Twice in the last three seasons, we’ve seen Kentucky cornerbacks turn into pros. After the 2018 season, Lonnie Johnson Jr. was drafted in the second round by the Houston Texans while both Derrick Baity Jr. and Chris Westry signed free agent deals. That forced Kentucky to rebuild in a hurry.
Heading into 2019, the Wildcats signed junior college transfer Brandin Echols and added LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph. After just two seasons, Kentucky produced two more draft picks at the cornerback position. This offseason, the position is having to reload again but the coach will be different.
After a five-year run in Lexington, Steve Clinkscale decided to make a change and the assistant coach is now at Michigan. The Wildcats have yet to hire a replacement, but the unknown new guy has a pretty tough job ahead in year one. The Wildcats need a couple of new starters as the pass defense looks to finish in the top-40 nationally in yards per attempt allowed for the fourth season in a row.
Our post-spring personnel series on the defense rolls on after touching on the front seven — defensive line, edge, inside linebacker. Now we shift out to the perimeter to see how Kentucky will transition in 2021. There are three players with playing experience that will need to lead the way.
Cedrick Dort Jr.: A South Florida recruit that has stuck around, Dort is back for year five in the program and the 5-foot-11 defensive back should reclaim a starting spot in 2021. In 2019, the cornerback started 12 games recording 16 tackles and five pass breakups. However, playing time shrunk with Joseph taking over a starting role last season. In his career, Dort has produced seven pass breakups showing some disruption in coverage.
Carrington Valentine: The lowest-ranked recruit in the class of 2020, Valentine quickly made a name for himself as a true freshman. Valentine played in 10 games and earned a start in the Gator Bowl while finishing the year with 10 tackles. The six-foot, 200-pound sophomore is now a major part of Kentucky’s future defensive plans. Valentine knows that and is working on playing with more of an edge.
“Being aggressive when the run comes, tearing off blocks,” said Valentine. “Basically getting our hands dirty. The stereotype of corners is that corners don’t like to hit. For our DB group, we’ve tried to hone in on being aggressive and hitting.”
Quandre Mosely: Mosely was another junior college transfer in the class of 2019 making the move with Echols. However, his time at Kentucky has been filled with some position changes playing nearly every position in the secondary. The super senior is back for one more round and Mosely will likely be a swing corner that can play either boundary or field. The veteran has accumulated 43 tackles and five pass breakups in two seasons. His presence at 6-foot-2 gives the defense some much-needed insurance.
Andru Phillips: A recruiting win out of South Carolina that got plenty of people excited, Phillips redshirted last season after arriving as a mid-year enrollee. At 5-foot-11, Phillips does not have great size but the cornerback has some great striking ability and could be a ferocious tackler. Look for the redshirt freshman to bring special teams value while trying to break into the two-deep.
Adrian Huey: A true freshman from Nashville, Tenn., Huey will arrive on campus this summer. The rookie is small for the position — 5-foot-10, 160 pounds — but the tape shows a player with sudden quickness, top-end speed, and ball production. The young cornerback needs time to season but could grow into something down the road thanks to the athletic traits.
Maxwell Hairston: The other cornerback in the class of 2021 enrolled early and went through spring practice. Another member of the Detroit pipeline, Hairston picked Kentucky over Arkansas, Minnesota, Purdue, Rutgers, and Virginia Tech. The true freshman recorded 16 pass breakups, three interceptions, and three forced fumbles on a state championship team in 2020. That production should translate to college as Hairston consistently made plays on the ball for West Bloomfield (Mich.) High.