We roll on in our series preview with the last position of the offense which happens to be one of the most important. For the second season in a row, UK's offensive line will be the most talented position group on the offense and they will lead the way behind the coaching of UK alum and former All-SEC performer John Schlarman. The Wildcats return 4 of 5 starters from last season, but must replace 39 starts and an NFL talent in Logan Stenberg.
In the middle, Drake Jackson returns for his redshirt senior season and the former blue-chip recruit from Woodford County High School has started 33 consecutive games and is fresh off of first team All-SEC honors. He will be a preseason All-SEC selection at SEC Media Days and may well be one of the representatives that Mark Stoops brings to Atlanta. He is the maestro upfront and with him calling the shots this group has another great chance to be one of the best line groups in college football.
On the outside, Kentucky might have its best tackle duo ever in Darian Kinnard and Landon Young. Before Justin Rogers signed, Young was the highest rated recruit of the Stoops era and he bounced back strong in 2019 after missing the previous season due to an ACL injury. The 6-foot-7 redshirt senior started every game last season and will be looking to improve his NFL draft stock and compete for All-SEC honors in his final ride wearing the blue and white.
On the right side, Kinnard returns for his junior season and is another former blue-chip recruit who has started 15 games including two as a true freshman. Last year he emerged as a dominant force upfront and he may very well be the best returning tackle in the SEC. It would not be a surprise to see him leave early for the NFL following the 2020 season.
At guard, Luke Fortner is back for his redshirt senior season after starting all 13 games at right guard in 2019. The Ohio native and former low three-star prospect impressed many in his first year starting and is a primary candidate to slide to the left side to replace Stenberg. Finding the group's next starter is the biggest question.
At tackle, Naasir Watkins will serve as the primary backup after playing in 24 games the last two seasons, but staying healthy has been an issue in his career. Inside, Austin Dotson, Kenneth Horsey and Quintin Wilson appear to be the top candidates to earn that final starting spot on the line. Horsey is the only natural guard with Wilson most likely the guy to replace Drake Jackson at center while Dotson began his career at tackle. Expect all three to get a long look in spring camp to determine what to do with that final spot.
Nick Lewis is a mountain of a man (6-foot-9, 367 pounds) who is entering his redshirt sophomore season looking to break in with the twos and potentially become a rotational piece at tackle. Both Eli Cox and Jake Pope redshirted last season with both looking to break the lineup in 2020.
In the class of 2020, the state of Kentucky had two blue-chip prospects and they were among the top targets on Kentucky's recruiting board. Walker Parks decided to leave Lexington for Little Ol' Clemson, but Kentucky was able to get into Louisville and successfully recruit John Young out of Christian Academy.
The early enrollee will begin his career at right tackle, but don't be surprised if he eventually slides to the interior of the line. The 6-foot-6 and 280-pound true freshman has already received some Logan Stenberg comparisons and his heavy hands combined with strong leg drive should make him a mauler in the run game. He'll have a chance to contribute in 2020.
Kentucky brought in only one junior college prospect in the most recent class and it was a big one. Jeremy Flax was expected to enroll early, but that has been pushed back to the summer for the Michigan native and Independence Community College product. Flax picked Kentucky over Auburn and is currently projected at tackle, but it also wouldn't be a surprise to see him at guard. Don't be surprised if he is the opening day starter at guard.
R.J. Adams was an early signing day addition for Kentucky and the Virginia native who was a high three-star recruit by the 247 Sports Composite picked UK over NC State in the end. At 325 pounds, he has the size to play right away and he flashed some surprising mobility on tape. Derrick LeBlanc is off to Arkansas, but he left UK a nice recruiting win by landing the signature of Josh Jones out of Alabama. The 6-foot-6 interior line prospect played for powerhouse Central-Phenix City and will be able to compete right away.
This was a recruiting class lauded for the line of scrimmage talent and the offensive line haul certainly doesn't disappoint.
Things are pretty much set for the Wildcats entering the fall. UK has four starters set in stone with each having a chance at All-SEC honors and to hear their name called in the 2021 NFL Draft. John Schlarman must find the fifth starter and not having Jeremy Flax in for the spring is a bit of a blow, but the majority of college football programs have much bigger offensive line issues than that.
Kentucky's biggest focus this spring and fall camp needs to be keeping this starting unit healthy and developing depth for 2021. The Wildcats could be set to have the biggest talent exodus at offensive line in the history of the program following the 2020 season and they need to find out who the next guys will be. All four of the new additions will get the chance to play pretty early in their career. Naasir Watkins appears to be more than capable to be a starter while UK must continue to develop the other four scholarship players currently on the roster.
Schlarman has proven to be one of the best offensive line coaches in the country and 2020 is set to be a banner year, but there are plenty of issues that need to be addressed now before UK finds itself fishing for answers in 2021.
2020 Roster Outlook: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends