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Kentucky Football ranked inside top 25 for returning production

The Wildcats are returning more production than anyone else in the SEC East.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

With the loss of Lynn Bowden, Kentucky lost 1,816 total yards of offense. Would it surprise you if I told you they’re still returning more production than the vast majority of teams nationwide?

According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, that’s the case, as he has the Wildcats ranked 25th in returning productivity. He has them returning 73% of their overall productivity, and breaks that down to 68% of their offensive productivity and 78% of their defensive productivity. That 73% return is second in the SEC, behind only the Texas A&M Aggies (77%, ranked 16th).

Connelly calculated the returning production for offense and defense separately, and then averaged the two out for the overall percentage. Here’s how he calculated his offensive percentage:

• Percentage of last season’s QB passing yards returning: 32% of offensive returning production formula

• Percentage of last season’s WR/TE receiving yards returning: 32%

• Percentage of career starts returning on the offensive line: 17.5%

• Percentage of last season’s offensive line snaps returning: 12%

• Percentage of last season’s RB rushing yards returning: 6.5%

Continuity at quarterback pulls a huge amount of weight, and rightfully so, but that can be an issue when analyzing UK’s situation, as Sawyer Smith was the Wildcats’ leader in passing yards. The Wildcats technically are returning that production, but with Terry Wilson coming back and Beau Allen joining the roster, it’s not likely that he’ll start.

That’s something Connelly probably wouldn’t expect — generally your leading passer in a season will be your starter the next season. But then again, this formula doesn’t account for what Wilson could have done this season if he had been healthy.

In spite of that irregularity, the loss of Bowden still drops UK heavily in returning production. Their 68% return rate is 56th in the country when looking at offensive returns.

The defensive side of the ball is where UK is really bringing back its production. The 78% return rate on defense is 27th in the country. Here’s how Connelly calculated defensive return:

• Percentage of defensive returning production formula derived from defensive line: 5%

• Percentage derived from secondary: 37%

• Percentage derived from full defense: 21%

What is “production” from a defensive standpoint? I’ve found that while raw tackle figures are important, having to replace disruption matters just as much. Tackles for loss (including sacks) account for 15% of the formula, while passes defensed, perhaps surprisingly, account for 33%. These are evidently the skills most difficult to replace.

So if returning production in the secondary is worth 37% and defensive line is worth 5%, does that mean the secondary is seven times more important than the line? Not necessarily. It simply means that turnover among defensive backs has much more of an impact. Obviously defensive line play matters, but perhaps raw talent matters more than continuity up front?

When it comes to disruptive play, UK is returning some key players like Brandin Echols, Jamari Brown, Cedrick Dort and Yusuf Corker, who were all at the top of the team sheet in passes defended. They are also returning Jamar Watson and Joshua Paschal, two of the team’s top three defenders in tackles for loss in 2019.

This ranking bodes well for Kentucky — it’s an early sign that the Wildcats actually could compete for the SEC East next year with a healthy Terry Wilson.

Check out the full rankings, and a more detailed breakdown of Connelly’s process, here.