Kentucky’s 2021 football season began with a historic 6-0 start and ended with a magical game-winning drive against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Wildcats finished the year with a 10-3 record — their second double-digit win season under head coach Mark Stoops — and head into the offseason with a handful of promising players having already announced their return for another season.
With that being said, there are a few players that have an option to return to the program but their decisions haven’t been made just yet. The new NIL rule should make returning to play college football over entering the NFL Draft more enticing, however it is indeed the NFL... Below we take a look at who could stay and who could go this offseason.
Kentucky has had a few uniquely talented wide receivers over the years, but it’s hard to say any displayed the toughness Robinson showed this past Saturday. After taking a massive blow going across the field (and securing the catch), Robinson worked a top-tier Iowa defense on the game-winning drive en route to his 10 catch/170 yard outing.
He finished with 104 catches, 1,334 yards and seven scores in his first season with Kentucky. In an offense that had featured a run-first mentality over the last several years, Robinson brought immediate change and a real spark to the Wildcats.
Now, though, it’s time to guess if Robinson’s time in Lexington has come to an end. The wideout has heard his name in the mix of NFL mock drafts all season, but could a sweet end to the year have his heart leaning to play one more year for Kentucky? The new NIL rule could sure sweeten the pot for such a popular star as well as his relationship with returning quarterback Will Levis.
Pro Football Network has Robinson going to the WR needy Chicago Bears in the 3rd Round of their latest Mock Draft. Being selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft is an incredible honor and a team like the Bears would provide Robinson with a special opportunity to play alongside young quarterback Justin Fields.
Despite losing several players to positive COVID tests on the morning of their bowl game, Kentucky did manage to get back veteran outside linebacker Jordan Wright. After being injured in Kentucky’s game against Mississippi State, Wright was sidelined for Kentucky’s final four regular season games before returning with a major impact in the team’s win over Iowa.
Wright had 10 total tackles (4 solo/6 assist) and a pass defense in the Citrus Bowl. The veteran defender has become a key component to Kentucky’s rising unit. Next year, however, Kentucky’s “super seniors” will count against their 85-scholarship limit. One would have to think Wright’s experience in the team’s system is incredibly valuable. However, Kentucky also has to weigh the option of other players that have multiple years to contribute to the program.
Wright had some draft stock a season ago and should this year as well. However, the level of stock could be impacted by multiple injuries over the last two seasons.
Kentucky has been nationally recognized for their excellent offensive recruiting, development and play over the last several seasons. Dare Rosenthal, a redshirt junior and key piece to that unit, is considered by most a legitimate NFL draft prospect.
Like Robinson, the NIL deal could entice Rosenthal to come back to school for another year. Considering Kentucky’s history with offensive line development and an early look at what next year’s line looks like, Rosenthal could come back to the Wildcats and be the focal point of one of the country’s most dominant lines.
Chris Rodriguez Jr.
Before the season began, Chris Rodriguez was arguably the most talked about running back in the Southeastern Conference. However, costly fumbles limited his chances of major production and allowed running mate Kavosiey Smoke to cut into his carries. Still, Rodriguez set the school record for most 100-yard rushing games in a single career and was one of the better SEC running backs.
The senior has a year of eligibility left and returning to the team would allow for multiple opportunities. First, he could re-build his once-high draft stock by performing at a high level on next season’s offense. Another year with this group (most of them, at least) intact should allow for a much more efficient offense. Second, he could capitalize on more NIL money opportunities while still earning his college degree. Rodriguez’s goal is to become the first member of his family to graduate and doing so in the spring could tempt him to leave for the NFL. However, there has to be that thought of increasing his draft stock on a high-powered offense next season.
DeAndre Square, Kentucky’s standout linebacker that sealed the team’s Citrus Bowl victory with an interception, has yet to decide what his future will be. Square said after the bowl game that he wanted to take some time to discuss the decision with family.
The senior still has a year of eligibility left and would bring back another key piece to Kentucky’s defensive unit. His veteran leadership and passion of playing for Kentucky would be an incredible boost for the Wildcats’ young core. Considering what would likely be another loaded Kentucky team next fall, Square would have more game film to shine and better position himself for a higher selection in the NFL Draft.
After deciding not to participate in Senior Day activities, it’s all but official that Jacquez Jones will make his return to Kentucky for another season of football next year. After transferring from Ole Miss, Jones recorded a career-high 82 tackles in his first year with the Wildcats. He and Square both potentially returning would solidify the middle of the Kentucky defense and provide an incredible amount of depth at linebacker.
Tweet of the Day
The former LSU star is changing the culture in Cincinnati.
Have to be extremely happy for such a special guy.
High praise from assistant head coach Chin Coleman.
What are the odds he returns for another season?
How great would it be for Kentucky to wipe the floor with Memphis?
The former Murray State star is shining big this season.
Where will they end up in two months?
Huge weekend in store for the NFL.
Such a cool moment for the former Wildcat.