Will Levis has made early headlines in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. He’s likely to be the first Kentucky Wildcats quarterback selected since 2008. However, the Kentucky draft class is shaping up to be more than just their skin-on banana-eating offensive playmaker. Who else should you be looking out for when watching the Wildcats this fall?
Kentucky prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
One of the most underrated head coaches in college football, Mark Stoops led the Wildcats to a 10-3 record and Citrus Bowl win last year. The knock-on effect was a substantial draft class for the second consecutive season. Can Kentucky have an equally exciting class in the 2023 NFL Draft? With Levis leading the way, who else could hear their name called in April?
Will Levis, QB
If the early hype is to be believed, Levis could return Kentucky to the first round in the 2023 NFL Draft. While that might be a little rich, it’s clear that Penn State let the wrong quarterback walk when they allowed Levis to make his way to the Wildcats.
His arm talent is impressive, with the strength to hit the deep third and velocity to get the ball into tight windows. Meanwhile, his off-script creativity is enticing, with impressive athleticism for his size. He’s not C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young, but he challenges to be best of the rest.
Chris Rodriguez Jr., RB
Although he only broke 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career last season, Chris Rodriguez Jr. has been one of Kentucky’s most important players for the last two seasons. The 5’11”, 225-pound defense wrecker has averaged over six yards per carry in every season he’s played for the Wildcats.
Rodriguez is a bowling ball who thrives off contact, displaying excellent balance, leg drive, and strength. He also showcases good vision. An off-field incident this spring casts a cloud over his 2023 NFL Draft stock at present.
DeAndre Square, LB
While he’s likely to attract the “undersized” moniker in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, DeAndre Square has proven to be impactful despite his 6’1″, 225-pound frame. The Kentucky linebacker has been able to post decent production — 81 tackles, including 9½ for loss in 2021 — as a result of his football instincts, athletic profile, and flexibility to bend off the edge. Another solid season of production, while developing his coverage skills, should ensure that Square gets some attention next April.
Tayvion Robinson, WR
With the departure of Wan’Dale Robinson and Josh Ali, Kentucky has lost almost 2,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns from its 2021 season production. They found the key to replacing some of that in the transfer portal with former Virginia Tech WR Tayvion Robinson.
In some respects, the Wildcats have just exchanged one Robinson for another. Tayvion offers some of the same attributes — sudden lateral agility and change of direction as an after-the-catch weapon — as Wan’Dale. He should thrive in the Kentucky offense.
J.J. Weaver, EDGE
Kentucky outside linebacker J.J. Weaver has the potential to be the Wildcats’ top defensive prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. At 6’5″, 241 pounds, he’s a tall, imposing pass rusher who has flashed exciting explosive tendencies. He’s also capable of impressive flexibility to bend around the edge with dangerous intentions.
Weaver possesses the athletic ability to drop back and impact the game in coverage. He was the second most productive defensive player for Kentucky last fall behind now-Detroit Lion Josh Paschal.
Tashawn Manning, G
After five seasons with Auburn, Tashawn Manning transferred to Kentucky for his final crack at college football. And early signs out of Kentucky suggest the big man might be set to make a huge impact.
At 6’4″ and 344 pounds, Manning is a substantially sized human who is extremely difficult to move. He’s strong and possesses a vice-like grip. While Manning’s dense frame gives him a naturally stellar anchor in pass protection, the Kentucky guard also flashed enough athleticism to be used on pull plays for Auburn.
Jacquez Jones, LB
While he’s been consistently productive across his four years with Ole Miss and Kentucky, last year saw Jacquez Jones set career-high numbers for tackles, interceptions, and pass breakups. While he does his best work coming downhill with ferocity, Jones flashed coverage ability last season that should earn him some fans in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle.
The Kentucky LB boasts decent length and lateral agility that he puts to good use in his ability to shed blockers. His length also allows him to be an effective wrap-up tackler.
Deondre Buford, OT
While he’s seen minimal action ahead of the 2022 college football season, Kentucky’s propensity for producing NFL linemen should help Deondre Buford acclimatize to his new role as the starting left tackle for the Wildcats. It may even help propel him into the conversation as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect. While he sits on the borderline between guard and tackle in terms of height, Buford appears to possess the length and athleticism to play on an island.
Carrington Valentine, CB
Having played his first season as a starter for the Wildcats last year, Carrington Valentine figures to be a potential CB breakout for the 2023 NFL Draft. Bizarrely, the junior cornerback is one of the most experienced players in the Kentucky secondary this season.
At 6’0″ and 200 pounds, Valentine possesses the size to be impactful in the NFL while also boasting impressive length. He’s demonstrated the ability to be patient in coverage. If he can improve route recognition and physicality this fall, Valentine could be in line for an NFL call.
Tyrell Ajian, S
Lining up alongside Valentine in the Kentucky secondary is a pair of safety prospects in Jalen Geiger and Tyrell Ajian. Of the two, Ajian appears to be the most likely player to emerge as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect.
The ball-hawking safety has snagged an interception in all four seasons he’s played for Kentucky. He’s displayed some impressive short-area burst, the product of quick feet. Meanwhile, Ajian’s coverage ability is aided by a good level of football IQ.
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