After touching on quarterbacks
and running backs
, we move on to the outside at receiver with Michael Smith entering his third season as the position coach. It seems like we have said this a lot, but once again UK's wideouts are in a prove it year and they appear to be the missing piece for Eddie Gran's offense to kick it into another level. After a couple of recruiting hauls, UK is hopeful that a nice blend of experience and young talent will turn into a dependable wide receiver corps who can provide explosive plays to the offense.
Thanks to Bowden Ball, UK had to throw their passing game out of the window and that meant some pretty pedestrian numbers for the returning wideouts. You add that in with the fact that Lynn Bowden Jr. and Ahmad Wagner have both moved on to the professional ranks and it feels like a bit of a rebuild approaching. However, there are plenty of upperclassmen that will be in the rotation.
Josh Ali is Kentucky's top returning receiver and the senior from Hollywood, Florida has 36 career receptions with four touchdowns and a 10.36 yards per catch clip. Ali has often been used as an outside receiver, but it is very likely that he slides inside in 2020 to become Kentucky's top option in the intermediate passing game. He seems to have the shiftiness and quick twitch required to constantly get open on option routes and he is the heavy favorite to be Terry Wilson's top target in 2020.
Who fills the starting spots around Ali on the outside will be the biggest questions to answer. Allen Dailey Jr. has just nine career receptions, but showed some really nice intermediate catch ability early last season and is an excellent blocker on the perimeter who plays with a lot of physicality.
Isaiah Epps is back for his redshirt junior season after missing 2019 and the Oklahoma native has the top notch speed to become the primary vertical target. Clevan Thomas Jr. had nine receptions after Lynn Bowden Jr. took over at quarterback and the redshirt junior will be a solid piece for Kentucky to use out of the slot. Bryce Oliver was a superstar in last year's spring game before making two very impressive contested vertical catches in the home wins over Toledo and Missouri. The redshirt sophomore will also be heavily involved in the competition for a starting spot.
It's very safe bet that those five will be in the rotation and three of them will be outside receivers while Ali and Thomas appear to have the slot spots locked down. However, there are other scholarship wideouts on the roster and this will be a huge spring for a pair of redshirt sophomores. Both Akeem Hayes and B.J. Alexander were Chaminade-Madonna products out of Hollywood, Florida and neither has yet to make a big impact. Hayes received more playing time last year out of the slot and became the backup punt returner to Josh Ali once Bowden Ball was unleashed. Alexander looks the part of a next level receiver (6-foot-3, 189 pounds) but just has to put it all together on the field.
Both Tae Tae Crumes and DeMarcus Harris were able to redshirt during their rookie seasons last fall. Harris got some run in a few early games before the staff decided to shelf him to preserve a redshirt season. Meanwhile, Crumes should have the take the lid off the defense speed to open up the vertical pass attack. Both will be looking to make an impact in their second season in the program.
In the 2020 class, Kentucky reeled in three signatures on early signing day and they are sill working on one more out of Columbus, Ohio before the final signing day. In this year's collection, Kentucky has some really good looking prospects who could potentially crack the rotation.
Kalil Branham committed to Kentucky over the summer and enrolled early for the spring semester. The Columbus native was used as a wildcat quarterback in high school in addition to having some very good run after catch ability. He has some deceptive speed to go along with a frame that should be able to hold up at the college level right away. He could potentially turn into a kickoff returner as well as being an all around wide receiver that can impact the offense at all three levels on the passing game.
Louisville Male High School has long been a feeder program for the University of Louisville, but Vince Marrow was able to wedge his way in and attract Izayah Cummings to Lexington. The 6-foot-3 receiver will be right at 200 pounds when he arrives on campus and he is a jump ball master. Cummings is a terrific blocker who will have to prove he can create consistent separation as a receiver, but he brings two unique skills that will travel well to college football.
Earnest Sanders is a two-sport star at Beecher High School in Mount Morris, Michigan and he'll arrive at UK with a legit claim to the best athlete in the football program. Sanders has top notch leaping ability along with stop-and-start run skills with the ball in his hands. He is not a burner and is raw as a receiver, but perhaps no one in this class has a higher ceiling than him.
Kentucky enters spring ball with nine returning scholarship wideouts and one early enrollee. With the recent departures, there is no denying that there are some pretty big shoes to fill in Michael Smith's position room. However, a lot of young players got some valuable playing time last year and 2020 will be time to step up to plate for a lot of guys who are now upperclassmen.
Josh Ali will enter his senior season as the projected top guy and he should lead Kentucky in targets. Eddie Gran's offense will need the former three-star prospect to become more efficient and to consistently be a go-to guy. On the outside, Allen Dailey Jr. will bring physicality and a reliable possession wideout on the outside. UK will need either Isaiah Epps or Bryce Oliver to develop into a dependable vertical threat while Clevan Thomas Jr. will bring experience into the slot.
UK has a lot of pieces, but a lot of them are unproven. No one on the roster has had more than 23 receptions in a season and that's a major concern. There are plenty of players who haven't gotten a chance at major playing time who will get a look in spring ball and during fall camp. This offense has plenty of proven parts, but the wide receivers must prove they are up to the challenge.