Spring Briefing: Kentucky is looking for more consistency at wide receiver

Adam Luckettby:Adam Luckett02/16/24

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Preparations for the 2024 college football season are already underway at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility. Former Houston wide receivers coach Daikiel Shorts Jr. is in year one at Kentucky and is looking to guide a talented group to a better season this fall. There is no denying Kentucky’s raw talent at wide receiver.

Former Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson will be in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine in two weeks, but everyone else returns. Add in three scholarship additions from the transfer portal, and there are numerous reasons to be optimistic about this group in 2024.

Kentucky used the transfer portal to address the depth in this room and also signed two high school prospects. One could argue this is as deep as Kentucky has been at wideout during the Mark Stoops era.

In KSR’s Spring Briefing series, we will cover every position on Kentucky’s roster before spring practice begins. Next up is wide receiver where the Wildcats return their top two targets and have addressed depth questions by hitting the transfer portal.

Spring Rundown: Quarterback, Tailback

The Room

Ja’Mori Maclin (5-11, 183, Redshirt Senior)

After beginning his career at Missouri (2020-21), Maclin transferred to North Texas and became one of the top wideouts in the American Athletic Conference in 2023. The former high three-star recruit recorded 57 receptions, 1,004 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Maclin ranked No. 10 nationally in receptions of 30-plus yards. Kentucky will likely use the transfer some in the slot, but his real value could come as a vertical weapon.

Fred Farrier II (6-1, 180, Redshirt Junior)

The Frankfort (Ky.) Franklin County product spent three years at UAB carving out a role as a redshirt sophomore under head coach Trent Dilfer and offensive coordinator Alex Mortensen in 2023. Farrier will give Kentucky immediate experience and a veteran presence in the wide receiver room.

Barion Brown (6-1, 174, Junior)

The former top-100 recruit out of Nashville (Tenn.) Pearl-Cohn has proven that he can be one of the most dynamic players in the SEC but there is a need for more consistency. Brown had a high volume (team-high 89 targets) in 2023, but struggled with consistency (48.3% catch rate, 35.9% success rate, 11.2% explosive rate). Kentucky needs the junior to be more consistent. Brown has All-American potential due but must put it all together.

Dane Key (6-3, 195, Junior)

The Lexington (Ky.) Frederick Douglass and the Kentucky football legacy has proven to be Kentucky’s most consistent receiver over the last two seasons. Key has logged 79 receptions, 1,155 yards, and 12 touchdowns through two seasons with a 52.3 percent success rate and a 22.3 percent explosive rate. Key might be the highest floor player on the offense and has an NFL future.

Brandon White (5-9, 167, Redshirt Sophomore)

The former track sprinter with a reported sub-4.3 forty-yard dash in high school has yet to make a big push for playing time during his first two seasons in Lexington. This is a huge spring for the Cincinnati (Ohio) Moeller product playing for a new position coach and coordinator.

Anthony Brown-Stephens (5-10, 168, Sophomore)

The Springfield (Ohio) High product played 200-plus snaps last season recording five receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown. Brown-Stephens is a true slot who will be the favorite to become Kentucky’s WR4 in 2024.

Ardell Banks (6-3, 187, Redshirt Freshman)

After taking a redshirt season, the Massillon (Ohio) High product will be looking for a role in year two. Banks showed vertical playmaking in high school and should be in a position to compete for snaps at X receiver behind Dane Key.

Raymond Cottrell (6-3, 210, Redshirt Freshman)

After spending his first college season at Texas A&M, Cottrell entered the transfer portal and landed at Kentucky. The former four-star recruit will also compete for snaps behind Dane Key at X receiver.

Shamar Porter (6-2, 205, Redshirt Freshman)

Another four-star recruiting win in Nashville, Porter took a redshirt his first season on campus and had a change of mind after entering the transfer portal in December. Kentucky needs more size on the perimeter, and the second-year player could provide that.

Hardley Gilmore IV (6-1, 165, Freshman)

The four-star prospect is an early enrollee after reclassifying from 2025 to 2024 during the last recruiting cycle. Gilmore scored 15 touchdowns on 52 receptions as a senior and could push for playing time in year one.

David Washington Jr. (5-11, 190, Freshman)

The Philadelphia (Pa.) St. Joseph’s Prep prospect will not arrive on campus until summer. The three-star prospect recorded 30 receptions for 561 yards on one of the top high teams in America as a senior. Washington projects to be a slot wideout at the next level.

Top Storyline: Can Barion Brown and Dane Key become stars?

This is an answer we probably won’t find until the season arrives, but there is no denying the talent in Kentucky’s wideout room. Barion Brown and Dane Key have each made a ton of plays for the Wildcats over the last two seasons, but each needs to take the next step.

Will that occur in year three?

To say last season was up and down for this group seems like a fair statement. New position coach Daikiel Shorts Jr. will be looking to guide this group to season with more stability. Kentucky’s offense has a high ceiling again in 2024, but the Wildcats need Brown and Key to be stars.

What to Watch: Ja’Mori Maclin’s role

North Texas transfer Ja’Mori Maclin is very familiar with new Kentucky offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. The former Missouri offensive staffer was Maclin’s position coach for two years in Columbia from 2020-21. This duo appears to have a strong relationship.

During his introductory press conference, Hamdan also noted this was a full circle moment for him getting to work with Maclin again. Kentucky’s offensive coordinator complimented Maclin for his work ethic, and it’s clear the new wideout will have a big role in this offense.

Playing in a spread tempo offense at North Texas, Maclin was used as an outside receiver who made a living running vertical concepts. The American Athletic Conference transfer mentioned that Liam Coen wanted to see what he could do in the slot. That could change under Hamdan.

Ja’Mori Maclin will play a big role for the Wildcats this season, but spring ball could give us a better understanding of just how Kentucky will use the transfer. Maclin’s experience working with Hamdan could give him a fast start at this new college.

Bold Prediction: Kentucky’s wide receivers are a good fit for the new offensive coordinator

Over the next two months, there will be roster speculation regarding the Kentucky offense. Many are wondering if Liam Coen’s late departure will ultimately lead to some starters leaving the program. Most eyes will turn directly to the wide receiver position.

I expect a player or two from that room to leave the program in April, but I do not it will be any of the expected starters.

Bush Hamdan’s offenses want to run the football, but the offensive coordinator has had three offenses that have all surpassed 2,800 passing yards. The 2021 offense was the only unit to reach that number under Mark Stoops. Kentucky will throw the football under Hamdan, and the new play-caller will want to feed his playmakers on the perimeter.

Barion Brown, Dane Key, and Ja’Mori Maclin will emerge as the top weapons in the passing game, and the offseason will be about finding ways to build game plans around this trio while also staying committed to the running game.

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