Recruiting classes can be so fickle. What is celebrated in December and February can be quickly forgotten about. However, when looking at program health, how a class performs in its third or fourth year in the program typically tells you how it graded out. The class of 2017 is heading into year five, and this haul has been the most talented of the Stoops era.
From top blue-chippers turning into high-level players, junior college transfers getting drafted and multiple low three-stars becoming quality starters, this class has delivered. The NFL Draft is about to pluck a couple more guys from this roster, while 11 individuals still remain on campus heading to their all-important redshirt senior season.
To see just how well this group performed, Kentucky Sports Radio will break it down into sections to describe just how dynamite this 2017 haul — that mainly happened due to the second-half breakthrough of 2016 — has performed at the college level.
Lynn Bowden Jr.: Not much needs to be said here. The former top-200 recruit was a major win for the staff and the Youngstown, Ohio product produced right away. Bowden won the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player in 2019 while also receiving First-Team All-America honors. Bowden stuffed the stat sheet, played quarterback, and led Kentucky to wins over Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Louisville, and Virginia Tech. He was a 3rd round selection and appears to have a bright future with the Miami Dolphins after a short stay with the Las Vegas Raiders. This was a home run.
Josh Paschal: Paschal enters his redshirt senior season with 25 career starts. Not only has he beat cancer, but the DMV native has also played multiple positions. The 6-foot-3 defender has settled in as a 3-4 defensive end and is looking to finally have the monster season in 2021. A knee sprain derailed him last year, but the team thinks he’s going to be a star this fall.
Tyrell Ajian: A top-300 recruit out of Mansfield, Ohio, Ajian has started 12 games in the last two seasons while showing some playmaking ability. The deep safety has recorded an interception for three consecutive seasons and was one of the unit’s better players in 2020. His presence makes the safety spot one of the best positions on the team.
JaVonte Richardson: Richardson was a big recruiting win out of Ohio. To that point, the program had struggled to recruit wide receivers and the 6-4 prospect was a huge blue-chip win. However, it never stuck for Richardson and the big wideout left the program for junior college. The receiver would commit to Kentucky again but was unable to rejoin the roster.
Yusuf Corker: A second-team All-SEC selection last season, Corker is emerging as one of the best safeties in college football. The metro Atlanta native has started 24 consecutive games recording 151 tackles the last two seasons with three interceptions. The 6-foot safety can both drop into deep zone coverage and be a fill player in run support. This could be the next star for the program when the draft rolls around in 2022.
Danny Clark: After missing out on Mac Jones, the Kentucky coaching staff quickly moved over to Clark who was looking for a landing spot after being a long-time Ohio State commit. After two years on campus, the big lefty was buried on the depth chart, and decided to move on. After a year in junior college, Clark was at Vanderbilt last season before entering the transfer portal.
Jordan Wright: Perhaps the biggest South Florida recruiting win for Eddie Gran, Wright picked Kentucky over Arkansas and the former top-500 recruit is heading into his redshirt senior season with high expectations. The outside linebacker has recorded 11.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 5 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles, and scored 2 defensive touchdowns in the last 2 seasons. The veteran could be due for a breakout in 2021.
Phil Hoskins: The junior college transfer was a big-time recruiting win and thanks to a medical redshirt, the defensive line player spent four years in Lexington. Hoskins was a quality starter this past season recording 30 tackles and is now going through the draft process.
Alex King: Injuries slowed the metro Cincinnati native, and King moved on from the game of football after three years in the program.
Bryant Koback: The Toledo, Ohio native had people buzzing after a productive prep career, but Koback would last just one season before moving back home. Kentucky would end up giving the tailback his release and he returned to Kroger Field with the Rockets in 2019. Koback has rushed for 2,626 yards and 30 touchdowns in three seasons playing in the MAC.
Josh Ali: One of many that came to Kentucky from Hollywood (Fla.) Chaminade Madonna High, Ali is the last one left. The South Florida native picked Kentucky over Utah and has had a strong career. The wideout will enter his super senior season with 90 career receptions and high expectations in the new offense.
Clevan Thomas Jr.: Another South Florida prospect, Thomas has hung around and is now getting some buzz as a redshirt senior. However, an ACL injury will keep him out of the lineup in 2021.
Lonnie Johnson Jr.: A junior college product that picked Kentucky over Georgia, Johnson started 18 games in his two years on campus. After collecting 64 tackles and blocking a couple of kicks, Johnson went on to be a 2nd round selection of the Houston Texans in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Sebastien Dolcine: After two seasons at Kentucky, Dolcine moved on to junior college for a year before landing at Florida Atlantic. A South Florida prospect that left the program, Dolcine enters his second season playing for Willie Taggart.
Michael Nesbitt: Another player from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Nesbitt was only on the team for two seasons before leaving.
Jamin Davis: The biggest riser in this year’s NFL Draft, Davis was a star in his first season starting at Mike — recording 102 tackles and 3 interceptions in just 10 games. The South Georgia linebacker is a tremendous development story for the program after slowly getting better each season on campus.
Walker Wood: The quarterback from Lexington (Ky.) Lafayette was high school teammates with current Cleveland Browns left tackle Jedrick Wills, but Kentucky was unable to land both. Wood was on campus for three seasons before transferring to FCS McNeese State in 2020.
Quinton Bohanna: Despite posting some monster numbers playing in Memphis, Tenn., offers did not come rolling in for Bohanna. Kentucky picked up a major recruiting win, and Bohanna would start as a true freshman. He leaves campus after collecting 33 starts and being an All-SEC selection as a senior. The nose tackle should hear his name called at the NFL Draft.
Naasir Watkins: A high school teammate of Paschal, Watkins earned a spot on the two-deep as a true freshman before playing 24 games over the next two seasons. A knee injury kept him out last year, and his status for this season remains a question mark.
Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald: After two years of development, Abadi-Fitzgerald has played in 18 games over the last two seasons providing defensive line depth. At 6-foot-6, the Florida recruit will provide some much-needed length to the d-line rotation in 2021.
Chris Whittaker: After two seasons on campus, the South Florida native transferred to FIU. Whittaker played in 13 games for the Panthers the last two seasons recording 5.5 tackles for loss. However, Whittaker moved back into the portal after the year and will play for Nevada in 2021.
Isaiah Epps: The 6-2 senior wideout has 20 career receptions, but has been slowed by injuries. The Oklahoma native missed the entire 2019 season due to a left foot injury that lingered into 2020. Epps showed some glimpses during the last month of the year and will be competing for a starting spot this year.
Cedrick Dort Jr.: Another recruit from South Florida, Dort started 12 games as a redshirt sophomore in 2019 recording 16 tackles and 5 pass breakups. With the arrival of Kelvin Joseph, Dort became the first corner off the bench in 2020 but could move back into a starting spot this season.
Austin Dotson: The Belfry (Ky.) High product finally got a chance at playing time in 2020, and he took advantage. Playing right guard, Dotson started four games and was a bullying force not afraid to mix it up with defensive players. Once again, Dotson will be a quality player on this year’s Big Blue Wall.
Recruit and Develop
The motto used by the coaching staff got some major proof of concept with this recruiting haul. The class of 2017 ranked 30th nationally, was 11th in the SEC, and was also 30th in average star rating. Feels fair to say that the class has exceeded expectations.
The ‘Cats hit on most of their blue-chippers, could produce as many as eight NFL Draft picks, and has had multiple All-SEC selections. Even some transfers have turned into quality players at the Group of Five levels.
When you look back at a recruiting class, this is what you want to see. Kentucky recruited blue-chips that produced and developed a bunch of three-stars into quality players. This is the “recruit and develop” model.