Mark Stoops’ 2018 recruiting class has taken a bit of a step back, as the class is ranked No. 37 in the country by 247 Sports (they ranked No. 30 last year).
But regardless of the rank, there are sure to be gems in this year’s class, as there are in every class. Last year was the class of Lynn Bowden and Josh Paschal. This year, the new four-game redshirt rule will allow Stoops to find as many gems as he can early in the year.
So who are the most likely players to see significant roles in 2018? Here’s a list of three freshmen to watch.
Chris Oats, linebacker
Yes, Kentucky’s got strength at the linebacker position this year with Josh Allen, Jordan Jones and Kash Daniel. But Allen and Jones are graduating this year.
Oats is a consensus four-star recruit who was ranked the No. 22 outside linebacker in the class by 247 Sports and was named the Defensive Player of the Year by the Ohio Sports Preps Writers Association.
The 6-3, 228-pound linebacker from Cincinnati, Ohio, can provide valuable depth at the position. If Stoops wants him to be well-prepared for when the veterans leave, he’ll give him as much time on the field this year as he can.
Darian Kinnard, offensive lineman
It’s no question that the offensive line was one of Kentucky’s weakest links last year. With the loss of key veterans like Jon Toth at center, the “Big Blue Wall” (as Benny Snell so generously calls it) was weakened. That was evidenced by the fact that Stephen Johnson was sacked 27 times last year, which was tied for 24th-worst in the country and fourth-worst in the SEC.
The offensive line will be young again, as the only senior on this year’s line is Bunchy Stallings. That means Kinnard has a legit shot at a spot on the line, and as a four-star recruit who was ranked as high as No. 16 among offensive tackles in the class, he deserves that shot. The Youngstown, Ohio, native (who also lived in Volunteer country) stands 6-5, 357 pounds.
Kinnard had other offers from Penn State, Tennessee and UCLA. Turning down programs like that, it’s likely that Kinnard feels like he can be a high-impact player to lift Kentucky. They need that on the offensive line, and he might get the chance to show that early on in the year.
Stanley Garner, cornerback
Garner is another player, like Oats, that will be preparing himself to take on a much larger workload when the current veterans are gone. The cornerback position is loaded full of seniors this year, as Lonnie Johnson Jr., Derrick Baity Jr. and Chris Westry will be the expected stars at corner.
Once those three are gone, Garner will be relied on heavily. The three-star prospect was ranked in the top 50 at his position by 247 Sports, and he’d benefit from some substantial playing time in his first year.
The Parkway, Florida, native was rated a four-star recruit by Rivals, and was an All-County player in high school.
If Stoops wants to assure that Garner doesn’t miss a beat when he steps into a larger role next year, he’ll get some substantial playing time, at least in those four redshirt games.