This week, we're taking a team-by-team look at the biggest strength for each team in the SEC. Next up are the Kentucky Wildcats.
Key losses: None
Key newcomers: Jamin Davis
Breakdown: The strength of this team in 2016 was its offense. The Wildcats averaged 37.5 points per game over their last six regular-season games thanks in large part to a rushing attack that finished third in the SEC.
However, it might be hard to duplicate that success in 2017. Kentucky’s top running back, Stanley Williams Jr., left early for the NFL. Its leading wide receiver, Jeff Badet, has announced his intentions to transfer. And the team’s best offensive lineman, center Jon Toth, was a senior. The strength of the team might once again be the offense, but the Wildcats will likely need more production from a defense that returns nine starters from the bowl game.
The strength of that defense? The linebackers. All three starting linebackers return for Kentucky in 2017, and if you include edge rusher Ware as a linebacker, then all four starters return. It's a talented group with both experience and upside.
The star is Jones at weakside linebacker. The rising junior enjoyed a breakout season in 2016, leading the Wildcats with 109 tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss. He was voted second-team All-SEC by the coaches, and he was the lone Kentucky player to make our list of the SEC’s Top 25 returning players for 2017.
Jones will be joined once again this year by Love in the middle and Allen on the strongside. Love, a former Nebraska transfer and one of the team leaders, finished third on the team in tackles (70). Meanwhile, Allen led the team with seven sacks.
There’s depth, too. De'Niro Laster and Kobie Walker were both playing at the beginning of last season before each suffered a separate season-ending injury in the first month. But they should both be back to 100 percent for the upcoming season. One positive from the injuries was that it allowed freshmen Kash Daniel and Eli Brown to get some experience. The duo combined to make 43 stops.
Looking ahead to the future, the only true linebacker currently committed to Kentucky for 2017 is Davis, a three-star recruit. But with all the depth on the roster, there's a good chance he redshirts his first year on campus.