarren Williams.

But this is a guy who committed to Kentucky the first time around when he already had a verbal offer from Florida State. This is a guy who landed all the big offers, decommitted, and then recommitted, also then shutting it down. What Williams did at The Opening has no bearing on any of them, it would seem, because he already had those opportunities.

I suppose if you believe Williams secretly just wanted to go to FSU or Alabama and those schools would have required a camp, but for The Opening and now they would take him, then you could talk yourself into worrying. But at this point it would be bad public relations to decommit again, and there's no reason to believe he wants to. So, this is the last time I'll be responding to the question. If I'm proven to be a fool here just copy/paste this to @OldTakesExposed and I'll take all the comeuppance I'll have earned.

Outside linebacker

3 STARS

Kentucky
West Chester

RR: 5.7

Ht: 6'4.0"

Wt: 220.0

Class: 2018

POSITION

-

NATIONAL

STATE

Commitment status:

verbal

Kentucky

How significant is the commitment of Xavier Peters?

It's really big because he's a player who has a really high ceiling but also because linebacker is an area of need for Kentucky in this class.

I think you can make a strong case for Xavier Peters as a four-star prospect. Rivals.com obviously does not have him ranked quite as high as some other outlets (however, for any conspiracy theorists I would remind you that Rivals has UK's class ranked in the top 15 nationally and has had UK's classes under Mark Stoops ranked highest, of any major outlet, every single year since Stoops arrived), and I'm sure there are reasons for that.

RELATED: Impact analysis following Xavier Peters' commitment to Kentucky

Peters is obviously a beast with an enormous ceiling. He moves well and carries his weight well for a player who is sculpted like he is at that age. Questions to be answered include whether he can play OLB or will be an inside linebacker, and the degree of his lateral agility/flexibility. But he is a huge pickup and can be a multi-year starter who competes for accolades.

I do think some people have put the cart before the horse with some of the expectation-setting re: Peters. I say that while also maintaining that he could be underrated/undervalued. He may not be a three-star, but he's not a five, and that's only being fair to him so folks don't expect him to step in and beat out Jordan Jones and others as a true freshman.

Weakside defensive end

3 STARS

Kentucky
Huber Heights

RR: 5.6

Ht: 6'5.0"

Wt: 230.0

Class: 2018

POSITION

-

NATIONAL

STATE

Commitment status:

verbal

Kentucky

How big of an asset have Kentucky's commitments been in helping to recruit other players to the class?

They've definitely been helpful. The most timely example, right now, would be the work that Jarren Williams (and his dad) did with Blue Smith out in Beaverton, Oreg., at The Opening. That relationship's significance is compounded by the fact that it's a quarterback-receiver relationship, and Williams' rise in the recruiting world probably gives Smith a much higher degree of confidence in the program's future.

Alex Reigelsperger has certainly been an energetic recruiter on Kentucky's behalf, and that's helps. You have to like having a player on board who knows so many players in Ohio and is the teammate of your biggest target. However, as it always the case, it's mostly the coaching staff that's doing the heavy lifting. Vince Marrow is far and away the biggest reason for Kentucky's success with the many recruits he has served as the lead recruiter for, just as Steven Clinkscale was more important than anyone else in securing two Michigan commitments and Eddie Gran gets most of the props for the South Florida commits.

Athlete

4 STARS


Huber Heights

RR: 6.0

Ht: 6'5.0"

Wt: 215.0

Class: 2018

POSITION
31
NATIONAL
2
STATE

Commitment status:

undecided



Does Kentucky lead for Rivals100 ATH Blue Smith, and what would it mean if Kentucky were to land him?

The follow-up question, which I've heard frequently on the radio and elsewhere, is much easier to answer than the first. In short, "Blue" would be a monster pickup. Probably the most impressive commitment of the Stoops era by a good margin. I'm not saying the best commitment (I'd have to look at that from a number of angles), nor am I saying the most important commitment (because quarterbacks are incredibly important, Lynn Bowden was really important, Boom Williams was very important, and receivers aren't quite as much a lock to impact the game). But it would be the most impressive recruiting win of the Stoops era by a wide margin because it would be, unquestionably, an example of UK going into Ohio and taking a player the Buckeyes want badly. To land a recruit who sat in Urban Meyer's office and heard his pitch would be a huge notch in Marrow and Stoops' belts and it would catch the eyeballs of a lot of other recruits, especially in Ohio.

But does Kentucky lead?

That's not very easy to say. I have heard people connected to the Ohio State program laugh off any suggestion that Smith might end up at Kentucky (although even those people will candidly acknowledge that Ohio State hasn't played its hand very well in the Blue sweepstakes, allowing big questions to fester and create doubt/uncertainty in his mind). I have heard people close to Kentucky who have maintained, contrary to almost all the other chatter at a given point in time, that UK leads.

I have tried to split the difference and toe a fine line, as usual, because I think the truth is usually in the murky middle. I felt like UK was the real leader for several months early in the process, especially when Smith was very publicly, and adamantly, voicing an almost a kind of defiance when it came to the receiver/tight end question. Then, I thought the winds shifted and put Smith in the "Ohio State's to lose," category after that trip to Columbus.

More recently I can't deny that Kentucky sources, a variety of them, are increasingly bullish on the Cats' chances. Gun to my head (let's hope that never happens over a recruiting prediction), I'd say UK has a 55-percent chance to land him. In other words, I think if the choice were today the choice would be Kentucky. But I'm not at all convinced that it's done or close to being done (even if he were to verbally commit, it would be a fight to the finish/signing).

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Athlete

3 STARS


Louisville

RR: 5.5

Ht: 6'3.0"

Wt: 173.0

Class: 2018

-

POSITION

-

NATIONAL

STATE

Commitment status:

undecided



How many more commitments will Kentucky land by the end of the summer?

I'm going to set the over/under at three. That might seem high, but there's a reason it's high. For one, Terez Traynor should pull the trigger this month in just more than a week's time (or thereabouts). If he doesn't it'd be a big surprise.

Then, there are a whole wave of recruits on Kentucky's board who would like to have decisions made by the end of the summer, and the odds are that even if Kentucky misses out on their fair share (as they will; everyone misses on some), they'll probably get their fair share, too. Chris Oats, for instance, wants to make a decision in August. Even if he's not a lock for Kentucky, the Cats still have a chance.

RELATED: Four-star linebacker Chris Oats has six favorites

Many recruits want to be done with recruiting before two-a-days start so they can focus on their senior season and school year. Many others have parents or coaches who want that for them. Lots of UK's recruits will carry their recruitments on through the fall football season and into the winter, but a lot should fly off the board this month, for good or bad.

My guess is UK lands three more.

Offensive tackle

3 STARS

Kentucky
Cleveland

RR: 5.7

Ht: 6'6.0"

Wt: 315.0

Class: 2018

POSITION

-

NATIONAL

STATE

Commitment status:

verbal

Kentucky

What's the next big thing to watch for in UK recruiting?

Kentucky's got a couple more big camps coming up this summer and we'll provide wall-to-wall, unmatched coverage just like we have before.

On July 14th, Kentucky has its Friday Night Lights Camp. That's become a big deal in recent years. They've already had two very well run, talent-packed night camps (earlier in June), and we should see a lot more talent at this event. Lots of Ohio kids, more Florida guys, commits like Darian Kinnard (who hasn't camped at UK yet) and Jarren Williams (who attended an earlier camp but didn't participate).

The very next day is big, too. On July 15th, Kentucky's got a 7 on 7 passing tournament which will bring in teams from many different states (and many of them will include real prospects) that will be going on at the same time as a Big Man Camp. At last year's Big Man Camp we had a chance to scout Austin Dotson at length, so it will be interesting.

Those camps always lead to new offers, they provide great scouting opportunities and they could net the Cats some commitments.

Athlete

3 STARS


Fort Myers

RR: 5.5

Ht: 6'0.0"

Wt: 170.0

Class: 2018

-

POSITION

-

NATIONAL

-

STATE

Commitment status:

undecided



If Kentucky wins eight or nine games, what happens to recruiting then?

That's one of the questions I get more than any other. In short, I don't really know, but it would definitely be a good thing. I am normally an incrementalist, as I've said before, or in other words I believe in a measured take rather than assuming we're witnessing a tectonic shift. If you're inclined to unabashed optimism you could point out that UK recruiting has never been better, so even what we're witnessing doesn't have a modern precedent (thus, 8 or 9 wins could lead to top 10 classes, you might say).

I would say this: There seem to be about 15 programs that routinely land top 20-25 classes. Kentucky is probably not going to be one of those 15 programs anytime soon, because most of those schools benefit from some combination of factors that make recruiting easier (huge local/regional talent pools, decades of success, enormous stadiums and great gameday atmospheres, etc). That's the clear goal for Kentucky in the long run. But I think a good recruiting goal, if UK were to win eight or nine games this year or even consistently, would be to turn classes that currently average top 30 finishes (rough, rough estimate without running the numbers) to a top 25 finish. Do that and you can consistently compete for spots in the top half of the SEC East, and they may be close to that already.

If the on-field product improves this fall, from last year's 7-6 season, then recruiting would benefit everywhere. But UK is already doing what it needs to do in Ohio and now South Florida. It would probably help UK in places like Georgia, the DMV, Tennessee, etc., more than anywhere else...places where Kentucky needs to continue to change perceptions to have a chance with players who grew up with a less-than-favorable impression of the program.

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