In 2018, the Kentucky Wildcats football team had their best season in program history. Their 10-win season that ended in a Citrus Bowl victory over Penn State, was one of their best seasons ever. Following that season, they were well represented in the 2019 NFL Draft. Superstar pass rusher Josh Allen got drafted in the top-10 to Jacksonville. The Kentucky secondary members Lonnie Johnson and Mike Edwards went in the 2nd and 3rd rounds respectively.
That fearsome defense came into 2019 with question marks after losing those three leaders. With starting safety Darius West, outside cornerbacks Chris Westry, and Derrick Baity Jr. graduating, 2019 was looking to be a rebuilding year. Especially, once veteran Davonte Robinson went down with an injury before the season even began.
The 2019 Kentucky Wildcats Secondary
The Kentucky Wildcats secondary simply did not care about their lack of experience last season. They went on to be one of the best secondaries in the country. They only allowed 9 passing touchdowns all season. That had them in a tie for first in the entire FBS. As a defense, they allowed 19.3 points per game, which put them at 14th in the country. Within their conference, they allowed the least amount of passing yards per game at just 167.8. Kentucky finished 2nd in the SEC in completion percentage and completions per game. Perhaps what is most amazing about these statistics, is that the Kentucky secondary returns every single player this year from last year. So, let’s get to know them a bit better.
Cedrick Dort Jr., Redshirt Junior, Cornerback
Dort is coming off of a monster year last season. He did not allow a single touchdown in coverage last year. Dort had the lowest completion percentage allowed of all cornerbacks with 30%. That comes in just above surefire first-round draft prospect Caleb Farley. His snaps per reception ranks 3rd in the country with 37. First on that list, is his teammate cornerback Quandre Mosely with 71! Some may view him as a bit undersized at 5’11”, but Dort has displayed the ability to lockdown all kinds of receivers on his side of the field. All season, quarterbacks seemingly had no hope targeting him in coverage. Quarterbacks had a 39.6 passer rating targeting him in coverage, which is equivalent to spiking the ball on each pass attempt. A repeat performance of last season should get his name mentioned in the same breath as Ohio State’s Shaun Wade and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley going into the 2021 NFL Draft.
Brandin Echols, Senior, Cornerback
Echols was on the opposite side of Cedrick Dort for most of last season. Between the both of them, they allowed only 5.69 yards per catch. That mark came in 2nd in the country. That mark is two yards better than the national average of 7.8 yards per catch. Quarterbacks understanding that there was no hope in passing to Dort’s side of the field, did not fare too much better on Echols’ side. Echols led the team in pass break ups with 11. Opposing QBs only had a passer rating of 64 when targeting Echols in coverage. Both him and Dort were named to the PFF All-SEC team as honorable mentions. The rate him and Dort are playing at, they can be considered this year’s best cornerback tandem in the country, as they were among the best last season.
Yusuf Corker, Redshirt Junior, Safety
Corker was the most active member of the Kentucky secondary last season. When in coverage, he allowed 7.7 yards per catch, which ranked 3rd in the country. He was no stranger to run support either, leading the team in total tackles with 74. In his first season as a starter, he was truly all over the field for the Wildcats. Whatever was asked of the first-year starter, he went out and did. He finished the season in very strong fashion with 11 tackles against Georgia, an interception against Vanderbilt, and a scoop and score against UT Martin. If Corker can build off of that momentum from last season, look for him to be on the radar of NFL scouts.
Davonte Robinson, Redshirt Senior, Safety
The hometown hero Davonte Robinson is looking to finish his career strong after being forced to sit out last season with a quad injury. Although the Wildcats secondary faired incredibly well last season, his presence on the field was missed. He is certainly the veteran leader of the group going into his 6th season on the roster. In 2018, he finished with 42 tackles, 4 passes broken up, and 2 fumble recoveries. One of those fumble recoveries sealed a historic victory for the Kentucky Wildcats against the Florida Gators in Gainesville. Look for his veteran presence to help guide Kentucky and his opportunistic, playmaking style aide the defense in forcing more turnovers this season.
Kelvin Joseph, Sophomore, Safety/Slot
A new addition to this already lethal secondary is LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph. Joseph was the #35 overall player in the country according to ESPN. saw plenty of playing time his Freshman season at Death Valley. He sat out last season due to his transfer to UK. His versatility is his greatest strength to the Wildcats secondary. He can line up anywhere on the field and be a playmaker for the team. He will be draft eligible after this season, but does have 3 years left of eligibility remaining. Look for him to make a huge splash in his first season in a Wildcat uniform.
With the Big 10 and the Pac-12 canceling football this Fall and LSU losing everyone not named Derek Stingley, the title of DBU is up for grabs this season. What is holding Kentucky back of claiming that title, is their lack of turnovers. Cornerback Jordan Griffin was their lone senior from last season’s secondary. He led the team in interceptions with two. If Dort, Echols, Corker, and others want to raise their draft stock this season they need to take that next step from simply shutting down opponents, to earning more takeaways. Outside of the lack of forced turnovers, this secondary can very well finish as the best in the country when it is all said and done.