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Two Kentucky Football Returners are Among College Football's Best

Nick Roushby:Nick Roush05/24/24


Mark Stoops Blue-White Game

Returning production is a key factor in preseason handicapping and Kentucky checks all of the boxes. The Wildcats have more returning production than any school in the SEC and they’re one of five programs in the league that rank in the top 40 of SP+ in offense, defense, and special teams.

Returning starters play a role in that equation, but more importantly, Kentucky is returning star players, particularly on the defensive side of the football where the Wildcats have All-SEC caliber players at all three levels of the defense. Two of those stars are among the best at their positions in the country.

Pro Football Focus ranked the Top 10 players at every position on the football and two Kentucky Wildcats make the cut. You of course are expecting to see Deone Walker among the interior defensive linemen. The madman from the Motor City is the second-ranked returning defensive tackle in the country.

“Most defensive tackles that size normally end up serving as run-stuffers who eat double teams while adding little to nothing as a pass-rusher. While Walker can certainly do the first part (81.7 PFF run-defense grade in 2023), the latter couldn’t be further from the truth,” writes PFF’s Max Chadwick.

The sophomore’s 51 pressures this past season led all interior defensive linemen in college football while his eight sacks were tied for the most among Power Five ones. Since 2022, he’s the second-most valuable returning Power Five defensive tackle according to PFF’s wins above-average metric (Michigan’s Mason Graham is first). While Walker has the sheer strength to overpower offensive linemen, he often wins with his outstanding agility and finesse at that size.”

You knew Deone Walker would be in the fold. They simply don’t make players like him. The next may surprise you. Georgia transfer Jamon Dumas-Johnson is the ninth-ranked returning linebacker in college football, despite missing the final five games of the 2023 college football season.

“He’s earned a place on this list for what he’s accomplished over the past two years,” writes Chadwick. “Since 2022, his 80.2 PFF run-defense grade leads all SEC linebackers. He’s fifth in that same group with a 24.2% pressure rate. After excelling for the Bulldogs, JDJ is taking his talents to Kentucky for the 2024 season.”

The Kentucky defense took a slight step back in 2023. Brad White has a loaded roster that should be among the best of the best in the talent-rich SEC.

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