A lot of the hype around Kentucky Football centers around projected first-round NFL Draft pick Will Levis, but today, the Cats are being praised for what happens on the other side of the ball. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg released his Future Defense Power Rankings and Kentucky is No. 18. The rankings assess the 2022, 2023, and 2024 seasons, accounting for current rosters, incoming recruits and transfers, potential NFL departures, and coaching changes.
The Cats did not make the list last year, which Rittenberg admits was a mistake.
“As with San Diego State, Kentucky’s defense being left out of the last defense ranking was a major oversight on my part. Since 2018, the Wildcats rank 15th nationally in points allowed and 12th in pass defense. Despite a push from LSU, defensive coordinator Brad White remained in Lexington, where he and coach Mark Stoops continue to build one of the SEC’s most consistent units.”
“There are some short-term questions after All-SEC end Joshua Paschal and others depart, but Kentucky still projects very well through 2022. Linebacker will be the strength this fall, as Kentucky brings back proven players such as DeAndre Square and Jacquez Jones. White needs sophomore Trevin Wallace and junior D’Eryk Jackson to continue their development for 2023. Junior J.J. Weaver is set to become Kentucky’s premier pass-rusher after recording a team-high six sacks last fall playing with Paschal. There’s good depth on the line edges with senior Jordan Wright (12 career starts, 15.5 tackles for loss) and sophomore Tre’vonn Rybka. The interior line boasts several solid non-seniors, including juniors Justin Rogers and Josaih Hayes, who combined for 30 tackles in 2021. Sophomore Octavious Oxendine and redshirt freshman Kahlil Saunders both showed production despite limited game opportunities last fall.”
Rittenberg also notes potential weaknesses at cornerback but believes they won’t be a long-term thanks to Ole Miss transfer Keidron Smith and promising players like junior Jalen Geiger and sophomore Jordan Lovett.
The SEC is the SEC, so Kentucky is one of seven teams from the conference in the Top 25. Georgia is No. 2, Texas A&M No. 3, Alabama No. 4, LSU No. 9, Florida No. 21, and Auburn No. 23. Thankfully, the Cats only face two of those teams this upcoming season. To see the full rankings and more of Rittenberg’s comments on Kentucky, head on over to ESPN. You’ll need a subscription.