How is Kentucky football recruiting going? The NFL draft starting Thursday will tell us.

Outside wins and losses, an indication of how Kentucky football is doing comes this weekend, starting Thursday night in Detroit.

That’s the when and where for the 2024 NFL draft, the three-day, seven-round, 257-selection extravaganza where the 32 professional football teams divvy up first-year talent.

The SEC traditionally produces the best players available. The “It Just Means More” league has had the most players selected in 12 of the last 13 drafts. That includes last April when 62 SEC players heard their names called, three shy of a record 65 SEC players in 2022.

What does this have to do with Kentucky?

Mark Stoops’ Wildcats have to play those guys.

If you want to compete with, much less beat those guys, you’d better have your fair share of players that can make NFL rosters upon availability. That’s why, in my humble opinion, the number of five-stars a team recruits from the high school prospect rankings doesn’t matter nearly as much as the number of NFL draft picks it produces.

In that regard, Stoops suffered an understandable slow start. His first five seasons in Lexington, Kentucky produced all of four draft picks, including zero in the 2017 and 2018 drafts.

Then came the 2018 Kentucky team that finished 10-3. Five Wildcats from that edition were selected in the 2019 draft, including edge rusher Josh Allen (1st round/seventh pick overall), cornerback Lonnie Johnson (2/54), safety Mike Edwards (3/99), running back Benny Snell (4/122) and offensive lineman George Asafo-Adjei (7/232).

So began a five-year period, continuing through last year, in which 20 Kentucky players were drafted. Included were two first-round picks (Allen, and Jamin Davis in 2021), five second-round picks and 10 chosen in the top 100 of their drafts.

UK’s banner year was 2021. Besides Davis going in the first round with the 19 overall pick, five other Cats received the call — Kelvin Joseph (2/44), Quinton Bohanna (6/192), Brandin Echols (6/200), Landon Young (6/206) and Phil Hoskins (7/232).

Kentucky’s 2022 draft included three top-100 picks in wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson (2/43), defensive lineman Josh Paschal (2/46) and center Luke Fortner (3/65).

Then there was last year when Will Levis’ green room agony was televised as the UK quarterback went undrafted in the first round. All’s well that ends well, however. Taken with the second pick of the second round, Levis enters the 2024 NFL season as the Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops and his staff have developed 20 players into NFL draft picks across the past five years. Four or more former Wildcats could be selected in the 2024 draft, which gets underway Thursday night.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops and his staff have developed 20 players into NFL draft picks across the past five years. Four or more former Wildcats could be selected in the 2024 draft, which gets underway Thursday night.

What about this year? NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s most recent mock draft has 10 first-round SEC players. Three are among Jeremiah’s first 10 picks — LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels at No. 3 to New England; LSU wide receiver Malik Nabors at No. 6 to the New York Giants and Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner at No. 8 to Atlanta.

As for Kentucky players, cornerback Andru Phillips appears the most likely ex-Wildcat to hear his name called first. Pro Football Focus ranks Phillips as the 64th-best prospect, going to Kansas City in the second round. The 33rd Team site has Phillips headed to Indianapolis in the third round.

PFF ranks UK running back Ray Davis at No. 82 on its list. Jeremiah has Davis as the draft’s third-best running back. The 33rd team has Davis as a fourth-round selection by Tampa Bay, where former Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen now calls plays.

Linebacker Trevin Wallace is No. 168 on the PFF list after running a 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Wide receiver Tayvion Robinson is ranked 186th. Quarterback Devin Leary is ranked 250th. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler has the New York Jets picking Leary in the sixth round.

Consensus has at least two and maybe as many as four Cats hearing their names called. Maybe more, considering tight end Brenden Bates has interviewed with three teams and drawn interest from several more, including a private workout with the Bengals.

If two Kentucky players are drafted, it will extend to six years in which multiple Cats were chosen. That hasn’t happened since 1984-1991. To compete in the SEC, that’s a streak that must continue.

Kentucky star Ray Davis hopes NFL draft will help inspire children facing similar hardship

The football transfer portal is open again. Kentucky could use help at these positions.

With Brock Vandagriff and Bush Hamdan, the QB run game is back for Kentucky football

Three takeaways from UK offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan’s first press conference