After Kentucky set a new school record for draft picks with six in this past weekend’s 2021 NFL Draft, Vince Marrow predicted Kentucky will have another record year in 2022 with up to 10 NFL draft picks next spring. As crazy as it sounds, it may not be THAT crazy.
10 is a little high of a projection, sure, but it’s not too optimistic to think there could be another large group of outgoing Wildcats in next year’s draft. Six is doable again, maybe more if the stars align above Kroger Field.
Let’s look at the early prospects…
Darian Kinnard, Offensive Line — Kinnard was expected to be selected in this year’s draft, but made a surprise return to Kentucky for another season almost immediately after last season ended. He was already projected as a top-100 NFL prospect when he made the call to go back to school for his senior year, so another good season in Lexington could secure him a place in the 2022 first round. Matter of fact, he was slotted as a top-25 selection in The Athletic’s first 2022 mock draft earlier today.
Josh Paschal, Defensive End — Paschal is another Kentucky senior who could’ve made last season his final season of college football; however, he turned down a likely spot in the draft to play another year of football in Lexington. Reports out of spring practice said Paschal dominated, so he’ll be an easy decision for an NFL GM this time next year if he can play a good, healthy fifth year of football. Paschal’s character and comeback story will only help his stock too.
Wan’Dale Robinson, Wide Receiver — If Wan’Dale Robinson can have the breakout season some expect, he may be a one-and-done as a Kentucky Wildcat. Robinson will be draft eligible after the upcoming season, and a good year against SEC defenses should earn him a nice payday if he elects to leave for the league a year early. Let’s see what he can do at UK first though. I like this Heisman idea.
Chris Rodriguez, Running Back — Like Robinson, Chris Rodriguez could play his way into an early departure for the NFL Draft. As a sophomore he led the insanely-competitive Southeastern Conference in yards-per-carry—while being criminally underused, I’ll add—and with a new NFL-style offense and a coordinator who wants to feed him, Rodriguez is poised for a big junior season this fall.
Marquan McCall, Defensive Tackle — Bully McCall should slide right into Quinton Bohanna’s full-time role at nose guard on Kentucky’s defensive line, and by early accounts the transition is going very well. If he plays up to expectations in his senior season and his first as a starter, McCall should follow Bohanna’s path right to the NFL Draft.
Keaton Upshaw, Tight End — If you were to pass Keaton Upshaw on the street, you’d go, “Oh cool, that guy I just passed is an NFL tight end.” Upshaw is an NFL tight end. He looks just like one. It’s only a matter of time until he gets there, and if he will ever get the ball enough at Kentucky to build up some film for NFL teams to see that he is an NFL tight end. But either next draft or the one after, Upshaw will be in consideration for a pick, maybe high consideration.
Justin Rigg, Tight End — Another Vince Marrow-ism, in 2019 he said tight end Justin Rigg will be better than CJ Conrad, and that Rigg is built for an NFL future. “He’s more of what you look for in an all-around NFL tight end,” Marrow said, “6-6, 260, long wingspan, soft hands, he can block at the point of attack. Justin Rigg is really, really — we’re going to do some good things with him.” Rigg caught only one touchdown in his four seasons at UK (not his fault) and his best day didn’t come until Senior Day this past season when he caught three passes for a career-high 79 yards. However, Rigg will take advantage of the NCAA’s free-year rule so he is back in 2021 with more to prove and to give Marrow’s prediction another chance.
Yusuf Corker, Safety — Corker has the NFL’s attention after he earned All-SEC honors from both Phil Steele and Pro Football Focus in 2020. Corker was second on the team in tackles and intercepted a pass in each of the last two games for a strong finish to his junior year. Momentum is high heading into his senior season.
DeAndre Square, Inside Linebacker — Size will be an issue for Square when NFL teams pick apart his scouting report, but his college tape will show a playmaker from the start when he played in all 13 games as a true freshman linebacker in Kentucky’s Citrus Bowl season. In Square’s senior year this fall, his three years of experience and leadership will be needed as he plays the position next to the person replacing Jamin Davis. Davis’ departure also opens up an opportunity for Square to spike those stats in his final year, one last audition for an NFL career.
Jordan Wright, Outside Linebacker — Maybe the next in line at Linebacker U? With the way they’re developing linebackers over at the UK training facility, I wouldn’t bet against Wright playing his way into an NFL career. Last season he was all over the place with 45 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, four pass breakups, two QB hurries, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. Another year of ball-hawking and Wright will want to be by his phone on draft weekend 2022.
Josh Ali, Wide Receiver — New offensive coordinator Liam Cohen and his NFL background could provide Ali the chance to post NFL numbers. After all, it’s why Ali came back for the bonus fifth year, to catch passes in an NFL-style offense.
Luke Fortner, Big Blue Wall — Fortner will be in All-SEC conversations this fall as he enters the 2021 season with 23 consecutive starts at right guard. A staple on one of the best offensive lines in college football the past few seasons, Fortner has blocked for some of the school’s best rushers, guys like Benny Snell, Lynn Bowden and Chris Rodriguez, and will be a long shot on draft day a year from now when he leaves his six-year college career behind.
Cedrick Dort, Cornerback — Dort started in 12 games at corner in his sophomore season, but took on a backup role behind Kelvin Joseph and Brandin Echols this past season, Dort’s junior year. Now a senior, Dort is back in a starting role and playing in a secondary that put six guys in the NFL in six years, including Joseph and Echols in this past draft. Who’s to say he won’t carry on the tradition?
Joey Gatewood, Quarterback — We can dream, right?