Kentucky Football: Look Ahead to 2015 NFL Draft

USA Today Sports

Avery Williamson was the lone Kentucky player drafted in this year's NFL Draft. How about a very early look ahead to next year's prospects?

The 2014 NFL Draft ended with only one Kentucky player being selected as expected. Avery Williamson's selection is being "universally lauded", and he stands a strong chance of making the Titans 53-man roster. Williamson had a productive career at UK despite the poor defenses he led. Despite his college production, NFL GM's primarily appear to base their draft decisions on potential, and the impression they get from players during the interview process (not discounting other reasons). In short, they trust their own evaluations, and the importance of collegiate production will vary. Dewayne Robertson is a UK-specific example of this in some ways. Keeping these parameters in mind, while putting more weight towards physical potential and interview "effectiveness", below is a very early look at next year's potential draft selections from Kentucky. Keep in mind that a lot can change. Their draft stocks may be appreciably helped by Kentucky's rather unique strength and conditioning prior to the combine, or far worse, they could get injured. The odds suggest the three below stand a decent chance, statistically, of being drafted.

Seniors

Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Defensive End, Rivals 3 Star

Dupree inherits Willamson's mantle as the defense's best player and its leader. He's played both a  Will linebacker when UK played the 3-4 under Rick Minter, and last season he played primarily at right defensive end in DJ Elliot's 4-3. He should at least surpass Jeremy Jarmon and move up to third in all-time sacks at UK. If he matches last year's output of 7 sacks he will tie Oliver Barnett's all-time sack record of 26 career sacks. Production hasn't been a problem.

Coming out of high school he was a classic case of being under-sized so therefore under-recruited, but has since put on 45 plus pounds. 36% of former three star recruits were drafted in 2014 which statistically gives him a chance. Dupree should perform well at the combine, the coaches rave about his leadership abilities, and he appears to always handled the media well. In short, Dupree not only had a strong college career, but he has the physical and personable skills to get drafted.

What may hurt him is next year's defensive line class could be deep depending on how many come out early. Mario Edwards, Noah Spence, Shilique Calhoun, Randy Gregory, and Vic Beasley are all probably higher on most draft boards than Dupree currently.

Outlook: Drafted rounds 4-6.

Za'Darius Smith, Defensive End, Rivals Four Star

Smith comprises UK's other half of starting defensive ends when UK plays either its base 4-3 or gives its 3-4 looks. Smith had a bit of a disappointing season after SEC play began, though he played well during the non-conference portion. That's not unusual for many JUCO transfers who generally take a year to adjust to a higher level of player. Like Dupree, Smith should have the physical attributes to test well at the combine. Smith is also publicly known for making a good impression on media, fans, and the coaches. He too stands the solid chance of being drafted next season, though a productive year against top-flight competition will help his case. 20% of former four stars were selected in the 2014 Draft, so statistically he has a puncher's chance. Smith will also be hurt by a potentially deep defensive end class.

Outlook: Drafted rounds 6-7.

Darrian Miller, Offensive Tackle, Rivals Three Star

Miller has been UK's starting left tackle and protected the quarterback's blind-side for the past three seasons. At 6'5'' and 290 pounds he is undersized, and there may be some trepidation that his frame has maxed out the weight it can carry. If Miller can bulk up to 300 pounds prior to the season, and have another productive season like last year he has the potential to increase his draft stock. For comparison's sake, the elite offensive tackles in the next class - Brandon Scherff, Cameron Erving, and Andrus Peat - are all 6'5''-6'7'' and around 315 pounds. Miller has never had any known disciplinarian issues while at UK, and that should also help his case.

Outlook: Drafted rounds 6-7.

If Kentucky gets at least three players drafted in 2015 that will be the most since 2010, and should be considered a success given the overall roster. Other seniors may sign free agent contracts, but for now I don't see any other senior being drafted. Receiver Javess Blue is a remote possibility heading into this season. He has the abilities to have a productive senior season, and his athleticism is well-known. If he can stay injury-free he could be a late round pick, but given his 6'0'' and 190 pound frame it's more likely he signs as a free agent unless he has a very strong combine.

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