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Kentucky Football: 5 Most Important Defensive Players of 2017

The Cats are looking to make their second straight bowl appearance, but they can’t do it without these five players stepping up.

NCAA Football: Austin Peay at Kentucky
Jordan Jones has to step up for the Cats to have a big season in 2017.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky has a lot of tough opponents to face in the SEC. But, if they don’t have four key defensive players to go along with the four offensive key players, they won’t make it very far.

For the Cats, these are my five most import defensive players for the Cats to have success this season.

1. Jordan Jones

Of course, Jordan Jones has to be first. Jones, who was selected as a third team All American by Athlon Sports and named second team All-SEC by AP, league coaches and Phil Steele as a sophomore. Jones led the SEC and ranked third in the SEC for tackles per game last season, averaging 8.4 tackles per game (109 Total).

Jones, now a Junior, will have to step up again this season and become a true leader for the Cats. My expectations for Jordan Jones this season are through the roof. If Jordan Jones doesn’t have a 100-tackle season, then I believe something is up. I look for Jones to try and take his talents to the league after this season.

2. Mike Edwards

As good as Jones is, Mike Edwards isn’t far behind as the best player in this defense. Edwards had 100 tackles and three interceptions last season, including two picks in the Louisville game. He was on the All SEC second team, and he was named a Preseason All-SEC Third-Team pick.

Edwards was also recently added to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list, one of 45 players from around the country looking to be named the nation’s best defensive back. He’s a ball-hawking safety who is also physical enough to effectively be a linebacker in this defense.

3. Derrick Baity

Junior cornerback, Derrick Baity is another big key for the Cats, who are in dire need of drastic improvement. In 2016 as a sophomore, Baity tied for the team lead for interceptions with three, as well as totaled 42 total tackles. Baity also started all 13 games for the Cats.

Baity is now a Junior, and many people are expecting big things from him. Baity has a lot of athleticism, great hands and he seems to be a good leader for this defense. If the Cats defense is going to improve this year, then Baity will need to be a big factor for that to happen.

4. Denzil Ware

The 6’2 245-pound junior defensive end is looking for another big year. Ware had a lot of big plays last season. Ware had 70 tackles, as well as he ranked second on the team in sacks, with 5.5. Ware also had a career-high nine tackles in the bowl game against Georgia Tech. Ware was also a huge part of the Cats beating No. 11 Louisville.

Denzil Ware is going to have to step up and become a leader this season for the Cats defense. Last season, Ware played very well, but he never really stepped up into a leadership role. If Denzil Ware can step up and have another big year, then I think the Cats can be very impressive on defense this season.

The Cats will have a lot of tough opponents to face this year in the SEC, but if these four players don’t step up and play the way we all know they can, then they won’t be able to do anything and achieve that second bowl appearance in a row.

5. Matt Elam

The 6’7 360-pound senior defensive lineman is due for a huge season. Now, I will start with this. We all know that Matt Elam has not lived up to his potential or the hype that surrounded him when he first came to UK. Many people know that he was called “lazy” and “as underachieving a player as I’ve seen in this league in some time” by former University of Alabama quarterback, Greg McElroy. Elam’s post-interview remarks says a lot to me. It showed me that he’s ready for a change and going to make a difference.

Elam will look to respond big time this season. Elam had just five starts last season and became more of a part-time player, but rest assured, he will be a big time started for the Cats defense this year. The former high school Army All-American is still a very good player, and if the Cats are going to want to improve on the defensive line, then he has to play big and make plays.

Now, Elam isn’t one of the four or five best players on the defense, especially with guys like Josh Allen and Chris Westry here. However, Elam plays at a position that’s severely lacking going into the 2017 season. The defensive line is dangerously thin, so if Elam can step up and hold down a starting spot while playing well, that will be a massive boost to this defense.

Let us know what your five most important defensive players are in the comments!