In order to build a program, then, you must have a degree of success on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
The success of a program is dependent upon the ability to recruit offensive and defensive linemen. These guys are the foundation for all the other positions. Kentucky is moving in the right direction, for sure. The Lexington Herald-Leader's Jennifer Smith has a great article about Kentucky's recruiting efforts. It is well worth reading.
With the 2016 Class about to finish up, Mark Stoops will be signing, arguably, the best class of offensive linemen in Kentucky football history, if you go by the Rivals ratings which began in 2002. Let's look at Kentucky's history of signing linemen.
Since 2002, Kentucky has signed 337 players through the 2015 class. Of those, 59 were offensive linemen and 64 were defensive linemen (includes defensive ends). So far, the 2016 class (unsigned) has three linemen on each side of the ball. With 20 committed, it is assumed that Kentucky will take another linebacker, a defensive back and a defensive lineman.
Another concern which may cause concern for the 2016 class and the number Stoops can take was expressed by Freddie Maggard when he worried that 2015 signees Courtney Miggins and Alvonte Bell have not been heard from.
-Where are the JUCO's?
In a late Signing Day surprise, UK signed Pearl River defensive lineman Courtney Miggins. Expected to immediately contribute at defensive tackle or defensive end, recruiting experts described Miggins' signature as an instantaneous upgrade in defensive depth. I agreed. Alvonte Bell was signed to influence opposing quarterbacks. When their faxes came through on Signing Day, upstairs of the Nutter Center collectively erupted.
But to my knowledge, neither Miggins nor Bell have reported to campus. Ryan Flannigan's late 2014 arrival should serve as a reminder as to the imperative nature of early JUCO arrivals. The longer their absence continues, the more uneasy I become.
Should these two not enroll in August for the fall semester, Kentucky may have an opportunity to take two more players for 2016. All this is subject to change because of available talent. Kentucky will not pass up a highly ranked player that wants to come to Kentucky, regardless of position. If a 5* player that the staff has offered decides to commit, the game changes. Official offers (written) go out on August 1st. August enrollments follow shortly. If Miggins and Bell are no shows, you get the picture.
So, let's assume everything is static and doesn't change. Here's the history of our signees and commitments to date since 2002.
A couple of noteworthy things: in 2003, Kentucky was still on probation. They didn't sign a single offensive lineman. For the 2016 class, they hold commitments from three offensive linemen and three defensive linemen. While you must build depth along the line(s), there are other needs with each recruiting class. As important as they are to building a program, linemen have represented a small percentage of commitments as shown below.
If you consider the trend lines, there has been a steady progression towards offensive linemen. The trend lines cross during the Stoops era. You can assume that offensive linemen have been the biggest need since Stoops arrived. While that may be, Stoops has also improved the quality on both sides of the ball as you can see from the average Rivals star ratings.
Here, you can see the trend lines moving up. While the de-commitments last year hurt the average star ratings, the Kentucky staff (me too!) believe last year's class was underrated. Even though the 2015 class wasn't highly ranked, it did not have a significant effect on the trends.
Let's take a look at the potential of the 2016 class. If things hold true, Kentucky will sign three 4* players and possibly one 3*. The average star rating, then, will be 3.75. Right now, however, we stand at a solid average of four stars and an average of 2.67 stars on the defensive line. And, you must remember that 2014 4* OL Marcelys Jones has transferred in from Ohio State.
As August first comes close (Aug. 1 is the day that written offers go out), Kentucky's efforts at recruiting the big boys is reasonably successful overall with the OL being exceptional. Check out the next two graphs showing how the Cats match up with all the teams above us in the team rankings and also how the Cats compare to our 2015 opponents. Louisiana-Lafayette, Charlotte and EKU are not included.
What you'll see is the team rank and (# of OL and # of DL) commitments.
As you can see, Kentucky is taking a back seat to no one when it comes to recruiting offensive linemen. After looking at these charts, it is apparent to me that the DL will be an area of recruiting concentration for the 2017 class. The following offered 2017 players have shown interest in the Cats:
5* OT Dedrick Wills, Lexington (KY) Lafayette - Kentucky is considered his favorite
NR OT Carson Van Lynn, Columbus (OH) Kilbourne
NR OG Johnny Jordan, Washington (DC) Gonzaga
4* C Cesar Ruiz, Camden (NJ) - Michigan is the current favorite
4* DE Zachary Carter, Tampa (FL) Hillsborough - Recently named Florida as his 1st choice
4* DT Cam Spence, Bradenton (FL) IMG Academy - Trending toward Ohio State, but he also likes Kentucky.
With regard to the 2017 class, Kentucky has offered 15 OTs, 1 OG, 1 Center, 8 DEs and 8 DTs according to 247Sports. Mutual interest will come with a winning season in 2015. You have to appreciate the work put forth by the coaching staff and realize just how successful they've been after two 2-10 seasons followed by a 5-7 season.
A winning season this year will make recruiting at all positions much easier. In spite of the bad mojo continuing from the previous regime and Kentucky's lack of tradition, Mark Stoops is, in fact, building a program. It takes time, so be patient.