Following the 2021 NFL Draft, three former Kentucky Wildcats were signed to undrafted free agent contracts.
First up, running back A.J. Rose is headed to the Minnesota Vikings.
At Kentucky, Rose finished with 1,971 career rushing yards, ending his career at No. 10 on UK’s all-time list. His 5.8 career average per rushing attempt ranks third all-time.
Rose has a lot of potential that could help him carve out a career in the pros. He has that breakaway speed that coaches love, and if he can improve his pass-catching ability, he could be a great threat on the outside.
Rose will always be remembered at Kentucky for his long runs and exciting plays. However, it felt like he was never really able to grab hold and control of the Kentucky backfield after Benny Snell left.
With guys like Christopher Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke coming in and making an immediate impact, it was tough for Rose to establish himself as the lead back, despite the fact that he did start.
Rose’s best season was his junior year in 2019 when the team’s quarterback was Lynn Bowden. That season, Rose was the second-leading rusher behind Lynn with 149 carries for 826 yards and six scores.
Rose’s best game was arguably his last with the Cats, as he rushed 12 times for a career-high 148 yards in the win over NC State in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. He was named MVP while leading the Cats to their third-straight bowl win.
Next, edge defender Boogie Watson agreed to a UDFA deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he’ll team up with former Cats Benny Snell, T.J. Carter and Calvin Taylor.
One of the best pass-rushers Kentucky has seen recently, Boogie ended his career with 107 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks, 14 QB hurries, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups, one interception and one fumble recovery. His 18.5 sacks ranks fifth in school history.
Kentucky has become known as Linebacker U, and Watson helps continue that reputation. He made a lot of big plays during his time at Kentucky, and was a key piece of the best team this program has ever seen in 2018.
Watson’s senior year is where he really shined. He ranked fourth in the SEC in tackles for loss (10) and was 12th in sacks (five). While the record wasn’t exactly what we thought it’d be for the Cats, it wasn’t because of the defense.
Towards the end of the year, the defense was playing at a very high level, and Boogie was a big part of that. He took his role as a captain very seriously, and it showed on the field.
The BBN will always root for Boogie as he continues his path in the NFL. It’s going to take a lot of work, but if anyone can do it, Boogie can.
Finally, Woodford County’s own Drake Jackson is officially an NFL player.
Despite going undrafted to the surprise of many, Jackson quickly signed an UDFA deal with the Detroit Lions, where he’ll reunite with fellow Big Blue Wall member Logan Stenberg.
This has been a long time coming for Jackson. After taking over the center duties to become a four-year starter (44 straight starts at center, one of the longest streaks in program history at any position), he was the epitome of what it means to be an everyday player, and a very good one at that.
Among Jackson’s career milestones included:
- Helped UK win 37 games (most in a five-season span since 1949-53)
- Helped UK go to five straight bowl games, tying the school record
- Helped UK win 20 SEC games, most in a five-year span in school history
- Posted first 10-win season and winning SEC record since 1977 and first final ranking sine 1984 (2018 season)
- Beat six ranked opponents
- Won three Senior Day games in a row for the first time since 2010-12
- Ended the 31-game losing streak to Florida
- Won at Tennessee for the first time since 1984
So, how does a guy as accomplished as Jackson in a conference like the SEC go undrafted?
It’s actually a fairly common occurrence in the NFL: All-Conference/American-level centers being drafted late/not at all due to size limitations. Jackson is a little undersized for the center position at 6-2 and under 300 pounds. He also doesn’t have the level of power you’d like to see from a guy looking to have a long NFL career.
However, Jackson has already shown the determination to get his body in the best shape to make the most impact. He has great speed to be first to contact and has loose hips to create motion in open-field blocking. Allow Jackson a full offseason with a professional training regiment, and those power issues scouts point out will disappear.
Congrats to these Cats, and best of luck to them as their professional journeys begin!