‘I know he has the talent.’ Mark Stoops thinks Devin Leary could be NFL starting QB.

For the first time in program history, Kentucky football has had a quarterback selected in back-to-back NFL drafts.

A year ago, Will Levis ended a 15-year drought in which no UK quarterback was drafted. Levis then became the first Kentucky player drafted as a quarterback to start an NFL game or throw a touchdown pass in the NFL since Tim Couch retired in 2003 as a rookie for the Tennessee Titans.

Despite an inconsistent season at UK after transferring from North Carolina State, quarterback Devin Leary continued the Wildcats’ draft momentum by being selected in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday. Leary was the third-to-last choice of the round, the 218th player selected in the three-day, seven-round draft.

Leary, a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award in 2021 at N.C. State, completed 56.3% of his passes for 2,746 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in one season at Kentucky. There were plenty of highlight reel throws from Leary during the 2023 season, but he also frequently had passes tipped at the line of scrimmage or missed wide open receivers.

While Leary appeared to struggle at times with the move from a spread attack at N.C. State to Liam Coen’s pro-style offense at Kentucky, playing for Coen, who has since returned to the NFL as offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, appeared to help him during the predraft process. Leary was singled out for praise by pundits for his NFL combine throwing session in particular.

“Ultimately from a production standpoint, I know I could have done a lot better (at Kentucky),” Leary said at the combine. “It wasn’t necessarily what I set out to do, but overall from a developmental standpoint and honestly taking a leap of faith of transferring, learning a new system, getting around a whole bunch of different guys, overcoming a pretty severe injury, I’m blessed to be here. I really am.

“I know my best football is still in front of me, but ultimately to develop as a quarterback, I’m very thankful for my time at Kentucky.”

Quarterback Devin Leary led Kentucky to seven wins in one season as a Wildcat after transferring from N.C. State.
Quarterback Devin Leary led Kentucky to seven wins in one season as a Wildcat after transferring from N.C. State.

While Leary lacks the same draft buzz as Levis, who was widely projected as a possible top-10 pick before sliding into the second round, even being drafted represents a step up from much of Kentucky’s recent quarterback history.

Between Couch and Levis, the only NFL appearance for a player recruited to play quarterback at UK (not including wide receivers Randall Cobb and Lynn Bowden who spent time as “wildcat” quarterbacks in college) came in the form of four brief cameos off the bench from Jared Lorenzen in 2006 and 2007. Lorenzen completed four of eight passes for 28 yards in his NFL career.

UK quarterback Andre Woodson was picked in the sixth round in 2008 but never appeared in an NFL game. The only former Wildcat to throw a touchdown in an NFL game between Couch’s last touchdown pass on Dec. 14, 2003, and Levis’ first touchdown pass on Oct. 29, 2023, was punter Tim Masthay on a trick play for the Green Bay Packers in 2012.

“It would absolutely not surprise me to see Devin be a starting quarterback in the NFL,” UK coach Mark Stoops said at the school’s pro day. “I hope it happens. I know he has the talent.

“Him, myself, all of us, wish we had a little more, maybe another year with him. There were some ups and downs last year, but he’s got a lot of talent. I think he’s got a lot of good football ahead of him.”

Could Ray Davis become the rare Kentucky running back to thrive in NFL with Buffalo Bills?

Kentucky ties a program record with two picks in the 2024 NFL draft’s third round

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

A leader has emerged in one of Kentucky football’s most important spring position battles