Who is leaving, who is returning from Kentucky football's 2020 roster?

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON — It did not take long after Kentucky’s Gator Bowl win for the good news to start rolling in for the Wildcats.

Seniors Davonte Robinson, Josh Ali, Justin Rigg, Zach Johnson, Quandre Mosely and Luke Fortner are using the extra year of eligibility granted to players by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic to return to UK next season. All-American right tackle Darian Kinnard is turning down the NFL draft to return to school.

Now coach Mark Stoops will wait to learn if any other seniors choose to return to school and a handful of underclassmen decide to enter the NFL draft.

What will the 2021 roster look like? Here’s a position by position look at the Wildcats’ situation heading into the offseason. (Players are listed with 2021 class.)

Quarterback

Seniors: Terry Wilson, Sawyer Smith

Underclassmen: Beau Allen (6-2, 207, RFr.), Joey Gatewood (6-5, 221, Jr.), Nik Scalzo (6-0, 178, So.)

2021 signees: Kaiya Sheron (6-3, 200, Fr.)

Wilson announced Monday he will transfer to use his extra year of eligibility, so new offensive coordinator Liam Coen is set to implement his system with a new quarterback. Gatewood was listed as UK’s backup for the bowl game. However, Allen will present significant competition and might be a better fit for Coen’s scheme, which is not expected to emphasize the quarterback run game. Scalzo did not play this season as he rehabbed from a torn ACL, but the former star of Netflix’s QB1 show should add important depth in 2021. Sheron looks like a developmental piece for the future.

More:With Gator Bowl win, Kentucky football caps trying season with moment of joy

Running backs

Seniors: A.J. Rose

Underclassmen: JuTahn McClain (5-9, 187, So.), Chris Rodriguez (5-11, 224, Jr.), Kavosiey Smoke (5-9, 201, Jr.), Travis Tisdale (5-9, 173, So.)

2021 signees: La’Vell Wright (5-11, 202, Fr.)

Rose did not confirm his MVP performance in the Gator Bowl was his last game as a Wildcat, but he seems likely to try to make an NFL roster after five years in Lexington. If Rose moves on, Rodriguez could take on a Benny Snell-like workload as the Wildcats’ featured back. Smoke represents an important change of pace as a home-run threat, and McClain showed promise in a limited role this season. Tisdale is one of the fastest players on the roster and could contribute as a kick returner. Wright should have time to develop.

Wide receiver

Seniors: Josh Ali

Underclassmen: Kalil Branham (6-1, 202, RFr.), Tae Tae Crumes (6-1, 192, So.) Izayah Cummings (6-3, 228, So.), Allen Dailey (6-3, 208, Sr.), Isaiah Epps (6-2, 189, Sr.) DeMarcus Harris (6-1, 183, So.), Akeem Hayes (5-8, 155, Jr.), Bryce Oliver (6-1, 215, Jr.), Earnest Sanders (6-1, 216, RFr.), Clevan Thomas (5-11, 193, Sr.)

2021 signees: Dekel Crowdus (5-10, 170, Fr.), Christian Lewis (6-4, 190, Fr.), Chauncey Magwood (6-0, 180, Fr.), Devonte Ross (6-0, 170, Fr.)

The return of Ali, Kentucky’s leading receiver, is a major boost for a largely unproven group of receivers. Dailey, Oliver and Epps have shown promise and could thrive in Coen’s offense with a more credible passing attack. Cummings did not catch a pass as a freshman but was the target of consistent praise from coaches for his potential. The rest of the returners will have a chance for a fresh start with new offensive coaches, but transfers figure to be a factor at receiver, both from outgoing players and incomings. The 2021 signees will all have a chance for an immediate impact as well.

Tight ends

Seniors: Justin Rigg

Underclassmen: Brenden Bates (6-4, 248, Jr.), Nik Ognenovic (6-5, 249, So.), Keaton Upshaw (6-6, 245, Jr.)

2021 signees: Jordan Dingle (6-4, 240, Fr.)

Tight end was one of the deepest positions on the roster before Rigg’s return. Given the emphasis on play-action passes in Coen’s offense, it is no surprise Rigg wanted to come back to school. He and Upshaw were UK’s second and third-leading receivers this season, and they could become even more productive in the new offense. Bates, Ognenovic and Dingle are all promising pieces for the future.

Also:Why Gator Bowl could be first step in Keaton Upshaw starring in new Kentucky offense

Offensive line

Seniors: Luke Fortner, Drake Jackson, Landon Young

Underclassmen: Deondre Buford (6-3, 295, Fr.), Eli Cox (6-4, 293, So.), Austin Dotson (6-6, 313, Sr.), Jeremy Flax (6-6, 356, Jr.), Kenneth Horsey (6-3, 300, Jr.), Josh Jones (6-6, 336, RFr.), Darian Kinnard (6-5, 345, Sr.), Nick Lewis (6-9, 320, Jr.), Jake Pope (6-7, 291, So.), John Young (6-6, 302, RFr.), Naasir Watkins (6-5, 305, Jr.), Quintin Wilson (6-1, 294, Jr.)

2021 signees: Jager Burton (6-4, 290, Fr.), Paul Rodriguez (6-5, 310, Fr.), David Wohlabaugh (6-5, 290, Fr.)

The 2021 offensive line looked like one of Kentucky’s biggest questions before the bowl game, but the return of Fortner and Kinnard provides a strong nucleus to build around. Horsey, the No. 1 left guard this season, is also back, as are Dotson and Wilson, key members of the 2020 rotation. Wilson should take over at center for Jackson, and Watkins, a member of the rotation in 2019, could replace at Landon Young at tackle after missing all of the 2020 season while rehabbing an injury. Buford and Flax were listed as the tackle backups for the Gator Bowl. John Young, a former four-star recruit, and Lewis could factor in the competition as well. .

Defensive line

Seniors: Quinton Bohanna, Phil Hoskins, Kordell Looney

Underclassmen: Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald (6-6, 296, Sr.), Isaiah Gibson (6-3, 302, So.), Josiah Hayes (6-3, 314, So.), Jerquavion Mahone (6-3, 295, Jr.), Marquan McCall (6-3, 379, Sr.), Octavious Oxendine (6-1, 318, Fr.), Josh Paschal (6-3, 278, Sr.), Justin Rogers (6-3, 336, So.), Tre’vonn Rybka (6-4, 310, RFr.)

2021 signees: Jamarius Dinkins (6-5, 255, Fr.), Kahlil Saunders (6-5, 270, Fr.)

Kentucky will need to replace two defensive line starters if Bohanna and Hoskins do not return, as expected. McCall will likely take over Bohanna’s nose guard position, but the tackle spot vacated by Hoskins will be open for competition among a host of linemen how have gained experience as rotation players the last two years. Paschal, a team captain, looked like Kentucky’s best player early this season but battled nagging injuries for much of the year. With a big senior year, the UK captain could develop into an NFL draft pick.

Related:Drawing plays since 4 years old, new Kentucky offensive coordinator has football in his blood

Outside linebacker

Seniors: Jamar “Boogie” Watson

Underclassmen: Sam Anaele (6-4, 275, RFr.), K.D. McDaniel (6-2, 250, So.), Jordan Wright (6-5, 233, Sr.), J.J. Weaver (6-5, 241, So.)

2021 signees: Justice Dingle (6-3, 280, Jr.)

Watson confirmed Saturday the Gator Bowl was his last game as a Wildcat, leaving a hole in UK’s defense at “Jack” linebacker. Weaver, the former Moore star, is the logical candidate to take over that spot, but after tearing his ACL in November he will face a race to return to full strength by the start of the season. If Weaver’s rehab is delayed, McDaniel, Anaele and Georgia Tech transfer Justice Dingle will compete to start opposite Wright in Kentucky’s 3-4 defense.

Inside linebacker

Seniors: None

Underclassmen: Marquez Bembry (6-3, 232, Sr.), Jared Casey (6-3, 221, So.), Jamin Davis (6-4, 234, Sr.), Torrance Davis (6-2, 220, So.), D’Eryk Jackson (6-1, 245, So.), DeAndre Square (6-1, 224, Sr.)

2021 signees: Martez Thrower (6-2, 212, Fr.)

With no seniors at the position this season, Kentucky could return its entire inside linebacker rotation in 2021, but middle linebacker Jamin Davis is among the underclassmen who asked for feedback from the NFL about entering the draft. After the bowl game, Davis said he was not ready to make a decision about his future. If Davis and Square return, they would form a strong nucleus for the defense with questions on the line and in the secondary.

Defensive backs

Seniors: Brandin Echols, Quandre Mosely, Davonte Robinson

Underclassmen: Tyrell Ajian (6-0, 190, Sr.), Jamari Brown (6-1, 201, Jr.), Yusuf Corker (6-0, 197, Sr.), Taj Dodson (6-1, 198, So.), Cedrick Dort (5-11, 182, Sr.), Moses Douglass (6-2, 199, So.), Jalen Geiger (6-1, 195, So.), Rickey Hyatt (6-2, 203, RFr.), Andru Phillips (5-11, 180, So.), Vito Tisdale (6-1, 200, So.), Carrington Valentine (6-0, 200, So.), Joel Williams (6-1, 204, So.),

2021 signees: Maxwell Hairston (6-1, 170, Fr.), Adrian Huey (6-0, 180, Fr.), Jordan Lovett (6-2, 195, Fr.)

Robinson's return should position Kentucky to return starters at free safety (Corker), strong safety (Ajian) and nickelback (Robinson), but the Wildcats will need to replace both starting cornerbacks with Kelvin Joseph entering the draft early and Echols pursuing a professional career. Dort, a starter in 2019, should slide into one of the corner spots, and Valentine is the leading candidate for the other. Mosely, who played safety most of the last two seasons but moved to cornerback with Dort unavailable for the bowl will add depth across the secondary. Corker could contend for All-SEC honors as a senior. Even with the returning starters at safety, Tisdale figures to earn a larger role after an impressive freshman season.

Kickers

Seniors: Max Duffy, Golin Goodfellow, Matt Ruffolo

Underclassmen: Chance Poore (6-2, 208, Jr.)

2021 signees: Wilson Berry (6-4, 200, Fr.)

Few players on the roster will be more difficult to replace than 2019 Ray Guy Award winner Max Duffy, but UK dipped back into its Australian pipeline to sign Berry as his replacement. While walk-ons Ruffolo, the team’s starting place kicker, and Goodfellow, Duffy’s backup at punter, are listed as seniors on the 2020 roster. They did not participate in senior day, signaling a return for 2021. Ruffolo turned into a reliable weapon this season, converting 12 of 14 field goals, so he seems likely to hold off Poore for the starting job if he returns.

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ