LEXINGTON, Ky. — Mark Stoops has taken football recruiting to new heights at Kentucky and the incoming 2017 class might be his best yet — even better than the breakthrough 2014 class.
That class was the best in program history. And now Stoops and his staff are trying to one-up it with National Signing Day a tick more than two weeks away.
Here’s a comparison of the two classes.
2014 class ranking
Mark Stoops signed the top class in Kentucky history in just his second year in Lexington. 247Sports ranked the 2014 class No. 22 in the country and 10th in the SEC. Rivals ranked the class No. 18 in the country and 9th in the SEC.
2017 class ranking
There’s still time for the 2017 class to rise or fall a few spots in the rankings with the surprises National Signing Day brings, but the current rankings are slightly better than the 2014 class. 247Sports ranks the 2017 class No. 21 in the country and 9th in the SEC. Rivals ranks the class No. 17 in the country and 8th in the SEC.
2014 top-3 recruits
1. Drew Barker, 4-star QB
2. Matt Elam, 4-star DT
3. Darius West, 4-star S
2017 top-3 recruits
1. Lynn Bowden, 4-star ATH
2. JaVonte Richardson, 4-star WR
3. Joshua Paschal, 4-star DE
While the numbers between the two classes are close, it will take years to decide which is truly better. While Barker, Elam and West were the top trio of the 2014 class, there are plenty of key contributors scattered throughout.
Boom Williams, who declared for the NFL Draft, was the No. 5 prospect in the class and was a 1,000-yard rusher in his junior season. He averaged more than 6.5 yards per carry in his three seasons with the Wildcats and found the end zone 20 times. Kentucky had no more dynamic playmaker than Williams.
Safety Mike Edwards and linebacker Denzil Ware have developed into two of Kentucky’s best defenders. Both were top-10 commitments of the 2014 class. Edwards was second on the team with 100 tackles and intercepted Lamar Jackson twice in the regular-season finale against Louisville. Ware was Kentucky’s fourth-leading tackler and was second on the team in sacks and tackles for loss.
Other big contributors from the 2014 class? Wide receiver Garrett Johnson, defensive lineman Adrian Middleton and guard Bunchy Stallings.
As for the bad, 10 commits from the class transferred — Mikel Horton being the latest.
Kentucky’s 2017 class was good Friday morning but it got a lot better by the afternoon. Lynn Bowden, a 4-star ATH (Youngstown, Ohio), picked Kentucky over Penn State, West Virginia and Indiana. Bowden became the No. 1 commitment in the class as the 160th-ranked player in the country.
Bowden projects as a slot receiver and he will join incoming No. 2 prospect JaVonte Richardson in the pass catching corps. The Cats are loading up on playmakers and 4-star wide receiver prospect Danny Davis (Springfield, Ohio) remains a top target.
Defensive end is another position group that sticks out. Three of the top-8 commits in the class are defensive ends, led by 4-star Joshua Paschal (Olney, Md.). Three-star prospects Alex King (Mason, Ohio) and Jordan Wright (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) are the other two.
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is making major inroads in Florida, while tight ends coach Vince Marrow continues to pull Ohio prospects to Lexington.
No matter which class is ranked higher come National Signing Day on Feb. 1, Stoops has made Kentucky relevant in the recruiting game.