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Kentucky Football: Surprise Contributors For 2017

These Cats could take on big roles this season after being under the radar for most, if not all of 2017.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Every season, certain players fly under the radar during talking season. These young men may not get much press, but when the bullets start flying, as Coach Eddie Gran likes to say, particular players rise to the challenge.

Last season, Benny Snell showed in practice what he could do, forcing the coaches to play him, which lead to a successful 1-2 punch in the running game with Boom Williams. What players can we look at to make the same jump this season?

Let’s look under the hood.

Matt Panton #93

Senior-Graduate transfer form Columbia University

Last season, Kentucky ranked 13th overall in punting, with an avg. of 39.2 yards per punt, and a net avg. of 35.4 yards. For UK to compete in the SEC this must improve. Giving the duties full time to a freshman kicker may have been wishful thinking, however the coaching staff is not hedging their bets this year. Instead they searched the country and found a possible solution.

Matt Panton is a graduate transfer from Columbia University. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Panton is a rugby style kicker. This is right up Coach Dean Hood’s alley, having implemented a rugby style kicker while the head coach at EKU. Panton averaged 40.5 yards last season at CU, good enough for fourth in the Ivy League.

With a rugby style kicker, the potential for run backs decreases, forcing the returner to make difficult decisions. It also sets up turnover possibilities, with long punts rolling and bouncing the football. Panton could be the surprise MVP of a few games.

Quinton Bohanna #95

Freshman-Cordava, TN

Possibly the biggest question heading into the 2017 campaign is the defensive line. The lack of production in seasons past has lead to teams bulldozing the Cats with the run game. Being able to push the line of scrimmage up field would allow the linebackers and secondary to swarm to the football fast and more aggressively. Looking at surprise players, Quinton Bohanna’s name has popped onto the radar of coaches and media members alike. As Jon Hale of the Courier-Journal writes, “freshman nose guard Quinton Bohanna has been singled out for praise during camp.”

Given his size of 6’4” and 320 lbs., Bohanna already possesses the physical size to compete in the SEC. A quick first step and powerful drive downhill could help out the D-line from the opening kickoff.

Nassir Watkins #66

Freshman-Laurel, MD

Losing Cole Mosier for the season has dealt a blow to the offensive line depth. Landon Young is slated as the starter now. Having someone capable to back Young up is critical. Although there are many moving parts along the line, Watkins seems to fit the bill in this role. Being able to redshirt him would be the ideal situation.

However, just as Snell last season, Watkins may force the coaching staff to play him. A highly regarded recruit from Maryland, Watkins choose UK over Baylor and Temple. If Watkins can absorb the playbook quickly, he may see significant action in a back up role this upcoming season.