With the season over and the calendar turning to the new year, it’s time to take a look at five Kentucky redshirt freshmen who could make an impact in 2018.
Each of these players was mentioned by coaches during practices leading up to Kentucky’s Music City Bowl loss to Northwestern.
OLB Jordan Wright
Jordan Wright’s name was probably brought up more than any when offensive players and coaches were asked which scout team defenders stood out. The former two-sport star from South Florida’s Dillard High School didn’t play in his freshman season — much less accomplish the 10-sack goal he set for himself — but don’t be surprised if Wright is in the outside linebacker rotation next season.
Kentucky will likely lose starting strongside linebacker Josh Allen to the NFL draft. Redshirt freshman Boogie Watson moved from inside linebacker to outside linebacker to back up Allen, but there’s room for a player like Wright to fill a spot there.
Wright is similar in size to freshman outside linebacker Josh Paschal. They’re both listed at 270 pounds, but Wright is 2 inches taller at 6-foot-5.
OT Naasir Watkins
Naasir Watkins was the 19th-ranked prospect out of Kentucky’s 24 signees in the 2017 class, but he more than most had a real chance to play as a true freshman. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said early in the season that Watkins was ahead of where former high 4-star prospect Landon Young was as a true freshman.
Watkins, an Olney, Md., native from the same high school as Paschal, could see an opportunity in 2018 with the departure of senior right tackle Kyle Meadows. Like Meadows, Watkins is listed at 6-5, 300 pounds.
His high school coach admitted he had technique differences with Watkins and that he didn’t always play hard, but he also said he wouldn’t be surprised if Watkins had a 15-year career in the NFL.
OLB Alex King
Alex King’s name was often paired with Wright’s as defensive scout team standouts.
King is listed at 6-3, 225 pounds — 45 pounds lighter than Wright — but outside linebackers coach Dean Hood had plenty of good things to say about King’s progression.
The Mason, Ohio, native is another candidate to add depth at outside linebacker, especially if Allen leaves early.
ILB Jamin Davis
Add another redshirt freshman linebacker to the mix. But unlike Wright and King, Jamin Davis is looking for playing time on the inside. Middle linebacker Courtney Love is graduating, and that’s going to open the competition for his spot.
Soon-to-be junior Kash Daniel is the favorite to start at middle linebacker after backing up Love this season. But Daniel played sparingly on defense in 2017. He recorded just 7 tackles compared to the 19 he had as a true freshman.
Davis led all players with 8 tackles in the spring game. The January enrollee has been in the system longer than most of his freshman teammates, and that could give him an advantage moving into 2018.
DB Tyrell Ajian
Tyrell Ajian was compared to star Kentucky safety Mike Edwards before he even enrolled. And Ajian’s dyed blonde hair at the time only fueled the comparisons.
Now there’s a chance Ajian could replace his elder if Edwards opts for the NFL draft. Even if Edwards returns for his senior season, expect Ajian to compete for a spot in the defensive backfield with backup strong safety Kendall Randolph graduating.
Ajian was listed as an athlete and was Kentucky’s No. 3 prospect in the 2017 class, but safety is his most likely home.